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04.04.20 – Darrell Priestley
Oh, I am feeling it today. My relationship with Bill Withers is one of love, my respect for him immense. As an artist, he was effortlessly powerful yet understated, as a songwriter deep and sincere, and almost unequalled. Who else could know and express better than he what life can sometimes feels like from the inside?
Some people, you just can’t doubt. They cannot be fake, and with certainty you could trust them with your life. That quality was built in to this beautiful man. I have lived my life alongside some amazing human beings, some close, some at a distance, but very few of the ones I have not met have meant so much to me as Bill.
Bill Withers medium was soul music, in the truest sense, a soul sometimes energised by funk, other times suffused with gospel. An example of the latter is his famous elegy to the woman who raised him, ‘Grandma’s Hands’. In just 121 seconds, you come to know the essence of this woman and her lasting effect on him through the constant symbol of her loving hands, caring, admonishing, providing, hands which shaped his early life, hands which pointed the way.
Bill was an emotionally complete man, by which I mean he was strong enough to show his vulnerability, secure enough to share his hopes and fears. This quality, and his acute talent for emotional observation, empowered him to make a deep connection to so many of us. His seemingly simple lyrics run deep with meaning, rippling out into the heart of the listener.
Incredibly, Wither’s career spanned just eight years from 1971, beginning in his thirties, with a brief resumption in the 1980’s, with most of the classic songs coming from that first period. He loved music, but disdained the politics of the music industry. Withers’ album tracks and lesser known songs are every bit as deserving as his huge hits, so often covered by other artists that he was able to live in relative security for decades after retirement on the royalty income. That fact is testimony to the strenght of his message, and his succinct, clever, concise instinct for storytelling.
It almost feels wrong to single out any one track over another, but among my very personal favourites, perhaps because they are so very personal, are My Imagination, and above all, the incredibly intimate Hello Like Before, a song so everlastingly beautiful. Who could not resonate to those emotions?
Though I ache to think of his loss, still I am overjoyed at his lasting presence, through both his music and his legacy as a man. Bill, I love you, and I will miss you.