As the founder and songwriter, with musical partner Bernard Edwards, of the band Chic, Nile Rodgers was responsible for some of the biggest hits of the disco era, including "Le Freak" and "Good Times." Then, as the co-producer of albums such as David Bowie's "Let's Dance" and Madonna's "Like a Virgin," his hit-making prowess helped shape the '80s as much as it had the '70s. Rodgers' 2011 memoir, "Le Freak: An Upside Down Story of Family, Disco and Destiny," told his lively, improbable, celebrity-filled tale. These days, despite a cancer diagnosis in 2010, Rodgers continues to tour and talk about his wild, creative life.
How did you make a living before your songs became hits?
I played on the streets. I was a panhandler. I was homeless. My mom and dad were heroin addicts, so I wound up having to fend for myself at a very early age. I could come and go as I pleased by the time I was 11, so I left home for good at 14. I learned how to panhandle in 10 languages, including sign language. I lived on the subway and on the street, and I learned to play guitar when I was 16. So I'd play on the streets and panhandle. I played everywhere. I never stopped playing.
When you became a star and stopped panhandling, what was the most extravagant thing you splurged on?
I've bought a number of absurdly extravagant things. I used to have a fleet of speedboats. I bought my first Cigarette ocean racer in 1978 -- a 28-foot SS, like on "Miami Vice." It cost a fortune. That was a go-fast boat. I bought five or six of those in my life. But to me, the most extravagant thing I ever did was, I said to one of my neighbors, "Can we go to Paris?" He said, "What are we doing?" And I said, "We're just going to eat." We took the Concorde, we flew to Paris, we went to a restaurant, we partied and we flew back.
What year was that?
It was 1978 because we had written "Le Freak." We also had "We Are Family" the same year, and "He's The Greatest Dancer" (the last two penned by Rodgers and Edwards for the group Sister Sledge) and "I Want Your Love," all in the same calendar year. That was the first time I got a check for $1 million.
Do you live an extravagant lifestyle now?
I haven't been extravagant for a very long time. That's because 17 years ago, I stopped drinking and drugging, and with that sobriety came a sort of right-sizeness to my personality. I realized that a lot of that behavior I was indulging in was because I felt bad about myself, and I wanted to feel good. And those types of things masqueraded as good feelings. When I stopped drinking and drugging, and I realized that my peace was within me, I no longer had to do those sorts of things.
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