|A blog for commentary regarding the music of today (and yesterday...and the day before...)|
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March 15, 2002
Work that corn bread...
I go to the gym a few times a week and for cardio exercise I do speedwalking on varying inclines. I always have my discman with me, and I listen to a mixed CD that's perfect for pacing my routine. So in case you're looking for some workout tunes, consider this:
"True Faith" by New Order is a leisurely 4.1 miles an hour.
And in case you like the stairmaster.....
"Busy Child" by Crystal Method is 125 steps per minute.
After 9/11 Nile Rodgers re-recorded the song "We Are Family" with a few changed lyrics, and used the song to raise money for various charities. Nile was involved with a movie of the same name, also in reference to 9/11. I looked on the web for more information but couldn't find anything; however if you are in the NYC area, you can see the film at The Screening Room.
Getting back to Nile and Chic. Me and a good friend had gone to Orlando, FL for New Year's Eve 2000-2001 at Disney's Pleasure Island to see Duran Duran. Chic was there as well, playing on a smaller stage. The only part of their show that we actually saw was the sound check. We spent the whole evening watching Duran Duran and in between their sets trying to get warm (it was 40 freakin' degrees that night; under 30 with the wind chill, and we were not dressed for it!!). So we missed Chic entirely. We figured the gigs here in NYC were a good chance to make up for our loss a year and a half ago.
First, the venue. B. B.'s is one of a dozen theme restaurants in midtown Manhattan. I used to love Times Square, in the days of XXX stores, hookers, and sketchy drug dealers. It had a bohemian, artsy feel to it and it was a badge of pride to say, "I am so hardcore I go to Times Square at night." Now it looks like Disney World. It's a place where you emerge from the subway at 11:00PM and find that it is daylight; there are so many spotlights, neon signs, and sparkly, glittery things that for ten blocks New York City is stuck in a state of mid-afternoon. And the people! God, don't get me started. The place is always packed. And god forbid you are trying to do some shopping while N'Sync is on TRL. One whole block becomes imbued with teenagers screaming their lungs out in front of the MTV building.
B. B.'s is right next to the Hello Kitty store, and right across from Madame Tussaud's wax museum. I was standing outside the club remembering the days when that very block had been full of small abandoned theaters with Haikus spelled out on the marquees.....*sigh* Why the hell didn't I take pictures of that block when I loved it so much??
The set up inside was more like a dinner theater than a club. The floor in front of the stage was packed with tables, and there was only a tiny rectangle for dancing. We got there reasonably early and had a good table; we were fairly content to sit down but it would have been nice to have the opportunity to dance if we wanted to. Also, I couldn't smoke. That really sucked. I am a chain-smoker, and when I'm grooving to good music I want my damn nicotine. At least I could smoke at the bar, so I did excuse myself once in awhile to have one.
As with most themed clubs we had to order something; ten dollar minimum per person. We ordered some food and me and my friend settled in for a nice chat. We hadn't been there more then fifteen minutes when the man himself, Nile Rodgers, writer and producer extraordinaire, was spotted right next to our table saying hi to some friends. Now, I had explicit instructions to flag Nile and tell him who had sent me to the gig, but I get nervous around famous people and so I sat there frozen. My friend took up flagging duty, and when he walked by our table a few minutes later she just yelled out his name. So we introduced ourselves, he said to enjoy the show, and he sat down with some friends at the table next to us.
Me and my friend returned to our conversation and our food. About ten minutes later Nile turns to me and goes, "I recognize you. Did someone e-mail me your picture or something?"
Talk about a momentary freak-out. For the next 10 seconds I did a mental catalog of the people I knew and all the pictures I had scanned and I was thinking, "That naked picture from 1992...oh my god, is someone circulating that in spam mail??" Then I realized that I had indeed met him before; sort of. At Disney's Pleasure Island we had shared the same air space in the VIP audience section, and later in the Green Room. It didn't occur to me that perhaps he had seen Late Bar Radio; there are plenty of photos of me on this website. So I mentioned New Year's Eve to him and then said, "In fact, I believe we chatted about the weather!!"
Well, the truth was that my friend had talked to him about the weather. I had just stared at the guy. Ah well, it was me he recognized, so who's paying attention to the details???
And so we talked for a bit. He asked if we had seen Chic at New Year's, and we hung our heads in shame and murmured, "No." Nile replied, "OH! So you were only there to see DURAN DURAN, huh???" My friend came to the rescue (as she always does when I have trouble with social interaction) and quipped, "But we saw your sound check! You sounded really good!" Then we both reassured him that we were there on that night to make up for our terrible oversight on New Year's. Then we chatted about the weather again, New York City, 9/11...some of Chic's gigs, etc. He said he was going to take a nap before the show and excused himself, and left me and my friend...well, stunned.
I couldn't believe Nile recognized me. My hair right now is cropped, short, and bleached, and on New Year's my hair was natural and down to my shoulders; I really looked a lot different than I had a year and a half ago. My friend pointed out that I had a "Very distinctive face." So it was the nose and lip jewelry that jogged Nile's memory. God bless body piercing; it certainly makes one memorable!
Moving on to the gig...allow me start with a disclamer: I know nothing about 70s music. I hate disco. I have no urge to put on bellbottoms and platform shoes and shake my groove thang at 70s night. Although I was a child during the seventies, I grew up on my parents record collection, which was mainly The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, and The Who. That was until I discovered 80s pop group Duran Duran, of course.
My introduction to 70s funk/disco was in the NYC gay clubs in the early 90s. Every night at the Clit Club they played "I'm Coming Out" or "We Are Family" and for years I actually thought those songs were written specifically by and for gay people. I was thinking, "Wow! We have our own songs!" I am older and wiser now and much more educated on the likes of Chic, Diana Ross, and Sister Sledge. I also know now that Nile Rodgers either wrote or produced most of the great songs that the gay community has adopted as their own.
When I put together the very first broadcast for Meltdown Radio (if you don't know what that is, go here), I had to conduct some research on Nile Rodgers and Chic. John Taylor had named Chic as one of his biggest influences, and that first broadcast was about introducing John's music through various other artists. I went to Nile's website and read a timeline on his work. I then listened to a ton of Chic tracks and other 70s tunes that Nile had produced. By the time I was done programming the broadcast, I was a dedicated Nile Rodgers and Chic fan.
The gig was fantastic. Jerry pumped out the funkiest bass I had ever heard and the drummer, Omar, was kick-ass. The band was tight and every note for every song was right on the mark. It was great to see such a talented group of musicians perform together with such ease. And they were obviously having fun, too! Nile had seemed tired when he talked to us, but on stage there was no sign of it. He was all smiles and seemed genuinely glad to be there entertaining the crowd. Montel Williams came up and sang a song (I had no idea that guy could sing!) and during "We Are Family" a whole crowd of Nile's friends (mostly actors and musicians) came on stage to help out during the chorus. The small dance space was packed, and by the end of the set everyone at the tables had stood up to join the fun (much to the waitresses' distress). Nile did a good job working up the crowd, and all I can say is...
"Ain't no party like a disco party!!!!"
Seeing Chic live has given me a whole new musical context for the 70s funk/disco genre. I could really appreciate the music: the bass riffs, the brass, the piano lines, the rhythm...they spent twenty minutes introducing the band and each member had a moment to improv and shine, just like one would hear during a jazz ensemble. It was obvious then how the musicians' disparate backgrounds merged together to create a wholly unique sound that is funk. I think Nile said it best: "We got everything! Gospel, jazz, rock, blues...." In the middle of "Good Times" Nile even chimed in with a few minutes of "Rapper's Delight", so we had classic hip-hop to throw into the mix. And he used a percussionist from Peurto Rico who enriched the sound with a Latin flair.
I discovered that this brand of music is interesting. And frankly, I had never considered that before.
I used to be a music snob. I admit that in the 90s I wrinkled my nose at Nirvana and Pearl Jam and declared their music "simple". See, I was a music historian and an intellect and I deconstructed Wagner operas in my spare time and yelled out chord progressions and rhythmic structures at dance clubs. I didn't want to listen to anything that used a standard "I, IV, V" rock chord progression because it was boring. I even turned my nose at Duran Duran, declaring their reign in the 80s as teenage bubble-gum pop that had no musical merit.
I am happy to say that I no longer suffer from such delusions. It's taken me many years to flesh out my CD collection with the music I used to dismiss without giving it a chance. I already have some Chic and Diana Ross and I think it's time to buy some more. This is great, classic goddamn music and no CD collection should be without it.
I still hate disco. That stupid song with the motif from Beethoven's 5th makes me want run out to the nearest punk club and scream, "Give me the basics, man! Go back to the fucking basics!" But within the genre I so despise there are some great tunes, and I just had to delve a little to find 'em.
Hats off to Nile Rodgers, man. Thanks for the great music, and I hope you keep doing it for years to come.