BOOK FESTIVAL – Nile Rodgers

Nile Rodgers
The man who brought us disco
Sunday 19 August 9:30pm – 10:30pm RBS Main Theatre

“Awww…freak out.”

For once there’s good reason to. A packed (and it must be said, joyous) house is here to see Nile Rodgers. The Chic guitar legend who’s in town to remember the good times (and the bad).

To the added delight of the faithful who’ve gathered here, the man sharing the stage and asking the questions is the canny choice of Irvine Welsh.

LE FREAK is Rodgers’ life story, from his formative childhood years in the ghettos of NYC and LA to his boho life in Manhattan’s ‘Hell’s Kitchen’, to his venture into music, culminating in a career as one of the industry’s most successful producers.

His new book is a 300-page biography that is, at times, equal parts trip into the underworld of drugs, unstable home life and extreme poverty and, on the other hand, to the material fortunes and extreme hedonism that come with success.

Nile Rodgers is a fortunate guy.

Not in terms of his music or the long list of people he’s worked with (Madonna, Diana Ross, Prince, Dylan, Debbie Harry, Luther Vandross, David Bowie, Duran Duran etc.), but in the fact he’s even alive and sharing this tent with us tonight.

His book contains an explicit account of growing up in the drug-infested home of his mother and her partner. His grandmothers, his sibling and a host of ‘guests’ who frequent their home to partake of various hard-core substances and anything else going.

To add to these youthful fractures, there were frequent cross-country trips from NYC to an equally grim life in LA. It’s in the latter that a full on glue habit for young Niles became the start of a life-long dependence on junk.

Despite all of this, getting that first guitar for Christmas changed everything.

Rodgers would eventually (and permanently) stay in NYC. Those lonely teenage train rides led him to a sub-culture commune where various ‘revolutionaries’ informed his inquiring and obviously bright mind.

His first band was the New World Rising. While working as a session musician he would meet his eventual soul mate the late Bernard Edwards, and prepare the artful concept that became Chic. Replicating Kiss’s anonymity and Roxy Music’s diversity, and ensuring every one of their songs had that D.H.M. (Deep Hidden Meaning). This was pop, but pop with a brain.

It was hilarious to hear his story from New Year’s Eve 1977 when he and Edwards failed to gain entry to a Grace Jones party. They went home sore and pissed off, and wrote their biggest hit `Le Freak’ and subsequently sold12 million copies.

There are many more such stories this evening, sprinkled between the cocaine habits that almost cost him his life on more than one occasion.

Topics veer from David Bowie’s ankle tattoo and Rodgers’ considerable contribution to the success of ‘Let’s dance’ and ‘China girl’, to life at the infamous Studio 54, as well as to the racist and sexist ‘Disco Sucks’ movement that finally put pay to Chic’s startling trajectory (and to a great degree one suspects, their rightful legacy).

On encountering Irvine Welsh’s attempt to wrap things up this evening, Rodgers frustration and disbelief is obvious for all to see, “Aww…man, I haven’t even got started yet!”

Good times indeed.

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