BILL WITHERS / “Hello Like Before”
…to me, the biggest challenge in the world is to take anything that's complicated and make it simple so it can be understood by the masses. Somebody said a long time ago that the world was designed by geniuses, but it's run by idiots. When I say I'm a snob lyrically, I mean I'm a snob in the sense that I'm a stickler for saying something the simplest possible way with some elements of poetry. Because simple is memorable. If something's too complicated, you're not going to walk around humming it to yourself because it's too hard to remember. —Bill WithersBill Withers: the master of the meaningful moment. Both profound and simultaneously plain spoken. Perhaps it is the absence of big words and complex constructions that makes his music hit so hard. On the other hand it could just be that my man rarely misses when he aims for the heart of the matter. Bullseye. Don’t let his ‘aw shucks, I’m just an ordinary feller’ demeanor fool you. Bill Withers is a keen observer of human relationships. He is uncannily consistent in his ability to articulate the emotions that usually pass unspoken in the average lifetime. The exact second of maximum vulnerability, that’s the second that Withers stretches into a song. Here is a man who had a severe stuttering handicap but who could move you to stunned stillness—I mean like how you be listening to the radio or pass through some place or the other and a Bill Withers song comes on. You stop. You just have to stop. Sit down or lean against the wall. Or something. How in the world did Bill know about that thing you and…went through back in…damn! And before you know it, you are thinking aloud in a soft voice, calling a long-buried name or remembering a night, or a specific caress from a specific hand from…damn, just damn, Bill, I thought I was the only one who…. So, that’s one part. The lyrics of his brief epics. (My favorite is: ‘I can’t keep looking at loneliness / and trying to call it freedom’ from “I Want To Spend The Night With You.”) Of course, our lead song, “Hello, Like Before,” is equally special. Then there is ‘no time for tears / wasted water is all that is.’ And on, and on, and on. A poet, Bill Withers. Haiku like in his brevity. Can take four or five words and encapsulate a whole unforgettable life experience. The second thing is Bill’s voice. A man’s voice. Not a mack. Not a pimp. Not even an alpha male. Neither player nor baller, nor anything extraordinary. Just nothing but a man. In fact, what’s special about Bill is that he takes the ordinary and on the basis of honest sincerity offers us the profundity of human sacrifice: here, take all that I am. I am yours. All for you. You can hear it in his voice. Imagine a man saying: I’ll sit and cry with you, my dear, if need be! That’s deep. Just about half the dudes who have recorded are technically better singers, but when it comes to honesty and sensitivity, well, hey, just wasn’t that many other male vocalists in Bill’s league. This is not a best of Bill Withers collection. I’m just offering seven of his intimate songs I happen to admire. It’s not even seven of my favorites. Rather these are seven of those soft reminisces that take me back a minute…. I could easily pick seven other Bill Withers songs that are equally meaningful but these seven are my seven for this moment, OK? “Let Me In Your Life” – Live at Carnegie Hall “Can We Pretend” – ‘Justments “Hello Like Before,” “I Want To Spend The Night,” and “Just The Two Of Us” – The Ultimate Bill Withers Collection “Paint Your Pretty Picture” – Making Music “Let Me Be The One You Need (Dream Time Mix)" – not commercially available I don’t think I need say much more. If you don’t understand Bill’s significance by now, there’s nothing I can do to convince you. I mean, maybe you deaf, or still young and haven’t had no serious relationships yet, cause if you ever been deeply in (and deeply out) of love, two or three times, then I know you feeling Bill Withers. Bill Withers: the master of those moments in our lives that we can never forget—especially the ones we sometimes want to forget but can’t. BTW: a documentary on Bill Withers is forthcoming. Go here to see the trailer. —Kalamu ya Salaam In between the moments
You got me feeling just like a rich man Haven't got a dime Feeling like a young man But I'm old as father timeThat's from "I Don't Know," another of Bill Withers' pretty little love songs. Bill never really says what exactly it is that he doesn't know, but whatever it is, he "just don't know." That's the kind of graceful wit Bill employs on his love songs. Like Kalamu said, he makes mountains out of molehills, but in a good way. His songs are often about the moments in between the moments: the little things that don't seem to mean much individually, but taken together, add up to everything that makes that one special somebody special. I like all of these tunes, it's hard not to, but "Can We Pretend" is the real bomb of a record. It's a certified masterpiece of bittersweetness because although it's undoubtedly about a love affair, it's also about a love affair in trouble. Things don't sound like they're going so well ("there's a shadow hiding in your heart sometimes"), but Bill is still feeling tender and soft towards his lady ("can we pretend the pain is gone?"). He's still optimistic ("paint a portrait of tomorrow with colors bright and gay") about the future, but he also knows nothing's promised. It's not a happy song, but it's a hopeful one. I love it. And although I'm not telling anyone anything they don't already know, "Ain't No Sunshine" is pure brilliance. "This house just ain't no home anytime she goes away." It may have been said better at some point, but never simpler and never more clearly. —Mtume ya Salaam
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