WHEN NINA BLACKWOOD SHOWED up at her new job on Aug. 1, 1981, she felt pretty relaxed about it. “All we knew,” she says, “is that we were doing some little music thing on cable.”
In a book out this month, Blackwood and the three surviving members of MTV’s original veejay team (J.J. Jackson died in 2004) recall the whirlwind of the “little music thing’s” inception. VJ: The Unplugged Adventures of MTV’s First Wave is part social study, part trip down memory lane, collated by Rolling Stone veteran Gavin Edwards. “It’s an oral history,” says Blackwood, “a look at the early days of MTV through our eyes.”
It should come as no surprise that the veejays’ eyes were often, let’s say, a little bleary. Young and relatively inexperienced (Blackwood was just in her 20s when she joined the network), the quintet was hurled headlong into a rock ’n’ roll bacchanal that would have tested the restraint of a nun, and their book
contains plenty of anecdotes involving hair-raising excess.
Speaking of hair, Blackwood was no slouch in that department. Her moppy blond ’do, along with her adventurous fashion sense, earned her the title of “video vixen”—which may not have been entirely fair. “I’m actually shy,” she says. “I’m a wallflower, not the wild partying floozy I was portrayed to be. It was always a little difficult for me when, in the ladies’ room, someone would stick a piece of paper under the door for an autograph.”
Now in her 50s, Blackwood lives in Maine, where she hosts ’80s-themed radio shows. It’s a lifestyle that better suits her temperament, she says. Not that she has any regrets about her five years on MTV.
“It was the biggest thing I’ve done,” she says. “Living in New York, being the toast of the town, having this cool job and being flown all over the world—how do you top that?” MAY 7
It’s difficult to overstate the influence MTV has had on popular culture—everything from the way people dress to how movies are shot was transformed by the world’s first music video channel. “It went from being unknown to being an adjective,” says Nina Blackwood. “It amazes me that something so important has morphed into what it is today.”
Blackwood, it turns out, is not a fan of MTV’s shift to reality fare. “I’m not saying it should be stuck in the ’80s, but it should be on the cutting edge, not aiming at the lowest common denominator,” she says. “I don’t think the 24-hour music video channel would work these days, but at least keep it credible.”
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MOVIES Black Rock, a Maine-based horror story that doesn’t involve negotiating I-95 traffic in July // The Great Gatsby, a Long Island–based drama that doesn’t involve negotiating L.I.E. traffic in July
BOOKS Waits/Corbijn ’77–’11, a photographic doorstop devoted to craggy growler Tom Waits // Share: The Cookbook That Celebrates Our Common Humanity, whose contributors include Nelson Mandela and Meryl Streep (really)
MUSIC Primal Scream’s More Light, on which Led Zeppelin screamer-in-chief Robert Plant twangs his vocal cords
TV Gloomy crime drama “The Killing” is resurrected by AMC