Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Source of the Nile

Another reason I've been away from the blogging is the immense amount of reading I've been getting in, including Dave Simpson's The Fall(en),  Matt Thorne's new biography of Prince, Lindsay Reade's book about her life with Tony Wilson and the excellent history of Rough Trade by Neil Taylor.   I've just finished Bruno Tonioli's autobiog, but we'll draw a discreet veil over that.  I've also been making my way through Alex James' new book.  It's always difficult to warm to autobiographies of people (stars or otherwise) who are writing about how great their life is.  This is less of a problem when the stories start at the beginning of the protagonist's life, because at least there's usually a rags-to-riches story arc, and tales of adversity and determination that provide narrative impetus.  It's a problem, though, when the protagonist starts off rich and successful, and then proceeds to relate how they got even more rich, successful, contented etc.  I reckon this is why Chris Evans' first book sold so well, and his second (detailing his imperial phase) sold poorly.  Despite the same potential pitfalls bedevilling James' second book (in precis: rich rock star buys multi-acre farm with model wife and children), he's such a great prose stylist I'm prepared to give him a pass.

By far the most gripping recent read, though, was Nile Rodgers' autobiog, and I'm a bit miffed that I missed two recent opportunities to see the man himself talking up close and personal in my hometown (see below).  The first half of the book, describing his childhood and early adulthood, is jaw-dropping.  Born to two heroin-addicted, but nevertheless largely functional parents in an on-off relationship, with a grandmother who was probably impregnated by her own father (thus making her son also her brother...yechhh), young Nile was shuttled between family homes on both coasts of the USA, often flying as a solo passenger at the tender age of nine.  There's lots more along these lines, and I highly recommend that you read it for yourself, but his first 21 years are so astonishing that you can see why he skipped over studio sessions with the likes of The Thompson Twins and the B-52s.  In fact, despite his work with an A to Z of the rock glitterati, he only dwells at any length on two of the records he was involved with outside of Chic, namely Let's Dance and Like A Virgin.

Which means we're deprived of the story of his collaboration with Scritti Politti, which has always intrigued me, and about which I've always wanted to find out more.  There's very little info out there, however, and it certainly doesn't merit a mention in the book.  As far as I can make out, near the end of Green Gartside's first dalliance with Rough Trade circa 1982, Green was itching to move beyond the scratchy agit-prop, slightly distanced, ersatz funk and soul of Songs To Remember and actually engage directly with the R&B business.  The ever-obliging Geoff Travis, anxious to hold on to his protege, paid for the group to enter the studio with Rodgers, and by all accounts two songs emerged, an early version of Small Talk, and a song called L Is For Lover.  And while it may initially seem strange that the brown rice-eating, sandal-wearing militant lefties at Rough Trade were buying into the seemingly-superficial and excessive world of Studio 54, it should be remembered that Robert Wyatt had already covered Chic's At Last I Am Free, and as Travis admits in Taylor's book "We loved Chic at Rough Trade, and we were all pleased when Robert's the thumbs-up from the Chic camp."  Suffice it to say, though, that the results of the sessions never saw the light of day (if anyone can point me towards any mp3s that may have emerged over the past few years, i'd be eternally grateful), and Green moved on to Virgin, where he worked with Arif Mardin, Miles Davis, Roger Troutman, yada yada yada.

And there the story ends.  Except for one thing.  A few years later, Al Jarreau recorded an LP with Rodgers (again, this doesn't merit a mention in Niles' book).  The LP and its title track (also released as a single), are called "L is For Lover".  The song is credited in the publishing notes to Gamson/Gartside, and it's fantastic.  Better than Prozac, it should be prescribed to anyone with symptoms of depression.  It makes me long for a full collaboration between Rodgers and Gartside.  And yes, I last mentioned Scritti Politti only a few posts back.  So I've never gotten over my teenage crush.  So sue me.

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