Rodgers overcomes devastating diagnosis through focus on music

Highlander Managing Editor Lew K. Cohn met Nile Rodgers of CHIC at the American Airlines Center on Tuesday, April 19, after he opened for Duran Duran.

By LEW K. COHN

The Highlander

Managing Editor

 

The news from the doctor was devastating, said Nile Rodgers, lead guitarist and founder of seminal disco/dance band CHIC. Rodgers found out in October 2010 he had been diagnosed with a very aggressive form of prostate cancer that was extremely advanced.

“The doctor told me to go home and to get my affairs in order,” he said Tuesday during a concert at the American Airlines Center in Dallas, where his band opened for Duran Duran. “I went home and I cried a lot.”

After soul searching and contemplation, Rodgers, who has also worked as a extremely successful producer and songwriter for a number of other artists including David Bowie and Diana Ross, opted for a different kind of putting his house in order than most patients who find themselves faced with a possible death sentence from cancer.

“I decided I was going to try to write, record and produce as much music as I could in the time that I had left,” Rodgers said.

Rodgers took up his familiar 1960 Fender Stratocaster, nicknamed “The Hitmaker,” and began immersing himself in his work. He wrote several songs and one of the first he wrote was a tune that he would pen with French house music duo Daft Punk — “Get Lucky.”
The song, which incorporates disco elements with electronica, also features the smooth vocals of Pharrell Williams, who would become recognized as a top collaborator in his own right following the smash success of “Get Lucky.” For his part, Rodgers laid down two guitar tracks, one being a rhythm guitar while the other being a main melodic riff.

The song was recorded at Electric Lady Studios in New York City, which happened to be where CHIC recorded its first single three decades earlier. It was released as a digital download on April 19, 2013, three years to the date prior to Rodgers' performance in Dallas.

Easily the song of the year for 2013, “Get Lucky” won Record of the Year and Best Pop Duo/Group performance at the 56th annual Grammy Awards in 2014. At the Grammy Awards, Rodgers joined Daft Punk, Pharrell Williams and Stevie Wonder onstage to perform the hit tune. The song peaked at No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 charts, only being kept out of the top spot by another Williams collaboration, the song “Blurred Lines” with Robin Thicke and T.I.

For Rodgers, it was not only another in a long line of hit songs he has written and produced, which includes such gems as Sister Sledge's “We Are Family;” Ross' “Upside Down” and “I'm Coming Out;” Bowie's “Let's Dance” and “Modern Love;” Duran Duran's “Reflex” and “Notorious;” and The B-52s' “Roam.”

It also was a cause for celebration because by the time the song was climbing the charts around the world, he was given the all-clear and determined to be cancer-free. He has now been cancer-free for nearly three years.

Rodgers' great success and his amazing story of overcoming cancer is a tribute to how he approached the situation. While initially depressed and despondent by the diagnosis, Rodgers determined he was not preparing himself to die, but instead preparing to live his life and use whatever time he had remaining to do what he loves most – making music.

Channeling his energy into his passion helped him find an outlet during his darkest days and also helped focus his recovery by taking away the option to sit and wait for death to come. Instead of playing cancer's tune, he came up with his own riff and is living proof in the power of positive thinknig and action.

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