Nile Rodgers: "I Haven't Touched a Drink or Drugs in 17 Years!"
Nile Rodgers has certainly lived a lot.
Besides his illustrious career (producing smash albums for everyone from his seminal disco band Chic to Madonna to David Bowie), he also battled severe drug and alcohol addiction and is still dealing with fighting off cancer.
The hitmaker's biggest highs and lows are detailed his incredible new autobiography, Le Freak: An Upside Down Story Of Fame, Disco And Destiny. But reading it wasn't enough for me, so I dialed up the man himself to chat about a few of his wild times, famed friendships and grappling with his disease.
UsMagazine.com: Why did you write the book and was there a hesitation about revealing so much?
Nile Rodgers: Let me be brutally honest here. I wrote the book simply because I was out at a party and a friend of mine who was a literary agent who I hadn't seen in a gazillion years was at the party too. He knew my story, and asked me to answer these twenty questions that he had prepared. I had to write my answer, look at it one time, edit it and then not look at it again and send it all to him. I didn't know what the hell he was doing! So he then took it and all he did was collate, he didn't even do anything. He just put it in the order that I had answered him and he sent it back to me bound, and asked if I thought this guy could write. Because I didn’t want to write it, I said let someone else tackle the task of writing this. He sent it back to me and asked me if I thought that guy could write. And I looked at it and I was really shocked because it sang. I was basically tricked into doing it myself.
Us: How were you able to go into such detail about your family? There was a lot of drug use and family drama.
NR: My mom is very open, so there's nothing in this book that she didn't openly tell me. I sat down with her for a series of interviews over and over again even up to the day before I sent this thing in. I wasn’t embarrassed about it. If it was anything, it was something cleansing. I didn’t feel I needed to tell the world, but I felt I had to contextualize it because I didn’t just magically become the guy who wrote "We Are Family." I didn’t magically become the guy that worked with Bowie and did "Like a Virgin" and all that. It all was a real progression.
Us: Have you heard from your family, are they shocked my any of the revelations?
NR: Of course not -- they said it! How could they be shocked? Everyone in my family knew everything and, as a matter of fact, the thing that was shocking to me was how nonchalant my mom was. I was hearing a lot of this stuff for the first time, and she was a little shocked that I didn't already know it.
Us: You talk about Madonna, David Bowie, Diana Ross... Was there anyone you didn't want to touch?
NR: The deep hidden meaning of my book and the reason that I focused on the projects that I focused on was that they were all life changing projects. My list of credits is ridiculous, but I didn't want it to be some sort of report of making records with all these different artists. Before I met Sister Sledge, we had a specific way of working and a certain type of result that we expected and for the first time we put it on people that we didn't know. They didn't know anything about fashion or designers, and it was probably the first time in pop music that we made that kind of song, and made a statement and talking about designers and a fashionistic way of thinking and writing.
Us: Do you still get starstruck with anyone, now that you've worked with all these people? When did that stopped?
NR: That stopped after Diana Ross, and she was the first star we ever worked with.
Us: Is there anyone that you wish you had worked with that you didn't?
NR: The only person I have regrets about is Miles Davis. He and I had become good friends after we did a photo shoot and coincidentally we kept running into each other at parties and stuff. I regret not having written a hit for Miles Davis. I'm proud of everything I've done but to make records with those iconic people like Bowie or Diana Ross who had huge careers before they met me, that's the stuff you really savor. So to not have done that with Miles I regret.
Us: When you worked with Madonna, it was before she was big. What was she like? What was the real her? What would fans be surprised about?
NR: I love Madonna! If you want to see the Madonna I know, just go on YouTube and you'll see those early interviews before the record came out. She was giddy and wonderful and giggly and happy and so excited looking towards the future. Every now and them she'd put on the puff mask of the super businesswoman, and most of the time we were laughing and joking and making fun of each other. We were as close as I've ever been to any woman, without being romantically involved. We were really close and I think that it's because we finished the record in a relatively short period of time but we had to wait for months before the record was put out. And that's when Madonna and I really spent more time, was after.
Us: I wanted to ask you about the incident where you were in her house and you're at the big drug breakdown in her bathroom. She's notoriously anti-drug. Did you ever discuss it with her? Did you ever apologize?
NR: Yeah I did. The incident that you are referring to is when she had a birthday party at her house in Miami Beach. I was on a three-day binge and up all the time partying, South Beach was just so amazing to me I didn't even want to go to sleep. I ran into Madonna at a club called Liquid and she invited me over for her birthday party, which was completely by accident. My behavior, which I don't remember at all, was not so cool. I am almost positive that I was the last person to leave. And I was carried home and it was really ugly. I was so embarrassed I didn't even talk to Madonna for a long time. And then when I saw her and I apologized, she looked at me and she said, "Oh no, you were just a little drunk." I was like, "Here I was ready to have a big apology. A little drunk? Do you know I was so embarrassed I haven't had another drink or drug in my life? It was hardly a little drunk." But to her it was nothing. She's probably seen a lot worse. But thank god it all turned out just fine and when I look back upon it, it was completely embarrassing, way out of character for me and it was a resetting of my artistic and moral compass. Honestly, I haven't touched drink or drug again and that was like 17 years ago.
Us: Coming from that perspective, the other thing that was interesting that I wanted to ask you about was, Michael Jackson. You describe in the book how you got close to him, which not a lot of people have done and there's a lot around it but now you're watching this whole trial going on and you've had those things happen before so what is your take on all of this?
NR: I don't really have an opinion on that because I've never heard of anyone taking Propofol for recreational purposes so that's a weird one for me. My relationship with Michael was pretty normal. When I'm in the presence of these musical geniuses, it's kind of like these square pegs kind of fit into round holes. Michael and I were on tour together, so he and I were on the bus and I was clearly the odd guy in my band, no question about it, and he was clearly the odd guy in his band. Forget about him being a star. We gravitated towards each other and I used to read comic books to him and stuff and we had a blast. And from that moment until the last time I saw him, any time I would walk into a room where Michael Jackson was, his whole personality would change because we would go back into the mode where I was almost the older brother, who was the leader of the recording session and stuff like that.
Us: What was Oprah like before she was this media god of all TV of all time?
NR: She was great. We took vacations together. It was almost like my relationship with Madonna. We were really good friends and would go places together. We would go skiing. Oprah and I actually learned to ski together. I don't think that she has really changed. What you see is what you get. She's very even-keeled she's genuinely interested in people, which is why she's great at what she does, and as far as I was concerned, she was an extraordinary friend. The only thing that made us grow a little bit apart was that I used to do a lot of drugs and would hide it from my friends that were really straight.
Us: But you literally lived to tell the tale.
NR: At least this far because you see how the book ends. Hopefully not the way I end. Two days after I turned in the book, I get a phone call from my doctor saying that I have incredibly aggressive cancer and I need to come in to explore my options. And I'm thinking, "What are you talking about? That's not a rock and roll disease. Cancer?" And that stopped me in my tracks. But at that point I was pretty much finished with the book. I didn't even want to deal with the cancer issue at that point. I didn't know where it was leading and I didn't want to stick around to see it and follow it day by day and then come back and say, "This is how the book ends." So I turned in the book and said, "We're done." So my life is a peculiar thing. And thankfully, I'm a genuinely happy person and I didn't want to spend any time being grumpy or pissed off, or anything like that. And I knew cancer was uncharted territory. I could have easily become pissed off and weird. So I wanted to turn in the book before that happened.
Us: How are you doing with the cancer now?
NR: Today I'm not grumpy, pissed off or weird, but it's a roller coaster because you're trying to get to five years clean and at this stage of my life, I'm still in that first year. They give me a test every 90 days. I'm in that cycle where I'm waiting for a test back. Your emotions run crazy, but right now I haven't gotten the all clear and I wonder why they haven't told me. But then again, I've been away from home and have projects that I'm doing. I have a theater project, a television project, but I haven't gotten word from the doctor, so it's been a good two weeks and I am nervous. I'll try to keep balance. I wont try to get scared until I hear more.