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Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Nile Rodgers: ‘Music Became a Crutch’

By Dave Matlow

Songwriter, guitarist and producer Nile Rodgers addressed an overflow crowd at the Westport Public Library’s McManus Room tonight prior to a book signing for his memoir,  “Le Freak: An Upside Down Story of Family, Disco and Destiny.” Image
Nile Rodgers addresses a Westport Public Library audience tonight. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Dave Matlow for

Born in 1952 in Greenwich Village and raised in 1960s southern California, Rodgers, with a touch of pain and humor, told the crowd about his difficult youth.

“I remember my first report card on which the teacher wrote ‘Nile doesn’t pay attention in class,’” he said.

Rogders said he was surprised at that comment because “I went home and told my mother about the all the adventures I had—just observing everyone in the class. I thought I was paying a lot of attention.” 

After that experience, Rogders said, “I never seriously went to school in my life. It didn’t even register. It was too boring. I just liked lunch room and detention. But I loved to read and grew up with hippies. What I learned from teachers was fine, but what I learned from the guys I hung out with was invaluable.”

Rodgers worshipped celebrities. “When I was a teen I got a job at the Van Nuys (Calif.) Airport where the big Hollywood stars kept their private planes,” he said. “I cleaned the airport. But I felt that I was in the world of America’s aristocracy. 

“Sinatra just had a small plane - it was a Lear jet - but it was a jet. I learned how cool movie stars really are. I was so scared of heights and never wanted to fly in a commercial craft, but when I flew in the actors’ planes with them and I felt safe.”

Rodgers said his life was so difficult until he learned about music which “became a crutch to me. I looked forward to my music lessons as an escape from everything else.

“I made producers feel good about hiring me. I learned fast and they recognized that,  then went to the Manhattan School of Music.  I learned to compose and had my first hit record, ‘Dance, Dance, Dance’” (in 1977 with his band CHIC). 

Casual music fans may not recognize Rodgers’ name, but they recognize his music. 

In the 1970s and 1980s he wrote and produced songs that defined that era—“Le Freak,” “Good Times,” “We Are Family,” “Like a Virgin,” “Modern Love” and many more.

Aside from his band, CHIC, he worked with “everyone,” including Diana Ross, Madonna,  David Bowie, Duran Duran, Mick Jagger, Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton, Michael Jackson, Prince, Rod Stewart, Robert Plant, Paul Simon, Peter Gabriel, Grace Jones and many others.

“I worked for stars but I was never a star,” he said. “I liked being part of the team.

“What I liked about composing is that I could play my music behind pretty girls who sang and brought my music to life.” 


Posted 01/31/12 at 03:07 AM  Permalink


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With his We Are Family Foundation, promoting tolerance, acceptance and peace - and their annual world teen summit and building of schools around the world; with his openness about his cancer shining a light for everyone similarly struggling; by producing and performing some of the best music of the past 30 years; through his personal generosity,  and so much more, Nile is certainly a star.

Posted by Wendy Batteau on January 31, 2012 at 05:43 PM | #

And, it further supports why the arts are so important in education.  Not every child’s brain is wired the same way, and extraordinary contributions are made by people who did not necessarily do well by achievement test standards.

Posted by S Horowitz on January 31, 2012 at 06:23 PM | #