Friday, April 11, 2014

The South Beach Job - Part 5 - Play it Again, Lou - I Dare Ya

"You played it for her. You can play it for me...If she can stand it I can. Play it!"

Rick may have been strong enough to hear "As Time Goes By" again, but, in the late Summer, early Fall of 1999, I can't say that I was strong enough to hear "Mambo No. 5" one more time.  I am not a violent person by nature, nor do I condone the use of violence, but in 1999, if I could have gotten away with it, I might have killed Louie Bega.

Radio is known for over-playing hits - they've done so since the advent of pop radio, when the most popular songs were put in "heavy rotation." Sometimes, however, a song will take over more than just the radio - it gets played everywhere. It often happens in summer - songs become the hit of the summer and everyone just has to hear it, or, ironically, songs about being 'happy.'*

The combination of a popular, catchy tune and a city heavily influenced by Cuban culture meant that  Lou Bega's Mambo No. 5 was everywhere; not only on the radio, but in supermarkets, delis, bars, clubs, and even pharmacies. One day, I got of a cab that was playing it to walk into a store that was playing it and out onto the street to a boom box (boy, I DO NOT miss those) playing it.

I didn't want any of Monica in my life, or Erica by my side. I didn't need any of Rita, or want to see Tina. I wanted to see the sun without Sandra, and I could go all night long without Mary. Sorry Jessica - none of you makes me your man.

There was no escape.

Other aspects of Cuban culture I liked a lot better. There was the wonderful old woman from whom I bought Cuban coffee every morning. This woman made an exceptionally strong blend, and initially was concerned when I did not add milk. Her coffee was not bitter, but such that you could almost (but not quite) feel the grounds. Eventually, she just smiled when I would turn down the milk, seeing that it was not too strong for me.

Then, there was a certain Cuban-American female bartender that I took quite a shine to. Charming, funny, and spunky, she would ask me if she could be in the movie. As I always tell folks, I do not have final say in casting, but her natural assets did suggest to me that Lex would have no problem including her in the movie, and I was right. In fact, she wound up in a scene with Fat Joe, a talented hip hop artists who has since lost a good deal of weight. At one point, he was up to 350 pounds.

Evidently, one of the things that influenced him to lose the weight was the death of an early influence, Big Pun. Like Fat Joe, Pun was a distinctly Latino rapper from the Bronx.

We tried to get Big Pun for the movie, but scheduling and other issues prevented it, but it did lead to one of my more interesting conversations with his agent, who tried to work around his schedule to get him to us. Understand that by the time of his death less than a year later of a heart attack and respiratory failure, Big Pun was reported to have been more than 600 pounds.

When I asked about flying Pun to Florida for the shoot from North Carolina, where he was in a weight loss program (which he subsequently quit), his manager laughed.

"Have you ever seen Pun," he asked me. I told him that I had seen pictures, which, he indicated, did not give a true appreciation of his girth. He explained that it was near impossible for him to fly on a commercial airline, which led to one of my favorite quotes from an agent.

"Pun don't fly. We ship Pun. You just tell me when and where. We'll try to get him there."

Sadly, he never did make the trip.

There were a host of characters, and the shoot itself was less than memorable. The director had more of a music video background, and he would loosely plan the main shot, with a lot of emphasis on B-Roll. This was starkly different than the majority of feature work I did, and our two styles did not complement each other very well.  There was, additionally, the fact that the other producer with me on the project was his long-time girlfriend and producer, and, as with other times when people in relationships made movies together, they would go from protective of each other to battling each other, with each complaining to you about the other, then, alternately, defending the other one to you.

The movie was, in the end, an extended booty video - which made pretty much everyone who planned it happy. It was my last encounter with the music video world - and I don't miss it, though I would not have missed it for the world because, as is so often the case, the better movie would have been the 'making of.'

As for Mambo No. 5? For me, it is my 'Niagra Falls.'

* If the talented Bobby McFerrin's song, "Don't Worry Be Happy" went from clever to annoying over time, Pharrell Williams' "Happy" has gotten there much more quickly - at least for me.

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