Still Bill (2011)

Written & Directed by Damani Baker & Alex Vlack

Bill Withers is a musician everybody knows whether they know it or not. As Bill himself says, “He is like the pennies in your pocket you know are there, but you don’t think about them.” His songs are known to all. “Lean on Me”, “Ain’t No Sunshine” and “Just the Two of Us”. If you haven’t heard at least one of these songs you are lying. What makes Withers such an interesting character is the fact that he rocketed to stardom as a soul singer in the 70s, but after recording his last album in 1985, he just walked away from the business. Since, Withers has not been heard from, but he wouldn’t have it any other way.

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’.

Adam Kuhn

Adam Kuhn was born and raised in Columbus, Ohio, where he attended Saint Charles Preparatory School. He studied History at the University of Cincinnati, where he was a contributor of The News Record, the twice-weekly, independent student news organization. He has been writing film reviews and blogging since 2009.

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