I don’t know why it has taken me ten years to read a book which seems so suited to me. Subtitled “An Upside Down Story Of Family, Disco and Destiny” and written by a true original, gentleman and legend in the popular music industry this is a fascinating insight into Nile Rodgers and his Chic organisation.
I particularly favour music autobiographies when you really feel like you get to know the subject, where there is no holding back and when there is a good balance between the personal and professional life. This book has these elements just right.
I thought I knew a fair bit about Nile Rodgers. In interviews he is a great raconteur and so stories like the conception of Chic’s biggest song “Le Freak” linked to an attempt to get into Studio 54 to see Grace Jones are very familiar but there was a lot I didn’t know. This is where the family aspect comes in. The suave appearance of himself and musical partner Bernard Edwards always gave off well-heeled vibes of the black urban professional making a name within the sophisticated world of disco culture of the late 70’s, Nile, however, was pretty much a street kid. Born to a mother who was 13 years old when she got pregnant he was moved around for relatives to care for him and then back to mum. By the age of 6 he was skipping school and travelling to forbidden areas of cities to spend his day in the cinema and before he was much older than that he was following family members’ proclivities in prodigious drug taking and alcoholism.
He was largely a functioning addict so it didn’t really hold back his multi-million selling career with Chic and production duties for Sister Sledge and Diana Ross and when disco succumbed to the racist, homophobic backlash of the Disco Sucks movement as a producer for David Bowie, Duran Duran, Madonna, Grace Jones and countless more.
The extent of his addictions, his attempts at sobriety and his response to the tragic death of Bernard Edwards in Japan in 1996 when Chic were firmly on the comeback trail are handled very effectively and poignantly.
We end in 2011 with a cancer diagnosis which we know he survives as 10 years on he is still very much with us and still a musical force to be reckoned with (especially as a live festival act). I’m looking forward to a second volume to bring the Nile Rodgers story up to date.
Le Freak was published in 2011. I read the Sphere paperback edition.