Still Bill Reviews
I am not sure what filmmakers Damani Baker and Alex Vlack wished to accomplish with this documentary, or even what Bill Withers hoped would come of it. But what I discovered was a fascinating man who has led a fascinating life. I find the man and his life so fascinating perhaps because he is so simple, and has lived his life simple. He is a normal man, just like you and me. He is from a coal camp in West Virginia called Slab Fork, which he goes back to visit in the film. He attends a high school reunion and reminisces about how they had to go in the back door to get that delicious ice cream. And skinny dipping in the creek in the summer.
Withers talks just like he sings, organically. Music is universal because it comes from a feeling, it comes naturally, and the best music is not manufactured by the industry, but rather materializes from the experiences of humans and that is what Withers music was like. He was the exception. His music was strongly based on his singing and lyrics. He didn't have any real bells and whistles. That is the type of thing that put him at odds with music executives that wanted him to do things like cover Elvis' "In the Ghetto". At the end of the day, when Bill got a family, he got out, and on his own terms.
The film paints Bill as an average Joe and I don't think he would want it any other way. The film is aptly named because he is still the Bill Withers that was famous. He is still that man because that man was always Bill Withers. He didn't conform or bend over backwards for anybody. He was, is, and always will be Bill Withers. That is the type of life more people should live. Be true to who you are and don't worry about the people who try to bully you or tell you to live your life a different way. Happiness and a good life come from doing what makes you happy and what is true to yourself. Bill Withers did that in his life and in his music. He does it to this day and that is why he is 'Still Bill'.
For the uninitiated, Still Bill is about Bill Withers, a multi genre singer/songwriter who had several very large hits and then, in the middle of his fame, chose to simply walk away... not from music, but the music business.
At the time of the filming Bill celebrated his 70th birthday, and we find that he is just as fresh and real as he was when he, as he put it, told the "blacksperts" to shove it. We get to see him revisit his old home town - a mining town (in other words, everything there, the buildings and the stores, were all owned by the mining company) - just walking about with an old school chum and talking of the relevance of a time and place, and how that time and place should and does resonate and form a great deal of your persona.
There is also a good deal of archival footage, live performances from the 70's along with interviews from that period that show Bill just being Bill. Along the way we also see some recent "guest" appearances with various musicians and a very interesting chat with renowned thinker Cornell West. We also see that he is still creating music, from working songs with his daughter to an informal jam session with a blind Latin music virtuoso who, when he mentions that he is "disabled", Bill corrects him and tells him that he is "enabled".
Really, this is a guy you'd just want to sit down and chat with, and through the documentary you really get the sense that why his music was popular, was because he was able to channel who he was into every syllable of lyric and every chord he played.
If you are unfamiliar with his body of work, here's just a short list: Ain't No Sunshine, Just The Two of Us (with great sax work by the late Grover Washington), Use Me, Lean on Me, Lovely Day, Who Is He (and what is he to you?), and Grandma's Hands. Check it out, you'll be glad you did.
Unlike many musicians Bill is educated and had lived a full life before taking-up music a 32 Yrs old. From his musical beginnings to dropping out of the scene to raise his children he was unwavering in focus and would not let the music industry define him and his music.
A great film that is worth the watch.