Today’s pop music—genre-crossing, gender-bending, racially mixed, visually stylish, and dominated by dance music with global appeal—is the world that Nile Rodgers created. In the 1970s and 1980s, he wrote and produced the songs that defined that era and everything that came after: “Le Freak,” “Good Times,” “We Are Family,” “Like a Virgin,” “Modern Love,” “I’m Coming Out,” “The Reflex,” “Rapper’s Delight.” Aside from his own band, Chic, he worked with everyone from Diana Ross and Madonna to David Bowie and Duran Duran (not to mention Mick Jagger, Debbie Harry, Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton, Michael Jackson, Prince, Rod Stewart, Robert Plant, Depeche Mode, Paul Simon, Peter Gabriel, Grace Jones, Bryan Ferry, INXS, and the B-52’s), transforming their music, selling millions of records, and redefining what a pop song could be.
But before he reinvented pop music, Nile Rodgers invented himself. He was born into a mixed-race, bicoastal family of dope-fiend bohemians who taught him everything he needed to know about love, loss, fashion, art, music, and the subversive power of underground culture. The stars of the scene were his glamorous teenage mom and heroin-addicted Jewish stepfather, but there were also monkeys, voodoo orishas, jazz cats, and serial killers in the mix. By the time he was sixteen, Nile was on his own, busking through the sixties, half-hippie and half–Black Panther. He jammed with Jimi Hendrix, rocked out at Max’s Kansas City, toured with Big Bird on Sesame Street’s road show, and played in the legendary Apollo Theater house band behind history’s greatest soul singers. And then one night, he discovered disco.
During pop’s most glamorous and decadent age, Nile Rodgers wrote the biggest records and lived behind the velvet rope—whether he was holding court in the bathroom stalls at Studio 54, club hopping with Madonna, or scarfing down White Castle burgers with Diana Ross. Le Freak is the fascinating inside story of pop and its tangled roots, narrated by the man who absorbed everything in his topsy-turvy life—the pain and euphoria and fear and love—and turned it into some of the most sparklingly ebullient pop music ever recorded. Nile Rodgers is a brilliant storyteller who gives readers the surprising behind-the-scenes tales of the songs we all know, and lovingly re-creates the lost outsider subcultures—from the backstreets of 1950s Greenwich Village to the hills of 1960s Southern California to the demimonde of New York’s 1970s and 1980s discos and clubs—that live on in his music and in the throbbing, thriving world of pop he helped to set in motion.