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 Withers
Bill 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. bill withers 08.jpg 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. bill withers 19.jpeg 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. bill withers 18.jpg 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 11.jpg 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 time
That'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

This entry was posted on Sunday, May 18th, 2008 at 11:56 pm and is filed under Classic. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

6 Responses to “BILL WITHERS / “Hello Like Before””

Wil Says:
May 19th, 2008 at 2:23 am

I want to thank you guys for broadening my music education. These past 2 years I have waited for your instalments every Sunday while I was working in East Africa, the US, and Haiti (Give Haitian music a run please).

The last two weeks really helped me speak to a friend of mine who has been seing a married man while not being to preachy.

Than you so much for your hard work and dedication. I have discovered so much because of this site. For example, I plan to visit Peru because of the Susana Baca pieces you had in the juke box.

Peace and blessings

Kiini Ibura Says:
May 23rd, 2008 at 11:15 am

I love Bill Withers. He is a classic artist: the power, or should I say self-assured gravity, of his voice. His storytelling. His sharp awareness and human consciousness. and his beautiful music.

I love him and I loved hearing some songs I wasn’t familiar with from him.

Kiini Ibura Says:
May 23rd, 2008 at 11:16 am

Though I have to say I’m not enjoying the “Dream Time Mix.” Soft is okay, but dreamy is all wrong for Bill Withers. Withers is earthy, Withers is real, WIthers is grounded. He takes me deeper down into reality, not out into the clouds.

Humaru Koroma Says:
June 9th, 2008 at 8:06 pm

Come back Bill, we miss you…Let me be the one you need! Beautiful !

Humaru Koroma Says:
June 9th, 2008 at 8:08 pm

Cynthia Koroma, we’ve all been here…
“let me be the one you need”

Tangela Says:
September 19th, 2008 at 11:57 am

up until a few months ago, I’d only known of 5-7 Bill Withers songs because they were the only ones playing on the radio. but I purchased his greatest hits CD back in July(this year) and let me tell u, I LOVE HIS MUSIC….”Let Me Be the One You Need”, “Hello Like Before”, “You Just Can’t Smile It Away”, “Steppin Right Along”, “Harlem”, “You Try to Find A Love”. And those are just a few of the songs that I and my fiance have fallen in love with. Mr. Withers, where are you? The music industry needs you back. I LOVE YOUR MUSIC….your cd has been in my CD player for the last month or so.

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