#70, "Ain't No Sunshine," Bill Withers (1971)

Bill Withers has always been around, being very excellent in the background of the Soundtrack of My Life, but I never started paying attention to the extreme excellence of his work even in comparison to his quite excellent contemporaries. He's a soul man among soul men. About five years ago, I found my focus and have loved him with adequate intensity ever since (more on this later). His best songs, this one included, are understated and arranged to feature his undeniably velvety and supremely vulnerable vocal performance. "Lovely Day" is a stone cold pop classic but lacks the depth of "Ain't No Sunshine," "Use Me," and "Grandma's Hands." 


I have exactly three stories about Bill Withers to share. In my household, "Ain't No Sunshine" is most strongly associated with an episode of Fresh Prince in which Will and family return to Philadelphia and Will has a hot nostalgic trip, showing everyone his old haunts, the punch line being that everything had this charming suckiness to it. One of which is a local restaurant he frequented before moving to Bel Air where the staff were rude and the jukebox only played "Ain't No Sunshine" and would always get stuck on the "IknowIknowIknowIknowIknowetc" part. Will would then give it a sharp kick to un-stick it. So when we hear this song, we observe the Fresh Prince version and sing along as if the record was stuck. 


Bill Withers was ALLEGEDLY inducted into the Rock n' Roll Hall of Fame in 2015 but I would swear it was more recent than that. This is meaningful to me because it was the same year I made my second-ever and most recent trip to the controversial museum. This would have to have been the time we went to Cleveland to spend Christmas with Pete's parents and escaped with Pete's older sister for a "kids outing," a Christmas tradition of ours. If that sounds weird, it's ok, it is, but if you spent Christmas with Pete's family you'd also understand. I recall very clearly checking out the Bill Withers induction displays and thinking "yeah. Bill Withers" and deciding I'd pay him more attention. God, it is so weird how memory works, isn't it? I remembered clear-as-day that Green Day and Lou Reed solo were also inducted that year but would have sworn it was summer when we went and that we were alone.


Finally, this song is another that reminds me of Josie. It's the result of a very simple, no-account incident, but one of those small things that just stick in your head related to people you love. It's clear that I use Facebook to take mental breaks from work. I'm an efficient worker and justify time spent off-task and on social media because I generally get things done faster than my peers, particularly if I can take these mental breaks. I think they are just an essential aspect of white collar working life in the 21st century, but it is a slippery slope. When working on deadline I sometimes find it hard to resist taking such mental breaks, so need to physically remove temptation to stay on-task. One day I actually announced this and stayed away from distractions ALL DAY. When I finished my task I logged back in and Josie had tagged me in a post with this video, saying that her Facebook wasn't the same without me. Those of us who are semi-present on Facebook pretty much all day are kind of like an oddball community and Josie was one of us. It's how Josie and I got so close over the years. We talked to each other every single day. So weird that this no-account gesture she made that day would lead me to forever associate her with this song, taking on weighter significance since her passing.