When I heard that James Brown had died, one thought came to mind: An interview I had conducted with Bootsy Collins some years ago that produced one of the most glorious moments in all my years of talking to celebrities for financial gain.
I was speaking to Bootsy of his early years. He began as a teen, touring with James Brown. Brown was quite the taskmaster and very much a micromanaging control freak when it came to what and how each of his musicians played. Bootsy was unhappy; he felt creatively stifled. A friend told him to seek out George Clinton the next time he passed through Detroit.
Bootsy followed the friend's advice. His first meeting with Clinton floored him because he couldn't believe what a total freak the great Parliment-Funkadelic Father was. Clinton was sitting in the center of a room on a throne-like chair, covered in colors and seemingly blasted out of his mind. Bootsy knew instantly that he had found his musical soul mate and guru. Bootsy explained to me that Clinton was the exact opposite of James Brown, insofar as to what he expected from his musicians. Whereas Brown insisted on absolute adherence to charts, Clinton emphasized improvisation. Bootsy immediately joined up. He was free at last!
"In other words. James Brown was very anal." I rhetorically asked Bootsy. Bootsy suddenly jumped up from his seat, his eyes wide, his face contorted in an extremely alarmed expression. When someone as laidback and goofy as Bootsy Collins gets even remotely agitated, let alone what was happening at that moment, it's enough to scare the shit out of you.
"What did you say?" Bootsy finally stammered.
"I was just saying that, according to the way you've described him, James Brown sounds as if he's very anal." I replied carefully. I could see that Bootsy was clearly upset and I had no intention of upsetting him or fucking up our nice little interview. We had been getting along famously up until that point. I was flummoxed.
"Oh man, oh man..." Bootsy moaned. "I don't wanna be goin' there, man! I don't wanna be going THERE!"
It finally dawned on me what the hell was going on.
"Bootsy!" I cried. "Bootsy! I was just saying that James Brown sounds
like he's anal retentive!"
Bootsy was NOT having THAT.
"Man... I TOLD you... I'm not going THERE! I will NOT go there!"
"No... Bootsy... listen. Anal retentive is a psychological term for someone who is very tight-assed, very much into playing by the rulebook, keeping with the program, into controls, exacting; someone who would never leave anything to chance."
"That's James! That's what James is like!" Bootsy yelled, gesticulating excitably, a big smile breaking out over his face.
...I knew I had finally broken through!
"What's that again? Tell me what that term is again!" Bootsy yelled.
"Anal retentive." He repeated after me. "Anal retentive..."
I decided to go for the gold. "Wait." I interrupted him. "It gets better. The opposite of anal retentive is called... I kid you not... anal EXPLOSIVE!"
"WHAT?" Bootsy screamed. He collapsed into a fit. "And that's George Clinton! He's anal explosive!"
After making me go over the two terms again and again and apologizing to me profusely for thinking that what I meant was... well... I think you get the point... We settled in for a nice long chat session. And, happily, I have it all on tape.
I mean, if you're going to have a Henry Higgins moment in your life, why not have your Eliza played by Bootsy Collins?
And may The Hardest Working Godfather of Soul in Show Business rest in peace.
("One two three four...")
Oh... I was just reminded that there is a funky way for you to spend your New Year's Eve if you were looking for something fabulous to do in Manhattan. Check out Flute Gramercy at 40. E. 20th Street and the unbelievable sounds of DJ Erzen. For $20, you get your name on the door list and complimentary party favors. For $40, you also get guaranteed seating, no table minimum and complimentary spring rolls appetizer for two. Because this is one of the prime champagne lounges in town, it goes without saying that, come the witching hour, you'll have endless ways to pop your cork.
Have a happy and safe one!