This week I saw the new film documentary on soul legend Bill Withers called Still Bill. Part of my job at KEXP is to make short radio documentaries. Out of the 150 we’ve made, the one on Bill Withers is still my favorite. And of all the musicians in the world, Bill is the one I look up to as a person the most.
Bill Withers is sensitive yet also really tough. Very honest, he says exactly what’s on his mind. And in contrast his music is romantic and introspective.
When his kids were born he dropped everything, his whole music career, to spend time with them as they grew up. The film follows now-70-year-old Bill through his daily life with his family, a visit to his hometown of Slab Fork, West Virginia and talks with friends and music buddies. One minute he’s laughing at his own joke, the next tears are rolling down his face as he watches his daughter sing. At one point he says that everyone thought he was writing songs like “Ain’t No Sunshine” and “Use Me” about specific women. He laughs. “I couldn’t get no women, I was making 3 dollars an hour back then...”
Bill muses on his place in the music industry. Once he had some hit songs, he was suddenly surrounded by people telling him how to make music. They wanted him to have a horn section and dancing girls, and for a while he went along with it, but in the vintage clips of this time you can see how uncomfortable he is stepping into someone else’s idea of what he should be.
I seriously have not seen a movie in years that moved me as much as this one. And if you see it you’ll walk away with some classic Bill Withers wisdom. Here are my favorite quotes from Still Bill.
“Stop cryin, start tryin.”
“Value the people who value YOU.”
“Thoreau I think said the mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation, I would like to know how it feels like for my desperation to get louder.”
Michele Myers spins Saturdays from 3-6pm on KEXP 90.3FM. And this week you’ll hear 3 Bill Withers songs in-a-row. She also hosts “Wake Up” for KEXP in NYC Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays on 91.5FM.