Why should I care for an elderly woman who lived and died thousands of miles away from me, someone I’d never met and I’d never meet now that she was dead?  The real question is: who said you need to have met people to care for them?

Back in 2018, I got a free ticket to go and see a gig and even though I’m always up for a gig, especially when I get in for free…I went along kind of dragging my feet a little, thinking that this wouldn’t be a great gig and giving myself permission to leave early if it turned out to be really shit as I thought it would be.

You see, I have some very pre-determined music tastes that I acquired by living with punk rock fundamentalists growing up in France in the 80’s and 90’s….Ramones, Buzzcocks, Motorhead, THAT was punk rock and I could even be so kind to include oddities such as the Kinks (my faves), the Cure, Tonton David as I like to call him (aka David Bowie), THAT was music, but I have an intense hatred of disco and jazz (since I turned 40, I don’t mind jazz so much, it must be an age thing, but I consider scatting an abomination worth  reestablishing the death penalty for). I never liked disco though and thought it was so.….

Anyway, here I am, going to a disco gig…pfff…I turned up semi late as I hesitated to go until the last minute and I walk in onto a guy talking on stage. I thought this was just a quick intro and was already scrolling down my twitter feed but actually started listening in as there was quite a lot said about Tonton David. Listening up, it got really interesting. It wasn’t the usual old musician’s war stories of how much drugs they’d done, with whom and how many people they’d shagged (yawn). This guy* was actually a really good storyteller and since I love a good story, I became engrossed in what he was saying. What really struck me about him was how gracious he was. Alone and tiny on the stage (I was far away on the balcony), I got the impression that he was talking to me only from across a bistro table. His manner was very warm, he was very smiley and was brimming with gratitude for all the people who had helped him get where he was today. Again, Tonton David came up quite a bit, and I was beginning to see the similarities between the two men: the grace, the eloquence, the style, the humble genius and ability to laugh at oneself. I put my phone away and listened intently to the rest of the story, which turned out to be the first set. Within that set, I found out so many things I didn’t know, things that I couldn’t have known since I was only born at the end of the seventies.

When the lights went back on, I once again thought: okay, that was great and I liked this guy’s stories but I bet you his music is shit and once again I toyed with the idea of leaving it on a good note…

I’m so glad I’ve become a lot more open-minded (with age, again) and decided to stay for what was the gig of a lifetime. The band was absolutely amazing and the transition between storytelling and electrifying performance was incredible. Every song was so charged with maximum vigour, its own energy and climax….I was on my feet all along, dancing and kept thinking: I’ll sit down at the next one, which will be slower or shit or whatever but it was simply impossible to stop. Behind the small guy dressed in white with matching guitar, I recognised the engineer that had cooked up the soundtrack to my coming of age in the 80’s : Loveshack, Like a virgin, Let’s dance, I’m coming out, they just kept coming thick and fast. I surprised myself even dancing on Daft Punk, a band I’d always despised before. I finally got it: Nile had been the hidden genius behind all these greatest hits and as a producer had engineered to excellence every single detail   with his virgo perfectionistic ways. The set was one of the best gigs I’d ever seen in my whole life and I was so glad I came.

The experience was a feel good moment that filled me with optimism and made me really curious about this guy so good at telling stories and so good at making excellent music. I remembered nuggets of his stories and already my curiosity was driving me nuts on the bus back home, so I ordered the book straight away.

WOW, and what a book it was. That’s when I first encountered Beverley Goodman, remember, the lady who died a few days ago. She was a central character mentioned throughout the book as the common denominator in Nile Rodgers’ life and story. She had had Nile in her teens and either from her first sexual encounter or from one of her first ones. She occupies the story and Nile’s chaotic early years as a big sister figure rather than a mother and Nile’s fondness for her is the common denominator. Through the book, I understood about why I’d always hated disco and how disco had been pitted against rock steadily but reached a climax with racist undertones when ‘My Sharona‘ came out in 1979. I was shocked to look back at the bands I’d liked …. all male….all white…singing pretty mysoginistic (and homophobic) lyrics….this had never bothered me before and I had never even noticed as the 3 chord-tune got me on the dance floor or on the mosh pit to the sound of screaming guitars  and distortion, so there wasn’t much to say about the lyrics. Throughout Niles Book, ‘le Freak’, there’s a lot to learn, the context of the development of  bands and music genres with history, sex, drugs and rocknroll as a backdrop. Niles comes across as a sensitive soul who adapts to a sink or swim world where he has to grow up fast; though he touches onto his experiences of poverty, racism and addiction, there is no self-pity at all in the book and he comes out smiling about it all because he considers himself lucky and his gratitude shines through the book as brightly as it shone on stage. The book ends with Beverley Goodman, his mother, now an old woman slipping into Alzheimer’s and Nile’s brush with cancer.

Time, this trickster, really is the main character and keeps ticking throughout the story, taking away Bernard, Chic’s one and only original bassist and Nile’s long-term collaborator when they finally make it. I realise that long before we had the word ‘bromance’, there was love between men and they didn’t have to be gay. That’s what refreshing in ‘le Freak’. As a woman, and as a woman of colour, I have felt really enriched by my experiencing a black male (Nile) unashamedly enthralled by this black woman (Beverley) who was always present on his twitter feed and Instagram account. I got to know her and felt really grateful that she had brought forth so much love in the world through her son, his music and his stories, in which she will always live.



* what kind of a person doesn’t know Nile Rodgers??? I mean, nowadays, there’s the internet and all??? I have to tell you, my friend, when it comes to new things, I like to stumble upon them by accident rather than be sent there by someone else. My kids know that I would often take them on holidays to places none of us had been before and refused to read a guide book and know about the interesting spots before hand…sure we ended up in some cul-de-sacs but they can’t claim they were ever bored!