I found out my all-time musical hero was on Twitter with the heart-breaking news that he’d been diagnosed with cancer. Thankfully he’s still touring and clearly doing what he loves! Anyway, around that time he was finishing this book and we’ve formed a lovely Twitter bond ever since. Well, at least, from my point of view.
Your day is guaranteed to get better when you hear a Chic song
For such a positive, sunny soul, I found the first two-thirds of Freak Out a somewhat harder read than I imagined as the book examines the early drug fuelled days – and those are just of his parents. Growing up in various neighbourhoods of New York, depending on who his mother was seeing and what her situation was, the church of Nile started with humble beginnings. An asthma kid to boot, at one time I read about him literally living in a bubble to save any outside factor infecting his weakened body but all the kid really wanted was a hug from his mum, high or not.
The start came quite early when a chance encounter – this memoir is delightfully full of them – with the first paid gig touring with the Sesame Street road show from which point onwards Nile was able to financially support his mother. Then followed two big influences that gave birth to the look of Chic; a chance visit to a Roxy Music gig in London lead to smart suits and Kiss gave Nile the idea of being able to hide behind a persona. The Chic duo Bernard Edwards and Nile made the music but the glamorous and talented disco girls did the singing upfront.
‘Everybody Dance’ became the first Chic song; ‘only a handful of bassists in the world could play that bass line’ and of course the ultimate bassist, Mr Edwards was the key one.
We play for free; you pay for the bad food and travel.
Famously, one of their signature tunes ‘Le Freak’ was written after not being able to get into Studio 54 one New Year’s Eve and it features Luther Vandross, as did a few other tracks, a fact that was hidden to me. Or I’ve just forgotten. What’s definitely news to me is ‘DHM’ – all the duo’s songs have a Deep Hidden Meaning. It sold 12 million units, by the way.
Like John Taylor’s book that I’d recently read – so I should have known better – most of this is about the early days and/or dark days, which of course is fascinating but I’m relieved to get to the part in the last third when our man starts producing people like David Bowie, Diana Ross (he made both of their respective best-selling albums) and Madonna (her breakthrough album).
I feel sad to learn of Nile’s first-hand experience of the people lost to drink, drugs or just bad living including of course Bernard Edwards, who passed away shortly after Chic started again of pneumonia. But relieved to learn that he survived perhaps only because he pressed 14th floor in the lift rather this own and collapsed out in front of a maintenance man. He wouldn’t have been there to save his life if Nile had pressed the correct button.
I was too young to be fully aware of disco and Chic till a little after their peak but when I did start listening and dancing to it intently in the early 1980s, I learnt everything I needed to know from “just come on down the 54, find a spot, out on the floor”. Of course by then the disco sucks movement had killed off the hits but opened the production doors.
To say the man and his partner, until his illogically early death in 1996, had a profound influence on my life does not do them an ounce of justice. So much of what I’m all about – self-belief, good times, love of life, love of music, looking for the good in people – is down to Edwards & Rodgers.
So that’s why you’ll always find me worshiping at the Church of Nile.
Inspirational factor 10/10