Le Freak by Nile Rodgers – Disco, Drugs and Fate – Memoir Review – We Are a Family Reimagined

Chances are you’ve heard the classic pop and R&B tune “We Are Family” by Sister Sledge on the radio, at a wedding reception, or remember it as the anthem of the 1979 World Series champion, the Pittsburgh Pirates. The song was written by musicians Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards, co-founders of the late ’70s R&B/Disco group Chic. While disco eventually died, Nile Rodgers’ musical talents permeate the music scene even today and his achievements are remarkable. Rodgers recounts his life in his new memoir, The phenomenonnamed after Chic’s 1978 monster hit.

Nile Rodgers is the son of Nile Rodgers Sr., a talented musician who sadly died penniless in New York City due to his addiction to alcohol and drugs.

Rodgers’ mother, Beverly (forever by his first name), he met Niles Sr. at the age of 13 (he was 16). Their initial sexual encounter created Niles Jr.

Much of Rodgers’ life was involved with alcohol and drugs before he entered the music business. Her mother and her stepfather, Bobby, were heroin addicts; and Rodgers started snorting glue at age 13, to begin with.

Growing up, Rodgers was shuttled between New York City and Los Angeles to be with his family. He developed his musical talents early on, enjoying numerous opportunities to perform with industry titans, including Screamin Jay Hawkins and Jimi Hendrix.

He met Bernard Edwards while playing at the Chitlin’ Circuit (a series of black nightclubs stretching from Buffalo, New York to South Florida). Musically, the two could read each other’s minds. They would go on to create the R&B/Pop group, Chic.

Rodgers shares many intriguing behind-the-scenes stories about the music industry, including the origins of Chic’s smash hit, The phenomenon. The famous club performer, Grace Jones, had invited Rodgers and Edwards to her show at Studio 54, the infamous Manhattan nightclub; and were denied entry.

The duo returned to a close friend’s apartment. There they drank Dom Perignon, snorted cocaine and vented their frustrations on bass and guitar. “Awww-f*** off Studio 54”, morphed into “Awww, freak out”, which became the monster striking chorus.

The phenomenon was an international success, earning Chic his first seven-figure check for his label’s only triple-platinum single. “The Zen was that by not getting what we wanted, we got more than we imagined,” says Rodgers.

Rodgers chronicles working with some of the biggest names in the music industry, including David Bowie, Madonna, and Diana Ross.

In 1980, superstar Diana Ross was looking to reinvent her career. Her record label, Motown, partnered her with Edwards and Rodgers for the project. Despite her best efforts, Motown did not like the results and demanded that the master tapes be returned for their own post-production fixes.

Devastated, the duo firmly believed that they had produced quality work. Finally, Motown released their original production with trepidation. “Diana” became the best-selling album of her career for Diana Ross, with the No. 1 hit “Upside Down” and top-five pop single “I’m Coming out.”

Studio 54 became Rodgers’ number one hangout during his day. He vividly describes his appeal to the serious partiers and A-list crowd, with sex and drugs galore. “It may seem highly unlikely today, but within the Studio there was a Dionysian sense of belonging and trust. Nothing was taboo.”

Racism is no stranger to Rodgers, having experienced it periodically, even during Chic’s rise. He and Edwards visited a Mercedes Benz dealership in Manhattan. “A salesperson pounced on us to try to gently lead us out of the store. It was clear to him that people like us couldn’t afford his products,” he says. The years after his elegance found him accepting invitations to parties on Martha’s Vineyard and being turned away at the door by bouncers, due to his dark tone.

The list of victims of September 11 brought sad news to Rodgers, since he recognized the name of one of the dead, a woman who had photographed him several times to Billboard magazine. Rodgers received numerous calls from family, friends and acquaintances suggesting that he reinvent his classic tune “We Are Family” in tribute to our national tragedy. He forced celebrities, singers and emergency workers to gather in New York to re-record the tune, similar to the 1985 “We Are The World” celebration. He also put together a Los Angeles version.

The We Are Family Foundation originated from the bi-coastal project and today is a successful non-profit organization. He is dedicated to building a global family striving to solve some of the biggest global challenges.

The phenomenon reads full circle, as Rodgers movingly describes the circumstances surrounding the death of his longtime friend and business partner, Bernard Edwards. Both were in Japan in 1996, where Rodgers was honored for his musical achievements. During his long performance, Edwards became ill, but defied doctor’s orders to cancel the second part of the show.

After his performance, at 1:33 a.m., Rodgers awoke from a nightmare believing he was experiencing an earthquake. He landed on the ground and finally went back to sleep. Hotel staff woke him in the morning to inform him that Edwards (who was in a room across the hall) was not responding to his wake-up calls. Rodgers forcefully knocked on Edwards’ door, but he never answered. Upon entering his room, he and the housekeeper found him dead.

Briefing the medical examiner on Edwards’ final hours to determine the time of his death, he described his dream of the earthquake. The coroner assured him that no earthquake had occurred. “That was your friend who left you. Time of death is 1:33 am, just like you said. Thank you for this information.”

The phenomenon transcends being one more story of a self-satisfied musician. Sober since 1994, Rodgers is busier than ever and is currently working on a project with American Idol runner-up Adam Lambert.

Rodgers reminds us of the resilience of the human spirit, that despite a turbulent childhood and periods of being a wandering adult, we can reinvent our lives.

To find out more about the We Are Family Foundation, visit: http://www.wearefamilyfoundation.org.

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