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Le Freak: An Upside Down Story of Family, Disco, and Destiny Hardcover – October 18, 2011
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A Letter from Author Nile Rodgers: The Reason I Wrote Le Freak
I started writing Le Freak to answer some questions I had about my life. Not the big existential ones, just the facts. I’d asked my mother a question about our early years and her answer would ignite another spark of curiosity rather than provide closure. In no time at all we were off and running like a couple of dog-track greyhounds. The more I wanted to know the more she wanted to tell-- like it was some sort of absolution ritual. Mom didn’t need to apologize for anything--nor did I--we’d already done that countless times throughout the years. When I started interviewing doctors, institutional historians, family members, and friends I noticed there was a real pattern to this process of rediscovery. Everybody wanted to contribute. My inquiries reminded them that we were all a part of an amazing period in American history. My early childhood was fascinating in the fifties; my teens were quasi-suicidal in the sixties; young adulthood was sexy in the seventies, and the edginess of the eighties lasted into the mid-nineties. Then that edgy life caught up with me. I only turned away from it when it finally threatened to take away my world’s most precious gift--music. This isn’t literally a book about music--maybe writing about music really is like dancing about architecture, as the old saying goes. But if music takes the jumble of life--the love and loss, the excitement and pain--and neatly arranges it into notes and chords and verses and choruses that somehow capture it all, then what I’ve done is a little reverse engineering by recovering all the stuff that got packed into those records, a story that trails around the world and back to a newborn leaving his teenaged mother’s arms on Welfare Island in 1952. So in a way this is a book about music because music is about, well, everything, isn’t it?
“[An] amazing memoir . . . steeped in the incestuous energy of the times: Punk, funk and art rock mixed it up in the downtown clubs, where musicians partied together and shared ideas. . . . Le Freak has plenty of sex and drugs. But it’s the music that makes it essential. . . . Rodgers gave those dreams a beat—and helped invent pop as we know it today.”—Rob Sheffield, Rolling Stone
“This book is an absolute knockout: exhilarating, warm, and courageous, deeply moving and deeply funny. Le Freak is as much about the greatness of life as it is about Nile Rodgers’s extraordinary musical journey. As Rodgers well knows, the best music is the stuff we feel, the stuff that speaks to us and won’t let go. Le Freak does all that and much more. This is truly one of the best books ever written about art, music, life, and the way we grow to be exactly who we are. Actually, one of the best books period.”—Cameron Crowe
“A coming-of-age tale every bit as impressive as the musical insights and star-time chronicles that follow.”—The New York Times Book Review
“Consistently entertaining . . . His legacy as a funk-rock visionary is assured, and his autobiography serves as further proof that disco does not suck.”—San Francisco Chronicle
“An unforgettable, gripping book.”—The Sunday Times (UK)
“Name a star and you can bet they’re in this book, playing or partying with Rodgers. But far from being a succession of name-dropping anecdotes, this autobiography is a wonderfully funny, moving and wise reflection upon the important things in life: the people you love and the things you create.”—The Sunday Telegraph (UK)
“Rodgers’s page-turning memoir is packed with emotionally charged vignettes of a tumultuous childhood and equally dramatic adulthood that found him awash in cash, cars, and celebrities. . . . His storytelling skills propel the reader through the book, making the ending all the more jarring. Remarkable for its candor, this rags-to-riches story is on the year’s shortlist of celebrity memoirs.”—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
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Top Customer Reviews
Not something worth reading 100 times - but the very first is enough to uplift your spirit if you are experiencing hard times or depression.
Just buy it and keep for your rainy day
Funny thing is, I don't believe it was written with a message in mind. It's the gripping biography of the unprivileged, skinny, asthmatic son of a 13 year old girl who left her husband-to-be at the altar because she wanted to live her own life. In the absence of his biological dad Nile Sr. (who drifts in and out of his son's life --and the book-- before succumbing to alcoholism) Nile Rodgers' father figure was a white junkie who worked in the garment district in New York. His mom dragged him to LA and back a couple times, had him sent off age 5 to a sanatorium for asthmatic children, left him a number of times with his two loving but not very vigilant grandmothers, did very little to prevent him from becoming a junkie himself and later in life became his largest supplier of drugs! She regardless emerges from this book as the true love of his life. Throughout this opus she remains the one constant.
That, and music. Because the boy had music. And brains. And a mission (shared with his musical partner Bernard) to discover the Deep Hidden Meaning.
And love for everybody he met.
Nile Rodgers has kind words for EVERYBODY in his autobiography. For his Chic partner Bernard Edwards with whom they traveled so far together, for Andy Warhol, with whom he shared an emergency room, for his grandmothers Goodie and Lenora, their boyfriends (one of whose was a convicted killer, while another gave him his biggest "high" ever when he tuned his first guitar), for his often not very well behaved siblings, for his mom Beverly, for her boyfriends and lovers, he even has good things to say for (yet another) convicted killer who raped his mother.
Aside from his mom, who gets it in spades, and his partner Bernard, adualtion is chiefly meted out to his idols like Diana Ross and David Bowie that he had the privilege to work for, but also to Michael Jackson, who sought his help at a difficult time, and Madonna, with whom he partied.
Ah, the partying. Must confess I don't exactly feel like my sense of partying and Nile Rodgers' have tons in common. He allegedly spent a few years of his life in a stall in the women's bathroom of Studio 54, meting out cocaine to all comers. But there's no denying that the guy did party hard.
The partying almost killed him, and you get the lowdown of how he battled his addiction and how he won, though that's not a big part of the book. This is chiefly a book about family and about music.
Lest we forget, Niles Rodgers gave us "Everybody Dance," "Le Freak," "Good Times," "We are Family," "He's the Greatest Dancer," "Upside Down," "I'm Coming Out," "Let's Dance," "China Girl," "Modern Love," "Wild Boys," "Notorious," "Like a Virgin," "Material Girl," "Love Shack," (I'll forgive him that one) and, of course, "Get Lucky."
There's nobody he hasn't worked with, basically.
Still, the thing I took away from this book, more than the music, more than the partying and more than the amazing story of what determination and talent can do for a young boy that grew up between two ghettos, was the endless optimism that has run through Nile Rodgers' life.
The last paragraph of the book tells us he's now fighting cancer. If anybody on earth can beat it, that will be Nile Rodgers!
My first exposure to Nile Rodgers was the same as the majority of people my age, through the incredibly popular tunes of "Chic". I owned a half dozen of those old discs of vinyl from his band, and literally wore them out. They made up a good portion of the high school soundtrack of my life, and even into college. My first awareness of him as a producer was as a junior in college when David Bowie's "Let's Dance" album dropped. It was such a change from the "Diamond Dog" and Thin White Duke days that had made me a fan of Bowie. Along with the albums title track, "Modern Love" and "China Girl" were hummed endlessly, and played mercilessly on Top 40 radio and MTV. The details and anecdotes that Nile Rodgers writes about in this bio made me re-listen to tracks I haven't heard in years and appreciate them again with a new found understanding.
If books about drugs, sex and rock and roll (or disco) are not up your alley, then you should know this book is about more than that. It is about a man who is talented, driven and has literally changed the way Americans listen to music. Madonna, Michael Jackson, Diana Ross, and a long list of talents all benefited from the skills of this musician. He tells his story openly and honestly, making for a compelling read. I wish him well, and look forward to reading the future chapters of his life enfolding. Highly recommended.