Le Freak: An Upside Down Story of Family, Disco, and Destiny
An Upside Down Story of Family, Disco, and Destiny
by Nile Rodgers
Spiegel & Grau
$27.00 List Price
In his chatty and astute new memoir, musician and super-producer Nile Rodgers recounts the inspiration for one of his most enduring songs. In 1979, he was in a crowded dive bar’s bathroom with a couple of Diana Ross impersonators when he wondered, “What would it be like if Diana celebrated her status among gay men in a song?” Rodgers, who was the core of the disco band Chic along with bassist Bernard Edwards, realized that the Motown diva could speak to her gay fans with a knowing wink—and the Ross classic “I’m Coming Out” was born.
As Rodgers narrates his story, anecdotes like this show that his signature talent is working as the perpetual underdog, finding artistic inspiration in unlikely places. He sneaks transgressive messages into smash radio singles, flourishes in improbable collaborations, and trades the spotlight for behind-the-scenes influence, reporting on pop music from the vantage of a prankish infiltrator. The position of chronic outsider came naturally to Rodgers, who survived a chaotic childhood with junkie parents in the ’50s, was a Black Panther in the ’60s, and made himself a disco legend with Chic in the ’70s. He had seen it all by the ’80s, when he wrote and produced a staggering number of hit songs for other artists in a cocaine-fueled blaze of studio work and clubbing.
During the 1979 “Disco Sucks” movement, Rodgers learned firsthand how pop careers are subject to fickle social and political forces. He describes the backlash as a “tale of elves, dragons, warriors, and monarchs” in which the white one-hit-wonder band the Knack was