Nile Rodgers on highs, lows and getting lucky
January 29, 2021. Series 3. Episode 18
Our guest for episode 18 is the legendary writer, performer, producer and all-round genius Nile Rodgers. Nile is perhaps best known as the co-creator of Chic and the producer of an incomparable list of classic albums by artists including David Bowie, Madonna and Diana Ross. More recently he’s collaborated with Sam Smith, Disclosure and Daft Punk. All of this resulting in 500million worldwide album sales, 75million singles and multiple Grammy Awards. But Nile’s life, from birth, has seen a litany of crises interwoven with stellar success. An upbringing of continual drama, addictions, grief and cancer are just some of the mountains he’s climbed throughout a truly astonishing 68years. Nile, who is also the creator of the brilliant We Are Family Foundation, talks with captivating candour, humour and passion about his life as a music legend and crisis manager.
Nile’s Crisis Cures:
1. Work: I go to my guitar, my music, my art and look towards my work. I say to myself – I need to get better because this person needs my help. For me having a job to do makes me feel I have to be subordinate to the situation rather than be subordinate to my own ego.
2. Simple exercises: I do simple things to make my body and brain aware. I’ll give you an example – I’m training my left hand to snap my finger.
3. Music: John Coltrane – A Love Supreme. Not even a thought – my go to crisis song since a teenager. It puts me in a space where right away, the world becomes a peaceful place. If they put me in front of a firing squad and asked me for my last cigarette or last meal – I’d be like “No man! Just play the start of Love Supreme and you guys shoot away!”
We Are Family Foundation: https://www.wearefamilyfoundation.org/
Nile’s book: https://amzn.to/3qzKCx0
Nile’s website: http://www.nilerodgers.com/
I’m not entirely sure how to reflect on my conversation with Nile. From the off, it was clear that I was in the presence of greatness. The legendary musical status needs no explanation …. just put his name into Spotify and see what you get. A breath-taking catalogue. But it was Nile’s extraordinary openness – his willingness to share his thoughts on the difficult moments of his life that at times left me open mouthed. That he was doing so whilst living another, painful crisis following his mother’s death, made those reflections all the more powerful. As Nile came to realise during our conversation, he is a crisis manager. But it’s not entirely selfless work. Solving or easing his and others problems is a form of therapy for him – it’s what’s got him through his own challenges too. And there have been plenty. There were so many words of wisdom to remember from this podcast but, for me, Nile’s near life-long credo is the unforgettable winner: He said: “I saw Ben-Hur as a child and will never forget when the commander tells the galley slaves ‘You live to serve the ship. Row well and live.’ And that’s what I do … I row well, live and every day do my best to get the ship to port.”
Stream/Buy ‘Allies’ by Some Velvet Morning: https://ampl.ink/qp6bm
Some Velvet Morning Website: www.somevelvetmorning.co.uk
Host – Andy Coulson
Producer – Louise Difford
00:00:00.00 Intro music
00:00:18.17 Andy Coulson:
Hello and welcome to series three of Crisis What Crisis? a podcast designed to be a useful field guide as we all try to navigate and continue to come to terms with a dramatically changed world. Whether personal, professional or both, crisis is without doubt, the new shared experience. I’m Andy Coulson, a former newspaper editor, Downing Street Director of Communications and one time inmate of HMP Belmarsh. For the last five years I’ve put all of my experience, the good and the bad, to use as a strategic advisor to business leaders and I can tell you that the bad has been just as useful as the good. And that got me thinking, as the first lockdown began, that there are plenty of great podcasts out there where you can hear stories of success, but there are far fewer where you can benefit from the experience of those whose lives have properly unravelled.
00:01:05.07 Andy Coulson:
So, in Crisis What Crisis? I talk to the embattled, shamed, courageous, ruined, damaged, resilient, unlucky and lucky survivors of crisis. Some names will be familiar, some less so, our guests share their experiences though with honesty, often with humour, but always in the hope that they might be useful to anyone facing down their own demons and challenges. Put simply, these are crisis conversations worth sharing. Stay tuned at the end of the episode when I’ll give my thoughts and takeaways, the lessons, if you like, for when life unravels. And If you enjoy the podcast, please do subscribe and give us a rating and review. It really helps makes sure these stories reach an even wider audience of people who may find them useful and that, in the end, is what it’s all about.
00:01:52.13 Andy Coulson:
Crisis What Crisis? is generously supported by Myndstream, a brilliant company who harness the power of music for personal wellbeing. Whether it be music for meditation, to help focus, sleep, stress relief, yoga and fitness, rejuvenation, even grief and loss, Myndstream is there to improve human performance. I’ve tried it, it works and I’d recommend having a listen to the Myndstream catalogue yourself. Just search Myndstream, that’s mind with a Y, on Spotify. Thanks again for joining me.
00:02:26.09 Andy Coulson:
I could not be more delighted that our guest today is the legendary writer, performer, producer and all round genius, Nile Rodgers. Nile is perhaps best known as the co-creator of Chic and the producer of a near endless list of classic albums by David Bowie, Madonna and Diana Ross. More recently he’s worked with Sam Smith, Disclosure and Daft Punk. His work has resulted in 500 million world-wide album sales, 75 million singles, multiple Grammy and other awards.
00:02:55.13 Andy Coulson:
He’s also the creator of the brilliant We Are Family Foundation, a not for profit that was well ahead of its time focusing on reducing inequality and increasing life chances on behalf of the disadvantaged. Like I say, legendary. But Nile’s life has not been without challenge. In fact, from birth it’s been a life littered with crises as well as success. An upbringing of continual drama, addictions, grief and cancer are just some of the mountains he’s climbed throughout a truly astonishing sixty-eight years. Nile Rodgers, thank you so much for joining us today on Crisis What Crisis? How are you?
00:03:33.02 Nile Rodgers:
I’m very well today.
00:03:35.09 Andy Coulson:
Good, I’m delighted to hear it. Nile, we’re obviously here to talk about crisis, that’s the focus of our podcast and to be frank, it’s quite hard to know where to start with your astonishing life. But before we explore that I want to pass on my condolences to you and your family following the loss of your mother, Beverly on December 27th.
00:03:59.01 Nile Rodgers:
00:04:00.09 Andy Coulson:
She died after a long battle with Alzheimer’s, I understand?
00:04:04.17 Nile Rodgers:
Yes and I mean, talk about a crisis, so today is the 26th and my mom is still… I’ve not been able to make any funerary plans. She’s in the back of a refrigerated truck because of Covid, talk about crisis.
00:04:24.03 Andy Coulson:
Oh Nile, I’m sorry.
00:04:25.14 Nile Rodgers:
00:04:26.14 Andy Coulson:
It must be incredibly difficult for you and your family.
00:04:30.04 Nile Rodgers:
Breaking our hearts. You know when you go there and you see something that’s so graphic like that, it really reminds you of images of bodies thrown into mass graves.
00:04:42.12 Andy Coulson:
Oh my word.
00:04:43.18 Nile Rodgers:
00:04:45.05 Andy Coulson:
That’s so distressing. I’m so sorry to hear that. Nile, your mum was an extraordinary woman who lead an extraordinary life. But also a life, also riven with crisis. The first of which of course you shared because it was your arrival. Your mum was aged just fourteen when you were born, I think. She had to give you up, later she fought to get you back with the help of your grandmother. You researched those early months of your life in great detail for your brilliant autobiography. How have you been reflecting on it now, can I ask?
00:05:28.04 Nile Rodgers:
With a lot of emotion and strangely enough we’re at a unique period of time where I’m getting a lot more information, which is incredible. I decided to sell my cars and my guitar collection and a lot of my artwork because I feel like I’m hoarding it. It just feels uncomfortable to me. And in the course of looking up experts and things like that I find that the world has gotten so small that now I’m involved with these people who were… I got my first job at nine years old and the man that I worked for, I’m now talking to his granddaughter, step daughter. Tonight I have a zoom call with the granddaughter who worked at the same establishment.
00:06:33.00 Andy Coulson:
Oh wow, so you’re still putting the story together now? You’re still…
00:06:36.19 Nile Rodgers:
00:06:37.18 Andy Coulson:
You detailed, as I mentioned, your upbringing in New York and LA, you sort of bounce between the two in your autobiography, Le Freak. You describe your childhood as strange and interesting. Others might describe it as a never ending, relentless, unrelenting journey of crisis. I’m going to attempt to summarise it briefly if I may. Your father, a talented musician himself, separated from your mum. He became an addict and would appear occasionally in your life. On one of those occasions, I think you were aged eight, you had to talk him down when he was threatening to throw himself off a building.
00:07:20.13 Andy Coulson:
Your mother and your white Jewish stepfather, Bobby, who you adored, were both heroin addicts. Your four brothers were, at various times, heroin addicts. Your childhood home was a magnet, it seems, from reading your autobiography, for New York’s high functioning heroin community, many of them musicians. You suffered from severe asthma as a child. At one stage you were sent to an institution to recuperate and there you witnessed the appalling abuse of other children.
00:07:53.08 Andy Coulson:
At thirteen you were sniffing glue, harder drugs including LSD followed. And this chaos continues throughout your younger years. And I’m really only providing parts, small parts of the story here. It is in many ways, Nile, a miracle that you survived. So the question is how did this boy stay alive, let alone ultimately thrive in the way that you did?
00:08:21.20 Nile Rodgers:
As dire as that sounds, the way you just put it…
00:08:26.20 Andy Coulson:
00:08:28.15 Nile Rodgers:
No, you’re right.
00:08:28.24 Andy Coulson:
I hope it wasn’t inaccurate.
00:08:31.14 Nile Rodgers:
It was almost perfect. My four brothers, they didn’t become heroin addicts, they became addicts of other substances.
00:08:40.21 Andy Coulson:
Oh, I’m sorry.
00:08:42.18 Nile Rodgers:
That’s quite alright, I mean, they wouldn’t be offended or anything. Nor am I. But it’s impossible to really understand my story without understanding the period. So you know I was born in 1952 so I grew up during the hippy era. My mum and dad were beatniks so we were all into alternative lifestyles and philosophies and very open minded. So in a strange way things were fun because we were exploratory. We were like looking like what’s this, what’s that? You know, I can recite liturgy of Nietzsche, Buddhism and the Bhagavad Gita and you know, and all sorts of stuff because that’s what’s was happening in hippy world. Everything from [S?] to primal therapy, primal scream therapy, like everything.
00:09:45.21 Nile Rodgers:
I had a chat with Paul McCartney the other day and I was telling him about one day when my girlfriend’s other boyfriend, that’s how cool we were, right? My girlfriend had another boyfriend and he was working for the Lennons for the time. And he talked John Lennon into taking primal scream therapy. And Paul was cracking up and he said, ’Nile, I remember that because he called me up trying to get me…’ you know you’ve got to go back to the time.
00:10:13.05 Nile Rodgers:
The time was, it was all of this information, all of these alternative lifestyles and my parents were super, super intellectual, very kind people and because of their love I was able to get through their extremely self-centredness because of their drug addiction. You know when you’re a heroin addict you can’t help but be self-centred but they were still very loving. They were just victims of their, you know, of their addiction. So it’s not quite as hard as you think because I had so many remedial programmes and tutors and teachers and influencers and mentors and people around me. Everyone from superstars that would range from Frank Sinatra on one level to bums on the street who were Mensa-level smart.
00:11:18.23 Andy Coulson:
Yeah. And you said that drugs, crime and love was the gravy that kept you all together which is sort of poetry.
00:11:30.11 Nile Rodgers:
Right, but you gotta remember that you are great, but that’s the, that kept the family together from my mum and dad’s point of view. Believe it or not the only crime I’ve ever committed in my life was when some really bad kids that I was with stole a bicycle. And I, like an idiot, took the bike back because I felt so bad for the kid and the cops arrested me and I was taking the bicycle back. So the crimes I break are doing drugs and driving too fast. But I was never involved in the kinds of stuff that my parents were into. Which was basically just selling drugs.
00:12:18.00 Andy Coulson:
Yeah. I mean, you mention that your parents, your mother and your step-father were super-bright, intellectual, curious people. They were also incredibly brave, right? Because a mixed-race couple in the ‘50s was rare and I assume that was incredibly tough at times for them as well?
00:12:37.19 Nile Rodgers:
Yeah, especially when the father is white and the mother is black. It was a little bit more common the other way around because of jazz musicians and show business people and sport people. Typically you’d have some famous sports guy who would have a white girlfriend or something like that, but it wouldn’t usually be the other way around. So it just shows you how incredibly hip my stepfather was. The way I put it in my book I think I say, that he had angles and perspectives that would make Miles Davies contemplate his own sense of cool, he was that guy. Everybody called him ‘White Bobby’ because he was cool, I mean, he was just that cool.
00:13:27.11 Andy Coulson:
I mean, it’s so hard looking back on your childhood, it’s difficult for anyone isn’t it of course, but you know there was no, reading the book, there was no seemingly no real period of calm. There’s this positivity that you’ve just described in such a generous way. But there doesn’t seem to be any sort of period of calm in your childhood. Do you remember it as being a series of moments of crisis or did it, or is that just not how you reflect on it now?
00:14:00.14 Nile Rodgers:
Well it wasn’t, there were never really what I would call prolonged moments of calm because my life was so nomadic. I believe that I wrote, I’m not sure everything I wrote in the book because a lot of it got edited out, but I never went to the same school for longer than a few weeks or months at a time until I could control my own destiny which was around fourteen years old. So when I was fourteen, that was the first time I started school somewhere near the beginning of the year and ended school near the end of that year. That was just one semester. One time out of my entire childhood until I was seventeen or eighteen. At that point I was completely independent. I was independent at fourteen. I left home shortly thereafter, got my job at Sesame Street around eighteen or nineteen and that’s it I was done, I was a professional at that point.
00:15:04.09 Andy Coulson:
Well I mean earlier than that you describe yourself as the world’s oldest eight year old. Never mind fourteen, fifteen, you’re the world’s oldest eight year old. I mean, where does the strength of character come from? Where do you sort of trace that unbelievable resilience?
00:15:22.15 Nile Rodgers:
It may sound strange to you but if you were my age you would realise that eight year olds in New York City, nine year olds in New York City, were very independent kids. We didn’t have yellow school busses. We had to get to school the same way adults got to work. We took public transportation. And that was a common thing. It actually freaks me out now when I see a woman who got arrested because she let her eleven year old… I go, ‘eleven! I flew from Los Angeles back to New York when I was seven. What are you talking about?’ I had a job at nine. Like kids now really get to be kids for a long time.
00:16:12.09 Nile Rodgers:
When I was a kid you had to think like an adult and I was not unique. Most of my friends they did a lot of the same things that I did. They had after school jobs. You sought after school jobs because that was your remedial income. It was like your parents were poor, we lived in the ghetto. So you needed that extra training and extra money and things like that. And some of those kids had to have those jobs to help their families. I was one of the fortunate ones that I got to spend my money but there was never a sense of prolonged calm.
00:16:59.10 Nile Rodgers:
And I think that that in my life was a good thing because what’s the job that I have now as an adult? I get to solve problems every single day that I wake up, I have a problem. There is no day that I wake up and go, phew, how cool is that? Like I just got a new record that I have coming out and it’s great. And they sent me the demo of the video last night. I didn’t look at it last night because I just knew it would be great. I watched it this morning and I went, ‘Oh my god!’
00:17:35.15 Andy Coulson:
Yeah, I want to try and join the dots between this part of the conversation and your unbelievable work ethic a little bit later, if I may? But let’s just go back a little bit, if that’s okay? All this crisis in your life, it couldn’t, it’s remarkable to me that it couldn’t suppress this kind of natural talent that you have. What you describe as your genetic love of music. And it was about, I hope I got my maths right, it was about fifty-three years ago that you first picked up a guitar, 1968? Do you think these crises actually accelerated your talent? Do you think they fuelled your drive and the ambition?
00:18:27.23 Nile Rodgers:
I don’t know. I was fairly proficient on the flute when I picked up the guitar and a pretty good clarinet player. It’s just that during the hippy era, like how funny would that be, you’re doing a protest song and you’re singing a Bob Dylan and there’s a kid playing a clarinet, it’s like, nah! So when I finally picked up the guitar a very fortunate mistake happened. I was playing the guitar over and over and over again and had a Beatles songbook and I was trying to play this song called A Day In The Life. And I was doing everything I could and just painstakingly playing these chord positions that were in the Beatles songbook.
00:19:18.08 Nile Rodgers:
Now, I could read music very well at that point. I was fourteen, fifteen, sixteen, something like that and then I couldn’t understand. So the only thing that my brain could translate to the guitar, which was not part of the symphony orchestra, was I took words from symphonic instruments, the ones that I sort of excelled in, which were woodwinds. And playing a reeded instrument, we have this technique called embouchure, which is having the proper shape of your mouth on the mouthpiece to get the right tone. And I kept thinking that the equivalent of embouchure on the guitar, I just hadn’t mastered. Somehow I had the fingering right but I wasn’t quite nailing it.
00:20:11.07 Nile Rodgers:
And all that was wrong was that I didn’t know how to tune the damn guitar. My mom’s boyfriend at the time came in and said, ‘Whoa, what’s going on pal? What have you got that thing tuned like, a violin or something?’ He came and he returned the guitar for me and I hit the first chord to A Day In The Life and it was just beautiful. And I went very slowly ‘I read the news today, oh boy…de, de, de, de, dum… about a lucky man who made the grade, de, de, de, der…’ and I went ‘Oh my god!’ And I was all into it. And I told Sir Paul last week, I said, ‘man, I felt like Sir Edmund Hillary’.
00:20:59.20 Andy Coulson:
That was the moment.
00:21:00.21 Nile Rodgers:
I’m like I made it. And it all just happened so quickly retrospectively, I say quickly but it took weeks of me doing the same thing over again. And magically because I had been doing the wrong thing but I was doing the wrong thing with such intensity that when somebody told me the right way of doing the wrong thing, it was actually more right than other novices. I mean, because I was a total journeyman but because I had practiced so hard that when I finally got the proper tuning I had the strength. And I don’t know if you know anything about playing guitar but it’s building up that strength. And I was able to play that F chord to A Day In The Life and my friends went, ‘Whoa, you can play an F chord’ that was a big deal, you know.
00:21:53.11 Andy Coulson:
How is it, do you think, when you look back that the sort of channel was open, do you know what I mean? How is it that you were able to kind of be on receive given that the life you’d had up until that point?
00:22:08.07 Nile Rodgers:
I don’t know. You know, people often ask, even to this day, is it genetic or is it environmental? Am a creature of my environment or is it in my blood? I don’t know. I was talking to a gentleman of Nigerian decent yesterday and I told him that, through DNA testing, I know basically where I come from. And we were a particularly artistic tribe in Nigeria known as the Ibani people and he was like, ‘oh of course, of course you were destined to be an artist, all Ibani are artists. They were the ones who made everything’. And I’m like, going, ‘yeah, yeah, yeah’. But I don’t really know because I don’t believe in things that I can’t absolutely say are scientifically, positively… I really hate to speak in absolutisms because I can think of a million times where I thought that I had a problem solved and I was dead wrong. And then I can think of a time where I was like ‘are we going to put this out?’ and then next thing you know it’s number one.
00:23:28.11 Andy Coulson:
Yeah, I think your story’s just the greatest story to demonstrate, I suppose, the resilient, kind of, armour plated power of creativity and it’s just astounds me. Those early years of success, Nile, an amazing time to be alive. You find your way into Sesame Street live band as you mentioned. Then the Apollo and then later the sort of explosive birth and growth of disco. You meet Bernard Edwards and of course you create Chic. An amazing cast of characters in your life along the way. Many of whom, very sadly, are not with us anymore. It’s easier in a way to list the people that you didn’t meet and work with, than it is those that you did. Nile, do you reflect on that period of your life, where everything was heading in the right direction at supersonic speed, as being crisis-free?
00:24:19.07 Nile Rodgers:
No, because it was every day was a crisis. People don’t understand that probably the most relaxing part of a musician’s life, a working musicians life, is at the end of the day when you look in your book and figure out, okay, what am I doing tomorrow? Like, I got through today… because in a strange way it’s almost like war. Like every day is like a battle. What am I going to succeed at or fail at? And some of the failures that I’ve had felt crushing at the time. And then years go by and people call me up and they’re like the happiest person in the world, ‘Hey man, nice to see you again, let’s do this’. And I was like, ‘oh you know, you fired me, I thought you hated my guts.’ You know so things change.
00:25:15.11 Nile Rodgers:
But I’m a worker, I always describe myself as a workhorse. I remember when I was a child and I saw this film Ben-Hur and the slaves were rowing the ship. And the galley slaves were rowing the ship and the commander comes down and he tells the slaves that you live to serve this ship. And I’ll never forget this, this is the credo that I live by. You live to serve this ship, row well and live. And that’s what I do. I row well and I live and I wake up every day going ‘oh my god, am I doing the right thing?’
00:25:58.03 Nile Rodgers:
Just now before you and I got on this call I’m working with Idina Menzel, JT Lewis, a bunch of other artists and it’s like so many things, I can’t even get everything straight. And I’m going through all of my songs that I’m working on that are half finished. Just started this, is this idea right? The thing that I started with Idina a few weeks ago, that had a good vibe to it. What if we do another thing that’s sort of in the same vein? So I just work, work, work. And because I consider my job as working for other people, except for the brief moments in my life where I actually got to do my own music.
00:26:46.00 Nile Rodgers:
Think about it I’ve been doing this since I was eighteen or nineteen, almost all of that has been for other people. Rarely has it been a Chic record because there’re not many of those and most of those records were under extreme duress and after we got famous, if you will. The last records were really under extreme duress because we never had a hit after our third record. So all my life is really working to help other people get that ship to port. And that’s really what my life is and it’s not changed. I don’t do projects for me; I do projects for them.
00:27:32.11 Andy Coulson:
That early period though, can you identify a sort of, another strength or direction of purpose if you like in that period? What do you think when you look back at Nile at that stage, what do you think was in his head?
00:27:49.20 Nile Rodgers:
I couldn’t honestly say that. I’ve never had the time to enjoy a hit record because from the time that you compose, record, produce and all those stages that you go through before it becomes a record that’s out there for other people to judge, you’re onto another two or three projects. And if in fact that record becomes a hit whilst you’re on those other projects, you go, ‘oh my god, that’s a hit’. But you’re so consumed with what you’re doing presently you can’t really bask in that hit. You know just for a moment, if in fact you get an award or somebody recognises you that day’ you can take off and go to the ceremony and the dinner and have a good time. But the next day you’re back at work.
00:28:44.11 Andy Coulson:
You’re back at it, yeah.
00:28:45.00 Nile Rodgers:
And you’re trying to figure out what you’re doing and it’s not because you just want to keep having hits, it’s because I work for other people and they want hits and I’m trying to help them get those hits. And most of the time I’m wrong, but boy, when I’m right, whoa! I’m like really right, you know, it’s like life changing right.
00:29:13.14 Andy Coulson:
But there’s a lot of, you know, you’re working hard but you’re also playing pretty hard, right? We’ll get to the end of this particular part of the story but I mean, everything that showbiz has to offer, if I can put it that way, you were fully indulged. Again, how do you look back on that period of your life from that perspective?
00:29:39.05 Nile Rodgers:
That was something that I almost don’t understand because I was a really shy kid. I remember the first time we had to support our first hit record and we were in Oakland California. The day before we played in Atlantic City in a disco. The next day we were playing in Oakland Stadium in front of 70,000 people doing Dance, Dance, Dance, yowzer, yowzer, yowzer! And I was backstage and I was shivering like this, I was so afraid to look out there at that mass of humanity.
00:30:23.18 Nile Rodgers:
And my guitar tech at the time, he had a Styrofoam cup filled with Heineken beer. And he said, ‘Hey boss man, try this’ and he gave me the beer and I drank it down in just one swig. I wasn’t really a drinker at the time. And I felt this warm glow like, from my head down to my toes. And I just turned around and screamed out ‘Oakland!’ And they went ‘Chic!’ And we were off and running. And by the time we finished that tour, and that was our first tour, so we were out with Heatwave and Rufus with Chaka Khan and Con Funk Shun, I think and Larry Blackman’s group. So it was that sort of funk kind of review thing.
00:31:16.15 Nile Rodgers:
But by the end of that first tour I went from the one cup of Heineken to the entire drum-riser filled decoratively with white Styrofoam cups because you know, you get dehydrated, you drink beer under those heavy lights and out there and were still an opening act, so we’re playing the sunlight. The next thing I know I was a full-on alcoholic and had to drink before every show and every gig. And almost when you look back upon the Chic years you always see me with a bottle of Heineken or a glass of something.
00:31:54.04 Nile Rodgers:
So what happened was I went from being this incredibly shy kid to a person who developed a show business persona. And you know, in AA the call alcohol courage in a bottle. And it’s true, all of a sudden I had courage, I wasn’t afraid of 70,000 strangers anymore. In fact I embraced the fact that 70,000 people who didn’t know me, somehow felt they knew me. And that was an incredibly satisfying feeling for an artist.
00:32:36.12 Nile Rodgers:
I believe you seem to have done your homework very well so you probably read that part in my book where my music teacher tells me you know, that any record that’s in the top forty is a great composition. Because one day I didn’t want to play the gig that I was going to play because I had to start off the set with Sugar, Sugar by the Archies which I thought was horrible and lame. And he said to me, ‘Sugar, Sugar’s been number one for three weeks, any record in the top forty’s a great composition’ and I say ‘How can you say something so ridiculous?’ He says, ‘It’s a great composition Nile, because it speaks to the souls of a million strangers’. And I think really?
00:33:22.10 Andy Coulson:
Nile, I’m sorry to ask such a direct question really, but given you’re the environment that we described early in your life, you’re in show business, you know, you are indulging yourself as you say, drink, I think, you talk about cocaine in your book but you never go near heroin?
00:33:44.03 Nile Rodgers:
No, no, no. I was as a hippy, I wanted psychedelic drugs and cocaine is something that happened because of you know the disco era and success and I was doing the drug of the people around me.
00:34:04.12 Andy Coulson:
I get that but do you think that you also, subconsciously or consciously, a kind of decision of having seen and having been exposed so viscerally to what heroin can do to people and people’s lives, do you think that was part of the thinking or…?
00:34:21.16 Nile Rodgers:
No, no, no. it didn’t, you know… heroin addicts simply died or lived and honestly, most of them lived. So yes, there were a number who had overdoses and died, including my biological stepfather. Actually he died of cirrhosis of the liver. But it didn’t seem like heroin addicts died at an alarmingly high rate, it just was part of the vibe. You know, when I was a kid there were many diseases that were pretty lethal. And you know I grew up with kids who had braces on their legs, they had polio, they had those diseases that we finally eradicated through vaccines when I was a kid but I was around to see those diseases go away.
00:35:23.02 Nile Rodgers:
So nothing really crazy like that happened again in my life until AIDS and legionaries disease. We lived a relatively disease-free life except for sexually transmitted diseases because it was the free-love era. But other than that we were pretty fearless. And that was sort of the hippy thing. You know we were very, very fearless, we were loving people, we felt like we belonged to this tribe that was big. And what was great about being a hippy was that you could identify other hippies as soon as you saw. You know, it’s like we had a dress code…
00:36:08.04 Andy Coulson:
It was a community, yeah.
00:36:09.09 Nile Rodgers:
Yeah, yeah, right and we talked about how we were individuals like individuals? No way, José. You could spot a hippy, you go to a town and you’d see a hip dude, you know, or hippy chic, it’s like ‘hey what’s happening, man, peace and love’.
00:36:23.19 Andy Coulson:
But underneath all this kind of hippy exterior, I’m interested in resilience, you know, that’s what sits behind a lot of these questions, that’s what this podcast is essentially about. And I’ve got to ask this story, I’ve got to ask whether or not this story is true because it made me laugh out loud and it’s also one of my favourite songs. So, Freak Out?
00:36:44.16 Nile Rodgers:
00:36:45.20 Andy Coulson:
I read was originally called Fuck Off after you were refused entry to Studio 54. True or false?
00:36:57.17 Nile Rodgers:
100%, 100%, 1000% absolutely.
00:37:02.05 Andy Coulson:
It’s a resilience anthem.
00:37:06.02 Nile Rodgers:
You know the part of the story that a lot of people never hear was that we had been in Studio 54 a great many times before that night that we were refused entry. The reason why we were able to go to Studio 54 was my girlfriend at the time, she was very, very into fashion. And how cool and cute in a way, was that my name was Nile and her given name was Nefertiti. So it was Nile and Nefertiti. Nefertiti worked at Fiorucci, she knew all of the designers, she was down with Halston, she was down with Norma Kamali. I mean, everybody they were all her friends, Tommy Hilfiger, the whole bit.
00:37:54.14 Nile Rodgers:
So when I wrote the song, He’s the Greatest Dancer, come on, where did I get it from? My girlfriend, Halston, Gucci, Fiorucci. I mean, it’s the first time anybody had ever name checked fashion designers in a pop song and believe me I’ve checked this out, look it up, you’ll see, very first time. And now if you listen to a pop record, oh my god, it’s just name checking after… one designer. The only thing that was name checked in those days were cars. They would say you know, a Cadillac or driving along in my Hosemobile or automobile actually but you know they would talk about crazy about my Mercury.
00:38:35.05 Nile Rodgers:
No one ever said fashion, you know, I’m wearing my Givenchy, you know, it was like the start. And when we said Halston, Gucci, Fiorucci, it was like, one, Sister Sledge didn’t even know who we were talking about, they were from Philadelphia, there was no Gucci or… they were like, what are you talking about? To them it was like Pig Latin, you know, they were like Halston, Gucci, Fiorucci, what is that? and we were like, ‘it’s cool’.
00:39:05.08 Andy Coulson:
Can we move on to Disco Demolition?
00:39:08.21 Nile Rodgers:
00:39:08.23 Andy Coulson:
From this distance it sort of feels like, when you read about it, it feels like some sort of ridiculous stunt. But the impact was existential for you, right? I mean it was a campaign against disco that was threatening your livelihood for you and Bernard?
00:39:25.16 Nile Rodgers:
Yeah, I sort of had a biphasic reaction to that because we were gigging in London and we were flying home and reading the newspaper and they were talking about this event that had happened called Disco Sub. We were completely unaware of it; we also didn’t think that people thought we were a disco band. We thought people thought we were an R’n’B Jazz Funk band, which is what we are, you know. Only one song on the record went, ‘ah freak out’. The other songs were instrumentals and ballads and you know other hits sounding of reggae or whatever. But we were branded with the scarlet letter of disco which we actually grew to be proud of because that’s another longer story. But let me just go back and fill in the Studio 54 story for you because…
00:40:21.08 Andy Coulson:
Apologies, apologies yeah.
00:40:22.10 Nile Rodgers:
No, I jumped. So what happened is, so we had been in Studio 54 many, many times but that particular night Grace Jones had invited us personally. Now, we had never spoken to any stars before, let alone have a star call us and say come and see me perform. And she was considering having us do what would then be her next album. So she told us to ‘Come to ze back door and tell dem you’re personal frie-ends of Mees Grace Jones’, or something like that. And I hate to do accents because it sounds like I’m making fun of people but Grace’s accent is so unique and so bizarre we actually thought she was putting it on and that’s what we had to do so that the doorman knew that we really were the real people.
00:41:13.10 Nile Rodgers:
We knock on the door, we say, ‘hello, we are personal friends of Mees Grace Jones’ and blah, blah, blah. And the guy slams the door in our face and says, ‘Ah, fuck off’ and we say, ‘No, no, no we are personal friends of Mees Grace Jones’. So to us it sounded like a cross between Marlene Dietrich, Bela Lugosi and Bob Marley, we couldn’t figure it out but we were doing our best. When he finally slammed the door in our faces the second time we realised we weren’t getting into Studio 54.
00:41:44.09 Nile Rodgers:
Fortunately I lived one block away from the back door of Studio 54 and on my way back to my apartment Bernard and I passed the liquor store and we bought two bottles of Dom Pérignon champagne which we used to call Rock and Roll mouthwash. We downed those two bottles very quickly and as you know if drink champagne really fast you get whoa, lightheaded. It goes away after a bit but you do that things sort of like ‘agh, agh’, swigging it down. And so we just started writing the first thing that came to our mind. Which was ‘Ahh-ah, Fuck off!’ Fuck Studio 54. Fuck off! Dun, de di de dum, dow, dow, dow’.
00:42:31.18 Nile Rodgers:
And we thought of every possible scenario where the only appropriate answer, or the most appropriate answer would be, Fuck off! And were instantly wrote this whole thing. We had a long bridge it was great. And Bernard finally looked at me and he said, ‘Err, my man, you know, this shit has happened’ and this is two years before hip hop. And I was like ‘Bernard, how are we gonna get this on the radio?’ And it turned into ‘ah fuck off’ it turned into ‘ah freak out’ from ‘ah fuck off’.
00:43:04.06 Andy Coulson:
Amazing, fantastic. And we’ve also guaranteed with that story that we absolutely have to put a bad language warning on this podcast, which is just fantastic. Although Chic faded for a while, of course, it never really went away. And your relationship with Bernard, you’ve described as one of the most important in your life. As he put it, I think, ‘you were his guitarist and he was your bass player’. You shared so many incredible experiences but also some real moments of crisis, I suspect. Tell me about your relationship, Nile?
00:43:39.22 Nile Rodgers:
It was the best relationship you could ever have musically. And I’m sure all great musical partnerships are a variant of this. They’re your most trusted ally and they’re your worst enemy. It’s like the day you have an idea that you think is amazing and they come in and go, ‘you played that bullshit on the last record’. And you go, ‘what are you talking about, this is all new’. And you realise that you are not developing at the same pace or there’re other distractions.
00:44:21.07 Nile Rodgers:
So before Chic we had distractions that were, I would say if you have a scale of one to ten, we had number one level distractions. Once we had hit records we had number nine and number ten level distractions. I think I write in my book the day when my girlfriend at that time came home and caught me in bed with triplets, these three sisters. I honestly don’t even know their names, how they got there or anything like that. But it was like wow, like, what are the odds that you have three girls that were absolutely gorgeous, they were perfectly willing to have sex with a stranger. The numerical odds of that were absurd but because we were just in that world and we were those maybe bright shiny things for those sisters…
00:45:20.22 Andy Coulson:
Nile, I need to remind you that this podcast is called Crisis What Crisis? I’m not sure that that qualifies, if I’m honest with you.
00:45:27.21 Nile Rodgers:
It is a crisis because I upset my girlfriend. I was pretty drunk.
00:45:32.15 Andy Coulson:
It’s a crisis for your girlfriend of course.
00:45:35.19 Nile Rodgers:
But you know it was… it describes my relationship with Bernard. We… the absolute best of friends. We had the most respect for each other but then when his world started to crash because of drugs, my world started to crash because of drugs, but in two different ways. And it had a lot to do with the way that we were brought up. So Bernard was like a drill sergeant and I was the class clown. So whenever Bernard was serious I’d look back at the band and go, ‘yeah, right, oh Mr band leader, I wrote all this shit, who cares about what he says…’ that kind of thing. But Bernard was integral, he was a genius band leader. He was so perfect when he would say, ‘Nile, that’s too much. Oh you know what, man, why don’t you do your thing there?’ You know and he was just spot on. Whereas I always wanted to experiment and fool around.
00:46:38.21 Nile Rodgers:
So when drugs started to take over our lives I became more of a task master and wanted to do more and more work. Bernard, for the first time in his life, felt relief. Like oh my god I don’t have to be a drill sergeant, I can get high and blah, blah, blah and party and I don’t have to show up for work. I was like, ‘what? I would never dream of not showing up for work’. So the thing that sort of split us apart, more than anything, was when I did the David Bowie album, let’s dance and my favourite musician in the world, I didn’t call for Let’s Dance until the very last record until I knew that we had the album in the can, because Bowie was paying out of his own pocket. The last thing I wanted David to do was to see the person I loved the most, the best musician in the world be a complete irresponsible whatever on the record that David’s paying for himself.
00:47:45.24 Nile Rodgers:
And at this point I became super producer, you know, made sure everything is perfect, everybody’s charts are perfect, just perfect, perfect. That Bowie record ran like a well-oiled machine, the fastest record I’ve ever done in my life. Seventeen days from start to finish. Every song’s one take. There are no second takes. You look at the album you’ll see, there’s no Let’s Dance one, no Let’s Dance two, no Let’s Dance three. There’s Let’s Dance, China Girl, blah, blah, blah and I think there’s one song that we did twice, just for fun.
00:48:23.21 Andy Coulson:
Yeah, it’s a work of art. How interesting so you’re what you’re saying really I suppose is that because of your upbringing, the kind of shared experience that you were having with drugs with Bernard sort of crumbled his foundations much more than they did yours because of that. It was changing him in a different way, in a fundamental way.
00:48:50.00 Nile Rodgers:
At that moment in time. Right, because all of these things were different moments in time. So at that moment in time Chic couldn’t get a record and no one would call us back. The funny thing was that when the whole Disco Sucks thing happened, the music media, if you will, pitted us against a group called The Knack who had a record called My Sharona. Both My Sharona and Good Times went to number one. But they were raving about My Sharona, raving, raving, raving.
00:49:23.11 Nile Rodgers:
Well one year to the day the number one record was Another One Bites the Dust. Didn’t sound anything like My Sharona, what the hell did it sound like? Good Times. You know you had another One Bites the Dust, Radio Clash, Bounce, Rock, Skate, Roll, Rapture, all sounding like variants of Good Times, none of them sounded like My Sharona. But meanwhile we never had another hit record again, nor did The Knack, The Knack never had another hit record period. But at least the legacy of Chic really did live on and we were proud of that and we made good rerecords after that.
00:50:03.04 Nile Rodgers:
But we were still quite scattered, we were hurt. We didn’t understand how people who once loved us, the very next day discarded us and who were our best friends all of a sudden? The people that they said hated us. Rock and rollers were our best friends. Who were at the studio with us every day? Punk rockers, it was everybody from Blondie, The Clash, Bow Wow Wow, you know bands like that were our best friends. Matter of fact The Knack, who they pitted against us, we were in the studio with them at the same time. We knew Sharona, and we like, we went to dinner with Sharona. It was like why are you making them our enemies? They’re our buddies, they’re in the studio next door to us.
00:50:51.09 Andy Coulson:
Nile, I’m sorry to… I feel like I’m rattling through so my apologies, but as I said at the start on the subject of crisis, in your life there’s an awful lot to talk about. But of course, very sadly Bernard died on April 18th 1996. He was forty-three years old and it was not long after, hours after you’d performed together on stage at the end of a Chic tour in Tokyo. You in fact found his body that day. I mean, a different crisis of course, but this time now, one imagines the most extreme, shocking grief.
00:51:33.19 Nile Rodgers:
Yeah, I can say with 100% honesty, I’ve never bawled and cried and had such an outward display of emotion at any point in my life. My mom tells me that when she put me in a convalescent home, when I was six years old, that I actually did what they call throwing a conniption. She said, ‘you threw a conniption’. So I was screaming and hugging her leg for dear life and all the doctors and orderlies had to come out and physically grab me and I’m a skinny six year old asthmatic.
00:52:20.03 Nile Rodgers:
But other than that, Bernard’s death and finding his body, his cold body directly across from my room, I mean, that’s how closer we were, you know. If in the middle of the night we were like, ‘hold on you’ve got an idea, let me see where you’re coming from’. You know that’s how our friendship was. So we had broken up for years and then now we decided to get back to gather. And we had just made a new Chic album and we were in Japan and I had done a number of products in Japan for Japanese artists and bands. And over there we had a lot of support.
00:53:09.04 Nile Rodgers:
And so I was doing this thing called the Super Producers. And I had invited Simon Le Bon and Slash, he and I had just done a film soundtrack, Steve Winwood, because we did Higher Love together. So it was just a great group of friends, you know, Sister Sledge was there, people that I had made hit records with. The guy, the gentleman who sang Soul Glow for the movie Coming to America, Chris Max was there. It was just great, I wanted to be around people that I loved and people whose lives had changed my life. And of course, Duran Duran. And it was just the wonderful period of time. And to end with Bernard dying like that and we also put on such a great concert. I mean, it was really damn fine.
00:54:11.00 Andy Coulson:
How did you cope, Nile? In those immediately after?
00:54:16.14 Nile Rodgers:
Well the good thing is like you said, crisis. So maybe that’s what I am, I’m a crisis manager. So after my hours of crying and just being totally hysterical, I can’t believe that that was me. I was just completely hysterical because I wanted to believe that there was something I could have done. Even when I found him I’m screaming and shaking him and trying to get him to wake up and that thing that he’d just go, ‘alright!’ And none of those things happened obviously.
00:54:54.03 Nile Rodgers:
But finally all I could do was think of his family and think of his kids and say to myself… Now, Bernard was married to my first cousin. So I had to say to myself, knowing that I was going to cause a rift between my first cousin and myself and she was, you know, we were best friends because she and I were very much alike. But I kept thinking to myself, you know, you’re an adult, you’re a woman, you got it, you understand. These are children, they’ve lost their father. All the know is that for most of their lives their father has been away on the road with this guy, Nile, and Nile has got to come through and do the best thing for the children.
00:55:45.24 Nile Rodgers:
So I knew that my cousin would be upset with me and we didn’t mend our relationship for years but I did everything to get Bernard’s body embalmed. Because they don’t believe in that in Japan. So the only two people who did it were two Americans who worked for the military. And the chief of police, who was a brilliant, lovely man, said to me that, this one guy is like horrible, he’s like a butcher, this other guy is an artist. Make sure you get this other guy to do the embalming, as a matter of fact I will get him for you. And he got the other guy and Bernard’s body looked perfect and he looked happy and peaceful.
00:56:38.00 Nile Rodgers:
And in Japan, as I said, your burial is Shinto service and so I never experienced anything like this. Like right away at the police station… I thought I was going back home to my hotel but in fact President Clinton was in town and the emperor’s palace was directly across from my hotel. So they cordon off the area so now President Clinton was in this green zone or something and we couldn’t move. So I just had to stay at the police station while President Clinton moved about. And then when I finally thought they were taking me to my car, they were escorting me to a temple that they had set up at the police station and they had placed Bernard in a white kimono with a coffin that had a glass front and the chief of police said, ‘oh be with your friend’. And I was like, wow, this was so unlike America. In America it would be like ‘oh, he’s a black man, drug addict, musician…’
00:57:54.06 Andy Coulson:
Yeah, yeah. Just the total respect that they treated him with. Which must have been an enormous comfort. Nile, can I ask, and I’m very conscious here that I’m sort of squeezing unbelievably traumatic, complex experiences in your life and summarising them, for which apologies. But it all, I suppose, if I can summarise very quickly they all lead to the same question, really. Twelve years before Bernard’s death, you yourself collapsed after a night out, to put it mildly, with Robert Downey Jr. fuelled by cocaine and alcohol. The medics arrive, your heart stops eight times. The Doctor begins to write out your death certificate when you begin to breathe again.
00:58:38.18 Nile Rodgers:
We fast forward through your life and we’re at 2010 and crisis comes again when you’re diagnosed with prostate cancer. As you said, everything in my happy music universe imploded. In 2013 you’re given the all clear thank god. And in 2017 you undergo a growth is found on your right kidney. Are all of these crises lead me to the same question, really and it’s just simply this: what is it, because this podcast is about lessons, okay, for people whose lives have unravelled for whatever reason, a whole range of different topics that we’ve discussed so far on this podcast. What is it about your approach, about your mindset, that has allowed you to cope, not just cope, thrive in the midst of so much crisis?
00:59:39.03 Nile Rodgers:
As I said, you made me realise that maybe what my real job is that I’m a crisis manager. I wake up every day with a problem I have something to solve. I don’t have something to bask and sort of wallow in, I actually have something to fix. Every day that I wake up even on my day off. My day off allows me to catch up with all the things that I’ve let lag. It’s just a work ethic that’s built into me and I really saw it on display when I had to take care of Bernard’s body. And get that done and get that done right.
01:00:27.13 Nile Rodgers:
And right now, what I’m going through with my mom. She’s dead a month to this day. Tomorrow will be the 27th, she died 6.00am on the morning of December 27 and she is still in a truck. A refrigerated truck with dozens of bodies and I’ve had to deal with that and I’ve had to not be hysterical. I’ve had to be very, very calm. I never play the sort of, I’m the rock and roll star. I’m in the rock and roll… it’s so ugh, it’s just like, to me the concept of that feels like…
01:01:06.04 Andy Coulson:
I mean, you’re in the midst of that crisis now but, and please god it passes sooner rather than later, I’m sure everyone who’s listening to this would say exactly the same thing to you. But when you are through the other side of these myriad of crises that you’ve have, how do you manage it for yourself? You’ve described how you’ve managed it for others, but how do you manage it for yourself? What is the Nile Rodgers crisis process for you?
01:01:38.23 Nile Rodgers:
I lose myself in music when I wrote the song, Lost In Music, it was knowing early on in my life that music was my therapy, that music was my friend, my companion and that it would never desert me. And even if somehow I was no longer able to perform it on a virtuosity level, if I even think I am one…
01:02:13.11 Andy Coulson:
01:02:15.05 Nile Rodgers:
…if I wasn’t able to perform it on the level that I achieved, that even at an elementary level, music is wonderful. And if somehow my skills diminish and go to a point where they’re almost rudimentary like and I can just play twinkle, twinkle little star or something like that. I know that that still gives you a great deal of joy, just the fact that you can pull it off. It’s almost like people in rehabilitation. You know when I was stricken with my first bout of cancer it was so debilitating but I had really cool friends around me who had opened up and said, ‘you know what, guess what, I never told you this but when we were twenty-one and going to school I was in medical school and two days that week I was in the OR, one I was operating on a patient and the second day I was getting operated on myself’.
01:03:23.03 Nile Rodgers:
And I was like ‘you had cancer at twenty-one?’ ‘Yep, I never told you.’ So that friend of mine helped me and then other friends of mine started to open up because they were afraid to talk about it. And I had a lot of commitments. So I decided man, this is going to be crazy trying to call everybody and tell them why I can’t do… We were going to do the Emmy Award, I believe, or the Academy Awards, I can’t remember but it was some big television award show. And we couldn’t do it, as well as other things. And I just said, look why don’t we just tell everybody at the same time. So I did my first blog. I couldn’t believe it, 200,000 people read about me having cancer.
01:04:09.23 Andy Coulson:
No, the blog is incredible and it was one of the first of its type in a way. I think it encouraged an awful lot of other people to sort of share their story in that way. It was innovative, if that’s the right word to apply to something like that.
01:04:26.08 Nile Rodgers:
It actually really was because I put so much into it. I did more than 400 and I didn’t miss a day.
01:04:35.22 Andy Coulson:
I know and it was totally frank and open, yeah.
01:04:38.07 Nile Rodgers:
Oh yeah, and the way that I’d come up with the name was because that friend of mine who had had cancer at twenty-one, he told me all of the horrors that I would face over the next few months. And I went ‘that’s not who I am…that’s not going to happen to me…’ and he looked at me and he said, ‘yeah, brother, welcome to life on planet C’ and so I called it Walking On Planet C. Because walking after the surgery was my therapy, just walk and walk and walk. Five miles a day, snow, ice, wind. And on those walking adventures it was actually incredible because I got to relive my life as a New Yorker and all the places.
01:05:25.12 Nile Rodgers:
And I can’t tell you how many times I was walking down the street and they’re doing a film and I’ll say, like, I’ve gotta know everybody who’s on that film set and go in there, there was Eddie Murphy and you know and all sorts of people I knew. It was an incredible recovery.
01:05:43.05 Nile Rodgers:
So when I was stricken with cancer the second time it was almost like routine, it was almost like a piece of cake because I wasn’t afraid. I had accepted the fact that death could be inevitable. But if it weren’t inevitable then I’ll do whatever I do to get over it. And I would listen to my doctors. I’d never tried to be smarter than the people who I had chosen to help me get through it and I listened and I did what they said, and I listened and I did what they said. And whenever I couldn’t do what they said, I did what they said.
01:06:22.24 Andy Coulson:
Nile, you’ve been incredibly generous with your time but also with your insights. I’m going to ask you for your crisis cures in a second. But before we do so will you allow me to indulge myself in what is actually a self-indulgent thank you. Because I had a period of my life which was sub-optimal in 2013. I was preparing to go on trial, the trial that unfortunately led to me going to prison for a while. And in April that year a song is released by Daft Punk that you’d co-written that became a huge hit and a huge Coulson family anthem. The song that absolutely helped me get through a period when I felt that my unluckiest, if I can put it that way, and that song of course was called Get Lucky. So I’m going to, as I say, very self-indulgently I’m afraid, say thank you for it, sincerely. But I’m also now going to ask you for your crisis cures. So these are three specific things, you’ve talked wonderfully in general terms about the importance and power of music to you but I’d like you please, to give us three specific things. Anything other than another human being that you’ve leant on during those moments of crisis that you’ve described so wonderfully for us today.
01:07:37.20 Nile Rodgers:
Yeah, unfortunately I’m a real loner, even though I have wonderful people around me. But I go to my guitar, I go to my music, I go to my art, that really helps me. I also look towards my work. I say to myself I need to be better; I need to get well because this person needs my help. And even if they’re really famous and they don’t really need my help, I make myself believe that. Because for me having a job to do makes me feel that I have to be subordinate to the situation rather than be subordinate to my own ego and my own needs. And that really helps me a great deal.
01:08:32.21 Nile Rodgers:
And the other thing, believe it or not, is I just do very simple exercises to not overly tax me because I’m not trying to get all buffed or anything like that. But I just do simple things to make my body and brain aware. And I’m going to give you a perfect example: right now I’ve been, so I’m sixty-eight years old, right? And right now I’m now training my left hand to snap because I’ve never been able to snap my left finger. I can do [snap], [snap], [snap],[snap], I can conduct an orchestra with that [snap], [snap], [snap], no matter what tempo like that. But my left hand [snap], [snap], [snap], I’m just starting to get and it’s coming.
01:09:23.22 Andy Coulson:
How long have you been doing this?
01:09:26.20 Nile Rodgers:
About three weeks now.
01:09:28.13 Andy Coulson:
01:09:29.20 Nile Rodgers:
And before you couldn’t get an audible sound [snap], [snap], [snap]. But I got an audible sound, not quite that [snap], [snap], [snap], [snap], it’s not that but I’m not going to stop until [snap], [snap], [snap], [snap], they sound the same [snap], [snap], [snap].
01:09:49.05 Andy Coulson:
This is a great demonstration of the power of small tasks, right?
01:09:53.12 Nile Rodgers:
And this is [snap], [snap], [snap], what it’s doing is it’s making a side of my brain work that normally would not be doing this. And if you do that I’ve found that if you teach yourself to write with your left hand and you’re right handed or vice versa, or you teach yourself to do something the other way around, like I might even turn my guitar over and try and start playing left handed. That’s a big task, I may not go that far.
01:10:20.18 Andy Coulson:
Yeah, I’ve mentioned Get Lucky being a crisis anthem for me, I’m only going to allow you one, what is your go to crisis song?
01:10:33.08 Nile Rodgers:
Oh, not even a thought, John Coltrane, A Love Supreme.
01:10:39.12 Andy Coulson:
Amazing, and has been for a long time?
01:10:43.01 Nile Rodgers:
Since I was a teenager. It puts me in a space where it just ‘de, de, de lerrrh de’. Right away it just like, the world becomes a peaceful place. Probably if they were going to put me in front of a firing squad and they say, ‘would you like to have your last meal or your last cigarette?’ I’d say ‘no man, just play the, play the head dude, play the beginning of the Love Supreme. I’ll close my eyes and play it and you guys shoot away.’
01:11:14.12 Andy Coulson:
Amazing. Nile Rodgers, I can’t thank you enough for your time and as I said earlier, your wisdom today is deeply appreciated. It was a pleasure to meet you, albeit virtually.
01:11:25.08 Nile Rodgers:
Thank you man.
01:11:26.15 Andy Coulson:
I’m not entirely sure how to reflect on that conversation with Nile, from the off it was clear that we were in that presence of greatness. The legendary musical status needs no explanation, just stick his name into Spotify and you’ll see what I mean. A breath taking catalogue. But it was Nile’s willingness to share his thoughts on the difficult moments of his life that at times left me open-mouthed. That he was so willing to do so whilst living another painful, tragic crisis following his mother’s death, made those reflections even more powerful.
01:12:04.18 Andy Coulson:
As Nile came to realise though during our conversation, he is a crisis manager. But it’s not entirely selfless work solving or easing his and other’s problems is clearly a form of therapy for him, it’s what got him through and gets him through his own issues as well. And of course there have been plenty. There were so many words of wisdom to remember from this podcast. But for me Nile’s near lifelong credo is the winner: when he said I saw Ben-Hur as a child and will never forget when the commander tells the galley slaves you live to serve the ship, row well and live. And that’s what I do, I row well, live and every day do my best to get the ship to port, just fantastic.
01:12:52.10 Andy Coulson:
Thanks for listening to Crisis What Crisis? Feel free to send us your feedback. You’ll find our contact details and our show notes giving you the key insights from our guests at crisiswhatcrisis.com. There are also links to our newsletter, Facebook page and Instagram. There are more useful conversations on the way soon and if you enjoy this podcast please do give us a rating and a review. Thanks again.
01:13:25.20 End of transcription