If you own virtually any major album from the late 1970s until into the 1990s, chances are good that Nile Rodgers had something to do with it. The singer/guitarist/songwriter moved from forging a successful career in Chic to becoming an in-demand producer. Along the way, Rodgers overcame a troubled childhood as well as drug and alcohol addiction. Today he is fighting perhaps his greatest battle: cancer. These unexpected twists and turns are what makes his memoir Le Freak: An Upside Down Story of Family, Disco and Destiny an often fascinating read.
From his earliest days living in New York, it was clear that Rodgers would not lead a normal, humdrum life. His mother, stepfather, and biological father were all drug addicts, essentially leaving Rodgers to raise himself. Consequently Rodgers began sniffing glue in his early teens, then started hanging out with hippies. After a brief stint with the Black Panthers in the late 1960s, he began focusing more on music. Partnering with bassist/songwriter Bernard Edwards, the duo began writing dance music. Did this contradict Rodgers' earlier beliefs in social change? No, he claims: disco was a "movement, in every sense of the word, [and] was as open and communal as the forces driving the hippies of my youth." Instead of holding protests, Rodgers maintains, clubbers "were even more expressive, political, and communal than the hippies before them, because they bonded through their bodies, through dance; they were propelled by a new kind of funky groove music." In this age, dance music "had become primal and ubiquitous, a powerful communication tool, every bit as motivational as an Angela Davis speech. . . or. . . that three-day Woodstock Festival ticket."
A particular interesting section of the memoir involves Rodgers and Edwards' conception of their group Chic, which scored hits such as "Good Times," "Dance, Dance, Dance," "Le Freak," and "Everybody Dance." Combining jazz and R&B, the duo tried to "mesh KISS's anonymity with Roxy Music's musical diversity and sexy cover-girl imagery." Rodgers deconstructs Chic's sound, stating that they incorporated "breakdowns," or beginning with the basic elements of the song—usually drum and bass—then gradually introducing the rest of the instruments, ending in the full-band sound. This creates suspense, leading to a musical catharsis. The songwriting duo's secret to creating hits? They found the Deep Hidden Meaning, or DHM, of a song; as Rodgers explains it, it means "understanding the song's DNA and seeing it from many angles."