‘I have some form of synaesthesia. I always have music in my head’
The beat goes on for Nile Rodgers, who has collaborated with the best of the best — from Madonna to David Bowie — and lived to tell the tales. Which is a surprise to the legendary hit-maker. ‘I was the most reckless of everybody,’ he tells HILARY A. WHITE
Nile Rodgers jabs the idea approvingly with his finger, a toothy grin unveiling under those shades. He likes the theory that disco was the first mainstream musical genre to truly embrace diversity of race, sexuality and background.
“That’s exactly it,” he purrs. “Man… you’re right on the money. I was a jazz snob. I sort of looked down upon pop music. I played it all the time because I had to make a living but I felt it was beneath me because it was too simplistic. My girlfriend at the time worked in one of the most popular jazz clubs in New York but we just happened to go into a disco for a drink. I never saw anything as romantic and unifying. All these different types of people dancing to Donna Summers’ ‘Love To Love You Baby’. So sexy. So incredible.”
As someone responsible for helping kickstart millions of parties since 1977, Rodgers has earned the right, at 65, to be wistful. From the floor-filling canon of Chic to midwifing Madonna’s early steps on Like A Virgin, all the way through to the globe-conquering neo-boogie of Daft Punk’s ‘Get Lucky’, Rodgers has been there, done that, and made it a smash hit by virtue of his presence in the studio. To illustrate, in early January 1985, he had presided over each of the top three singles in the US charts (‘Like A Virgin’, Duran Duran’s ‘The Wild Boys’, and ‘Sea of Love’ by The Honeydrippers).
For him, the past is a place of studio breakthroughs, celebratory cork pops, and oceans of delighted smiles and dollar bills. He is able to reflect on the history of himself, his Midas touch and the hundreds of millions of sales that carry his moniker, with ease, simply because that history is still taking place.
“Another thing happened that I’ve only talked about once or twice in my life,” he breezily con- tinues of that fateful night. “I have some form of synaesthesia because I always have music in my head. It drives my girlfriend crazy because I go home and have to turn the television on because I can’t sleep in a quiet environment. Right now, talking to you is the distraction from the composition going on in my head. When I went to that disco, it was the first time I heard continuous music just like the one in my head. I didn’t know how to explain it to my girlfriend. It was a miracle to me.”
You’d never mistake Rodgers for anything other than a showbiz deity and pop guru. Dreadlocks spill out over his shoulders from under his beret, and the thread from which his clothes are made seems spun from mirror balls themselves. He is that mix of self-congratulatory and beautifully mannered you tend to get with the mega-famous, while a steady rhythm of enthusiasm pulses off him, a possible side effect of the condition he speaks of.
Somewhere out of sight rests ‘The Hitmaker’, the trusty Stratocaster with which his trademark wickety-wackety “chucking” style gets the planet moving. “I just love doing it,” he says. “I really do love it. It’s weird too — when I’m on the road and sometimes my roadies take my guitar, I feel naked sometimes. I just want to play it in the middle of the night!”
Later this month, Chic, the band he formed with late musical foil Bernard Edwards that remains the first and last word in the disco dictionary, release their tenth LP and their first in 25 years. It’s About Time features the gamut of Rodger’s rolodex, everyone from Elton John to Janelle Monáe to Lady Gaga. The album will have a few functions to perform beyond introducing a new generation to the group and getting rumps mov-
C’est chic: ‘I was a jazz snob,’ says Nile Rodgers. ‘I sort of looked down upon pop music. I played it all the time because I had to make a living, but I felt it was beneath me’