Bootsy Collins exists, and thank whichever god you’d like for that. He is impossible to miss; a human peacock wailing on a bass guitar, something resembling a yodel soaring out of his throat. The man was made to be seen. He’s a comic book superhero with a glittery top hat. Like most superheroes his mere presence changes every situation he encounters in outsize ways. Consider a world without Bootsy -- say his parents had never met, or he never tried out for the J.B.’s or Parliament. We would have managed, I think. But only barely.
Things we would not have if Bootsy Collins never existed:
The Space Bass
Custom guitars are often a ridiculous affectation, a bit like gold-plating your AK-47. You’re turning a tool into a statement, which usually means you value the statement over the tool itself. Not so with Bootsy and the Space Bass. The two exist in harmony -- were there to be a universe where there was a Space Bass but no Bootsy, it would have to grab a Bootsy Collins from the multiverse, causing chaos on a pan-galactic scale. This may have already happened multiple times.
I suppose this would also require the American Basketball Association to have existed (and disbanded) as well, but seriously: who else would you hire to capture the spirit of 1970s basketball? George Clinton, maybe, but I have a feeling Bootsy could run the point. George would have to settle for coach. Speaking of basketball, a world without Bootsy would have had far fewer nicknames. I think (though I cannot prove this) that a Bootsyless world would never inspire a flamboyant guard named Lloyd to, in the middle of the 1981 season, change his name to World B. Free.
Things we would still have, albeit in a diminished form, if Bootsy Collins never existed:
Nicki Minaj, Missy Elliot, Snoop Dogg, et al
Any artist who attempts to be a living cartoon owes the greatest of debts to Bootsy. You run the risk of your image overshadowing your talent, that people will look at your gimmick and never really listen to what you have to say. Bootsy had the chops to go with his sparkly top hat and starglasses -- playing with James Brown will do that for you. In our alternate universe, Nicki Minaj never wore pink, Missy Elliot stridently avoided a fish-eye lens in all her music videos, and Snoop was a teetotaler.
The Rubber Band
Some wag, somewhere, would have considered “The Rubber Band” as a name for his college a capella group. He would have thought himself clever, and he would have been right, but the name would have been a temporary obscurity. No one in their right minds would ever think that they could live up to such a name on a national scale. If you’re going to get cutesy, you have to back it up. The world needs a Rubber Band, but it needs it to be tight.
James Brown, George Clinton, et al
These two men in particular exist in all possible universes. They’re elemental figures, almost totemic -- once a world reaches a certain level of funk, a Brown and a Clinton are generated in short order. Where else would it go? They would still be famous, and we’d still exalt them, but there would have been times, early on, where James Brown was not properly inspired by his young, reckless bass player, or George Clinton had no way to throw his ideas into the bouncy castle mind of a man who played with James Brown. We would have simply been poorer for it.
Things we would still have if Bootsy Collins never existed
Motown begat Bootsy, as it did many things. It wouldn’t have been Motown’s fault had it not been followed down the line by a Bootsy Collins. You can’t put that on James Jamerson, can you? And yet? All of that concentrated funk in one place, emanating out of a vibrant Detroit on radio waves and through vinyl records. It can’t just disappear, right? It has to go someplace. It has to go into someone.
Maybe we never have to worry about a world without Bootsy. If he didn’t exist, we’d have to invent him. I hope we would.
Joe DeMartino is a Connecticut-based writer who grew up wanting to be Ted Williams, but you would not BELIEVE how hard it is to hit a baseball, so he gave that up because he writes words OK. He talks about exploding suns, video games, karaoke, and other cool shit at his blog. He can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org and tweeted at @thetoycannon. He writes about sports elsewhere. The sports sells better.