Postcards from the edge
From Chic to Bowie to Madonna, from Duran Duran to Daft Punk, Nile Rodgers has been at the leading edge of pop music for decades. He’s also been to the very edge in other ways. He talks JIM CARROLLthrough the tracks of his years
THE TRACK FROM MY CHILDHOOD
Elvis Presley Blue Suede Shoes
That was the first record I was ever given and, believe it or not, I got the shoes to go along with it. I got the record, I got the shoes and a few weeks later, I got a blue sharkskin suit – and that’s what I did my first Holy Communion in. I guess I was always a dapper dresser. Back then, though, my sartorial choices were not up to me and I wore what I was put in.
My grandmother was a devout Catholic but she was also very stylish. She was a ‘Lindy Hopper’, super super super stylish, and always dressed me like that. If you’ve seen movies like Hellzapoppin’, that’s her. That woman would get on a dancefloor and jitterbug all night long.
THE TRACK FROM MY EARLY YEARS MAKING MUSIC
Jimi Hendrix Are You Experienced?
During that time, between the end of the psychedelic era and the beginning of the fusion era, I was into Jim Hendrix, Coltrane, Miles. I worshipped Hendrix the most and this song really stands out for me from that time. Did you know that OutKast’s Andre 3000 is shooting a Hendrix biopic in Dublin at the momen? He’s perfect for that role, perfect.
THE TRACK THAT REMINDS ME OF MEETING BERNARD EDWARDS FOR THE FIRST TIME AND FORMING CHIC
The Meters Cissy Strut
That was the very first song I played with Bernard (hums the bassline). The very first thing. Before we started playing together, we certainly weren’t on the same page. That changed when we started playing and hanging out. When I rang him first and told him what I wanted to do, the idea was so revolting to him that he told me to lose his number. He told me to never call him again. When we met face to face, though, we didn’t realise we were the people who spoke on the phone so we just played and vibed instantly.
It shows you that music is the language that communicates most. My words stank. I was talking about creating a brand new band, but when we met, we were just jamming covers like Cissy Strut, and we could see we were on the same level.
THE TRACK THAT REMINDS ME OF THE CHIC YEARS
Chic Good Times
Le Freak was bigger than Good Times, but Good Times was interesting because it came out in 1979, the end of the decade, and we were going out with all the odds against us. Good Times went to number one at the same time as the entire music industry was supporting The Knack and the ‘disco sucks’ movement.
I’ve nothing against The Knack – and I even met Sharona from the song – but the industry pitted The Knack against us. They never had another hit record, yet Good Times went on to influence records like Queen’s Another One Bites the Dust and Sugarhill Hill’s Rapper’s Delight and the beginning of hip-hop. Le Freak was huge and great, but all it did was make us more money.
THE TRACK FROM THE YEARS AS A PRODUCER-FOR-HIRE
David Bowie Let’s Dance
Let’s Dance is probably the great track from that era. Don’t get me wrong, I love what I did with Duran Duran, and that’s my longest working relationship with any band. But Let’s Dance is the one because of the unique way it came together. David and I met when we were without record deals and it was us against the world. We had no one to answer to but each other and we did the entire album in just 17 days. Mixed and delivered; done. It all started with that song which David composed originally as a folk song. That’s what it sounded like to me, it sounded pretty folky. It certainly didn’t sound anything like it did when it finally reached everyone else’s ears.
THE TRACK FROM MY YEARS AS A PARTY ANIMAL
Grace Jones Slave to the Rhythm
I loved that time; I had the best time of my life, I don’t question it at all, it was great. What I do question is the fact that I’m still alive. I died eight times in my life and I didn’t stay dead. But that party ended at Madonna’s house at her birthday in August 1994. I was out of control. I don’t remember 99.9 per cent of it. What I know about that day is what people told me afterwards. The 0.1 per cent I do remember is me and Mickey Rourke in the bathroom until six or seven in the morning trying to save the world with all sorts of ridiculous notions in between doing hits of blow.
THE TRACK THAT REMINDS ME OF WRITING MY AUTOBIOGRAPHY LE FREAK
Madonna Like A Virgin
The guy who was my writing coach told me that writing a book was like writing a song that has no chorus. As soon as he said that, I was highly offended and said I just can’t write that book because every song I write has a chorus. I have to have a chorus – and my chorus for my book became the revolving theme of Thanksgiving Day.
There wasn’t one song as such; there were many, many, many songs. If there was one single track which stood out, it was Madonna’s Like A Virgin. I kept thinking of her work ethic, and that I had to have discipline above and beyond my normal standards. Writing is the hardest thing I’ve ever done and four years later, I have a book I’m very proud of.
THE TRACKS I’M CURRENTLY DIGGING
All musicians are exactly the same because the stuff that’s exciting to you is whatever you’re working on at that time. I finished Shady with Adam Lambert and that entered the Billboard charts at number one, which was unbelievable. I worked on stuff with Daft Punk and I’m excited about that but can’t say anymore about that.
I’m also working on a few big, big Broadway musicals. When I did Coming to America, which was my first major motion picture score, I knew I could do it, but people thought John Landis was nuts to give it to me and that turned out great. Now, I’m doing Broadway musicals and it feels as natural to me as doing I Want Your Love or Le Freak or Good Times or We Are Family.
It feels right.
Chic play Galway’s Big Top on July 19, Belfast’s Mandela Hall on Aug 1, Dublin’s Button Factory on Aug 2 and the Liss Ard festival, Co Cork, on Aug 4. Nile Rodgers will also take part in a Banter public interview with Jim Carroll at the Galway Arts Festival on July 19. For more on the festival, see next week’s Arts Ideas pages in The Irish Times