Monday, February 17, 2014

The South Beach Job - Part 2 - We're Straight

Jive Lady: Oh, stewardess! I speak jive.
Randy: Oh, good.
Jive Lady: He said that he's in great pain and he wants to know if you can help him.
Randy: All right. Would you tell him to just relax and I'll be back as soon as I can with some medicine?
Jive Lady: [to the Second Jive Dude] Jus' hang loose, blood. She gonna catch ya up on da rebound on da med side.
Second Jive Dude: What it is, big mama? My mama no raise no dummies. I dug her rap!
Jive Lady: Cut me some slack, Jack! Chump don' want no help, chump don't GET da help!
     -Airplane and the Jive Lady

We arrived in Miami still looking for a hotel room and a permanent office as well as needing to fill our staff.

We checked into a hotel off the strip, where I proceeded to work out a deal with the manager, promising more rooms rented, as well as renting an office space in the hotel.

Cutting a deal means offering something the other person wants. We would have hip hop celebrities. She (the manager) was not impressed. Miami has a bustling music scene, so they were not impressed with celebrities. I was able to offer a large number of days - it got me a deal, if not a great one. The office would not be available to us immediately.

Until that time, we would work at Lex's office. The first thing one noticed when walking into his office was a large mural that celebrated a very high-profile social and free-speech victory over "the Man." Lex, once part of an iconic hip-hop group, was now a mini-mogul, with his hand in different entertainment enterprises.

Lex was what one might call a straight-up guy, which is a big factor in why we got along. Whether it was sitting on his porch as he described how to jack the cars that passed, or describing a night out at a strip club as he bragged about placing a call to a cell phone in a place where, well, a cell phone was not meant to be, Lex was not only completely comfortable with who he was and his reputation, he loved it.

The script was rather loosely structured, which was fine for what would be one in a series of party movies with a lot of women around a pool shaking their butts for the camera.

Already into my forties and having grown up in NYC, I didn't think of myself as naive. Still, I soon learned many things about hip hop culture which I didn't know previously.

One day at "auditions" for dancers, one of the girls waiting looked at the girl auditioning and made a comment I didn't understand. I soon learned that "natural vs enhanced" did not stop at breasts. There was a drug one could inject into their butt that would make it wiggle more. When I inquired further, the girls waiting were more than happy to explain it in great detail, and how they could tell the difference between a natural shake and one which had been achieved through chemicals.

I also had a limited knowledge of the artists we were looking to cast, and their music. Early on, we reached out to the host of a very popular hip hop and Black music show on MTV (even at this point, the very White network felt more comfortable departmentalizing their music than just having it share the spotlight with music with which they were more comfortable). This host was more than happy to be a part of the movie, mostly because Lex was famous for his parties, and few wanted to miss it.

Lex loved to play, and one way he would tweak me was with a rather attractive - and very young - assistant of his, who was my link to the artists. She turned up in the doorway of my make-shift office at Lex's before we moved into the hotel office and asked if she could be of any help. She showed up wearing what could only be described as hot pants - a fad from the 70s which had long passed, but which still had it's desired effect in terms of outlining the female form.

"Lex really appreciates everything you're doing, and he asked if I could come over here to thank you personally," she said, posing in the doorway with a big smile and a hands-on-hips pose that has been clear since the days of Betty Grable* and needed no translation.

Known for her legs, US servicemen in WWII clearly also appreciated that baby had back.

"Thank Lex for a very tempting offer," I replied to a lady who was easily young enough to be my daughter "but tell him I'm going to have to pass. Do let him know it was a very very nice offer."

In all situations, when turning down a genuinely-offered gift, Miss Manners would clearly insist on being gracious - and, yes, I do love the image of Miss Manners answering this inquiry.

"You sure?" she asked. "I never mix work with pleasure," I responded. "That's so crazy," she exclaimed, as she laughed and went sauntering away, making sure that the outfit and the walk made clear exactly what I was passing on.

Lex was closer to my age (only three years younger) than the age of our director, Jimmy, who insisted on trying to be something he was not. Lex and I got along really well because neither of us tried to get over on each other, which was a nice break from a situation where everyone was trying to get over on someone - the artists on their managers, the managers on the record company, the record company on everyone. Lex knew this terrain well, but, at least with us, when he wanted something, he was clear about it, and we dealt with it from that perspective.

Much as "Done and done" had become the catch-phrase on my last feature, Lex and I had our own short-hand. "We straight?" the question would get the response "we straight!"** That would say everything about where we were on an issue, very often having to do with money and where it was going.

To this day, I have a great deal of respect for a guy who was not just street-smart, but very very bright with a good understanding of human nature. Everything he does that "shocks" is calculated, and he is still a successful businessman who does a lot of giving back, and has helped a lot of other folks up, all the while never forgetting about Number 1.

That's a balance not every artist has.

We definitely got past politically-correct conversation very quickly, and sometimes that was fun.

One of my favorite moments came with this same female assistant. We were going over the artists we were trying to book, and, as previously mentioned past some of the bigger ones, I was not familiar with them many of them or their music,

While Lex, his assistant and I were straight on important matters, when discussing artists I should have known but did not, I felt more like Randy than the Jive Lady in Airplane.**

She laughed when I blanked on about the fourth artists in a row.

"That's what you get for hiring some Cracker*** from New York to produce your movie," I joked.

She went into mock shock expression and said, "Don't you say that JB."

"You're our favorite Cracker from New York!"

Any excuse to show the one. the only, the incomparable James Brown is good by me. (Would love to know the literal translation of the Japanese subtitles for the intro). I do love the "secretary" at the end.

*If you're wondering how a reference to a pin-up that helped boost the moral, among other things, of our fighting heroes during World War II made it's way into a post on a hip-hop artist, welcome to my blog.

**Ironically, the two expressions mean very much the same thing - that all is settled and it's time to move on.

***I chose this definition from the Urban Dictionary, leaving out the rude added commentary. "Slang word used to refer to those of European ancestry. The word is thought to have either derived from the sound of a whip being cracked by slave owners, or because crackers are generally white in color."

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