The Long and Winding Road – For REAL! Part 1

18 Apr

I’m starting a new series today and you might wonder what it has to do with “Angels, Miracles & Dogs!” However, let me assure you, the story I will begin telling you today is nothing less than a miracle – a Rock ‘n Roll miracle!

Image

I was seventeen in 1970 and what I was watching on TV that Saturday afternoon was pure magic. It was also history in the making, but I didn’t know or care about that at the time. All I knew was that it was the coolest thing I had ever seen. My favorite music, Top 40 hits, with neat psychedelic effects, everybody dancing. I just couldn’t sit still and watch – I had to dance too! 

It was The Now Explosion. Perfect title. It exploded into our lives, changed the landscape of television programming forever and was gone as fast as a stick of dynamite, altering everything and everyone it touched. I know, I was one of them.

Fast forward forty-three years and there I was, sitting in the room with four of the original innovators:

ImageBob Whitney – whose brain had imagined The Now Explosion and whose charm had sold it.

ImageGenii Macaulay-Leary – the woman who had played Den Mother and Drill Sergeant to a talented bunch of renegades (AKA the Producer!).

ImageBob Rector – the filmmaker whose distinctive vision brought a new form of story-telling to music “videos.”

ImageBob Todd – one of the two original DJ’s whose enthusiasm was so contagious that he kept us glued to the TV set for hours on end.

It was a little surreal to see these four together after so long. Each had their own memories to share, experiences that had been separate and quite different, but a part of the same whole. I listened, mesmerized, as they started assembling the puzzle pieces of this brief, shining moment that had left such a distinct mark on so many. Yes, it had been a brief, shining moment – our own Rock ‘n Roll Camelot. 

I realized I had been placed in that room with these people for a reason: I was supposed to write about it. Not only had I been a huge fan in 1970, but I had gone on to be a Producer myself and knew very well what it took to get an extraordinary program like this off the ground.

This is not a story that can or should be told in a linear fashion. It is as free-flowing as the songs of the time. Our time. After the three incredible days I spent with these bigger-than-life personalities I was left with one overriding question: Why had it stayed with us after all these years? It only lasted a few months, but we never forgot it? Just like Camelot, it lived on in our hearts and minds. Why?

I’ll attempt to unravel that mystery in the coming weeks and months as I write about the phenomenon of The Now Explosion. If you experienced it for yourself you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about. If not, then take a moment and think back to 1970, the year after Woodstock. America was in the middle of a sea change and we, the Boomers, just big kids at the time, were riding the crest of our own wave…

Image

On most Saturday mornings my dad would have to practically drag me out of bed to get my chores done. Sometimes he even tossed a cup of water in my face – seriously! (Full disclosure here, he was laughing when he did it!) But the spring of 1970 was different. I bounded out of bed and tore into my chores with a vengeance. I had to get them done as quickly as possible so I could be sitting in front of the TV set at precisely 12:00, tuned to Channel 36.

MRWonOpel-SMIt was May 9th and I had a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and a glass of milk to keep me company as I waited impatiently for the-best-show-in-the-world (as far as I was concerned!) to start. Later that evening some of my friends would join me, but until then, I was happy to be by myself, so that nothing would disturb me as I soaked it all in.

I had no idea how lucky I was to be living in Atlanta, Georgia. Because of that quirk of fate, I was able to experience the magic from the very beginning, which had been March 14th, and I didn’t want it to ever stop.

Image

Across town, a young man who worked in the stock room at Lord & Taylor’s was also waiting for it to start. Bob Rector wanted to shoot film more than anything else in the world. Always had. He had heard about The Now Explosion and was interested because it was being produced in Atlanta, but he had never seen it. He had recently finished making a short 16mm film of his own called “Farewell Performance.” He had convinced family and friends to chip in ten to twenty bucks a piece so he could buy the film, get it developed and finished. His entire budget was about $250.00 to make his 15 minute epic. It had been shown on the local PBS station a few times, part of a support-your-local-filmmaker sort of thing. That was good enough for him. As far as he was concerned, he was ready for the big time now.

NE-BreakCrop1-72

They had been on the air for eight weeks, but nothing was routine. It was always flying by the seat of their pants, hoping that it would all come off once again, using equipment that was never designed for this type of non-stop, live, request-driven video programming.

Behind the stately columns of a dignified looking building on Briarcliff Road, a handful of people were running at a frenetic pace, getting ready to put twenty-six hours of music on the air. But not just any music, the best, the most popular, the Top 40 records. The songs we listened to over and over again like it was our job. But now, we didn’t just listen to it, we could watch the music. The music came to life!

GirlDancex4-NE#4sm-72

Making this “life” happen on the Saturday marathon were two technicians, one at the board and one ready to switch the 2″ video tapes of each song as they were requested; several kids manning the phones, ready for the requests to come in; and of course, you have to have DJs! To introduce the songs and keep us captivated while the tapes were being changed out were Atlanta’s two most popular disc jockeys from the #1 radio station: WQXI – “Quixie in Dixie!” Skinny Bobby Harper and Bob Todd were preparing to be tele-jockeys for the weekend. They were our VeeJays. The resident grown-ups, Bob Whitney and Genii Macaulay, were somehow holding all of the pieces together when the clock struck 12:00.

What made this weekend different? They didn’t know it, but lightning was getting ready to strike once again.

NE-BreakCrop1-72

As Bob Rector watched what was happening on his television set, something clicked. He wasn’t up dancing like us teenagers, he was studying it, thinking, visualizing. What he saw that weekend was fresh, modern, even ground-breaking, but it was also the catalyst for his fertile imagination. His twenty-two year old brain was percolating and by Sunday night he knew this was what he was going to do: The Now Explosion. But he was going to do it differently.

He promptly quit his job at Lord & Taylor’s. After all, he had better things to do with his time – he was going to make movies. He announced this fact to family and friends, who looked at him a little mystified, but he hardly noticed. There were things he had to get ready for the next step.

Thursday morning he tucked a 16mm copy of his 15 minute epic under his arm and walked confidently into the Channel 36 reception area and asked where the office of The Now Explosion producer was. The secretary, presuming by his manner that he had an appointment, told him the office was upstairs. Without hesitation he leapt up the stairs, barged into Genii Macaulay’s office and announced, “I want to shoot for The Now Explosion.”

Unfazed, Genii looked up from a desk stacked with papers, records, index cards and an ashtray. Her big, intense eyes glared at Rector and, as was typical, a cigarette dangled from her lips. “We don’t need anybody.”

“But I’ve got some great ideas.” She repeated, “We don’t need anybody.”  

“But I can do it better than those guys and I’ll work cheaper.” She sighed impatiently, “We don’t need anybody.”

“I’ll do it for free.”

“You’re hired.”

And with that, she pushed around the stack of 45 records and pulled one out, “This is the new Beatles song, see what you can do with it.” It was The Long and Winding Road. She went to a large closet where the film stock was kept and tossed him three rolls of film. Then her phone rang and she waved him out of the office. And he was off!

NE-BreakCrop1-72

Everybody always thought Bob was on drugs. He wasn’t. He was on film. Who needed drugs when you had film? The bug had bitten him very young and he had been infected with it ever since. After school he would study the craft of making movies in the FSU library not far from his home in Tallahassee. He would save his lawn-mowing money to buy precious rolls of 8mm film and make his kid brother Randy jump through hoops (figuratively and literally!) for the camera. He graduated to Super 8 a few years later when everybody thought his “hobby” should have been long gone. He had done whatever was necessary to learn how to make films and it never once occurred to him he wouldn’t eventually be successful at it.

All of that had been in preparation for this moment. He was incredibly excited, but to see him you wouldn’t have known it – because he was focused like a laser beam. There was no way he was going to blow this opportunity.

NElogo2-NE#7sm-72

That’s it for today! I hope you’ve enjoyed reading this as much as I’ve enjoyed writing it!

Part 2 of The Long Winding Road – For Real! will be posted next week, so stay tuned! That’s when you’ll hear how Bob Rector actually made the film, meet Alva Sanders of 1970 and more! I would love to hear from any and all of you, your thoughts, your feelings…

Marsha

 

Marsha Roberts

Author of Confessions of an Instinctively Mutinous Baby Boomer

http://www.mutinousbabyboomer.com/

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: