Did all the mayhem at the end of the ‘Vinyl’ pilot really happen?

Senior Television Writer
02.14.16 25 Comments

HBO

I reviewed HBO's Vinyl earlier this week, and also published most of my interview with co-creator Terence Winter (and star Bobby Cannavale). I held one part of the latter until after the first episode had aired, since it deals with the historical event that inspired the pilot's climax. That's coming up just as soon as I wrap the python around my neck…

So, as those of you who watched the pilot saw, Cannavale's Richie Finestra is entranced by a New York Dolls concert at the Mercer Arts Center in lower Manhattan when the entire building starts coming apart at the seams, collapsing on all the concert-goers but somehow sparing Richie any serious harm.

The Mercer Arts Center did, indeed, fall down in the summer of 1973, as part of the larger collapse of the University Hotel, which killed four people. But (as this article lays out) it was at 5 p.m. on a Friday, not in the middle of a rock show. The New York Dolls had played the Mercer stage before, but weren't there that particular day.

While in the midst of discussing why Winter decided to set Vinyl in '73, we talked about his approach to the incident.

And you had the hotel collapse.

Terence Winter: Which actually happened. 

Yeah though not during a show.

Terence Winter: Not during a show.  We took a little (license). It's interesting, one of the first things Richie says in the pilot is, “Here's my story clouded by lost brain cells and self-aggrandizement and maybe a little bit bullshit,” so this is how he remembers it.  So we have a very unreliable narrator.  So I don't know.  Look, it collapsed.  So don't fucking worry about it. 

I'm watching that scene and I'm asking myself, “Is this really happening, or is he in the midst of a horrible cocaine fantasy?”

Terence Winter: It actually did happen and the New York Dolls did perform there.  They weren't performing there when the actual buildings collapsed, although a band had been rehearsing there. It was amazing: one of the little factoids from the newspaper articles at the time was that the microphone stand was unscathed, it was standing straight up and that was like the only thing in the place that was still intact.  Everything else was just demolished.

What did everybody think of the Vinyl premiere? Is it going to be HBO's next great drama? Is it too much of a Peak TV Greatest Hits collection? Somewhere in between?

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