A reminder of when I use to review books on the blog….I might resurrect that feature at some point as I’ve hundreds of auto/biographies sitting around Villain Towers. From 3 February 2012.
IN PRAISE OF BOOKS : LE FREAK : AN UPSIDE DOWN STORY OF FAMILY, DISCO AND DESTINY by NILE RODGERS
I asked Santa to bring me this as it had received quite a number of excellent reviews towards the end of 2011. I’m pleased I did.
Nile Rodgers is best known as one of the founding fathers of disco thanks in part to the songs he wrote and recorded with Chic and the songs he wrote and recorded with others acts such as Sister Sledge and Diana Ross. What I hadn’t realised until picking up this immensely satisfying 300 pages was his contribution to the careers of so many others including David Bowie, Madonna and Duran Duran.
OK. His musical career is not that which your average indie-kid will confess an undying love for. And to be honest, outwith the Chic songs I don’t have much else in either the vinyl or CD collections. And if this had been a book in which all Nile did was talk about music and musicians I don’t think I’d have been impressed.
What makes this such a cracking read is the life he has lived…..particularly his childhood and formative years. For once it is easier to just crib from the dustjacket.
Born into a mixed-race family of dopefiend bohemians, he learned – at a very early age – 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 mum and heroin-addicted Jewish stepfather…..
His upbringing is a genuinely astonishing tale as he went from east coast to west coast and back again (more than once) living sometimes with mom, his grandparents, with hippies and members of the Black Panther organisation. The first third of the book is genuinely unputdownable.
The middle part is a bit less interesting – just a wee bit too ‘rags to riches to excess’ for my liking. Loads of sex, loads of drugs and dancing and not too much humility. But to a large extent, given how wild an upbringing Nile Rodgers had experienced, it’s not hard to understand why he went off the rails so easily. To be fair, parts of the middle section of the book are a great read when he’s telling you about his family rather than tales of how great it was to work with the rock and pop gods of the 80s.
The final part of the book deals pretty quickly with the last 15 years. There’s a fair bit of death and tragedy in here with the author acknowledging that but for the grace of god…and there’s things you learn about what he’s now doing with his life and the fortune he has amassed.
I’m fairly sure that the story that Nile has set down is like a 7″ version of his life….and the extended 12″ version would be well worth getting your hands on. For instance, I’m sure he’s got loads more tales from his childhood – it really does seem as if that alone could have been a 500-page volume.
The positive reviews are merited. And you don’t need to be a disco king or dancing queen to get a lot of pleasure from this book.