Bill Withers Was (Probably) A Scotland Fan
One of my favourite albums is Bill Withers Live: At Carnegie Hall. Every tune is superb, but you might know it for the hits, "Easy", "We'll Be Comin'" and "Doe A Dear". This is because Bill Withers was (probably) the biggest Scotland fan of the 70s. (Some of that might not be true.)
Withers is one of my very favourite artists, in fact, and I don't think there's anyone like him. Solely because he wanted to, he led a 'normal life' on either side of his fifteen-year career; a career, by the way, which I rate about as highly as any audiophile would their favourite wax. There's a reason Stevie Wonder and John Legend inducted a sheepishly reluctant, but effortlessly cool, Withers, into the Hall of Fame - as he was both a legend and a wonder.
Whilst not possessing the same glamorous moniker as his musical brethren; they, like many a fan, were deeply frustrated that Bill didn't see the need to write any more music. However, whatever frustration or sadnesses there were, they were hugely dispelled by the bulging respect we, as fans, held, and hold, for him; a year or so following his passing.
Just as so many of his songs were prophetic in their poetry, he held strongly to his convictions with equal sincerity. This unassuming, quietly-spoken gent from small-town America, who had worked as an Airforce mechanic until his mid 30's, dreamt up melodies via a solid if unspectacular, knowledge of the guitar, before gifting them to the world. Solid, if unspectacular.
Our first clue that Bill was (probably) writing about the boys in dark blue.
He did this, before retreating as quickly as he appeared to be a family man - seeing right through the charade of fame en route.
He knew when to walk away, and did it on his terms.
Truly a Legend.
Truly a Wonder.
Before we get to the football, let me illustrate just how he was perhaps the most normal superstar you're ever likely to meet - the Ingolo Kante of the 70's pop world, if you will.
This low-key cool was perfectly represented when he wore a superb wardrobe of such tremendous 'Dadness' on TOTP, that you'd think him just that if you didn't know any better.
Amidst the flamboyant neon-excesses of the 80's, you'd have thought, "who handed him a microphone?", and, to be fair, he'd probably have taken it all as a compliment.
Yet, standing there, stationary, he possessed more punk charisma, more devil-may-care, than anyone I can think of who might be desperately feigning the same authenticity. It's basically a GIRUY-to-the-music-business-jumper.
It's the most punk thing I know, even though it's genre-bending mo-town soul.
It's Bill Withers.
Zinedine Zidane. Warren Beatty. J.D. Salinger. Bill Watterson.
Quitting at the height of fame isn't for everyone, but you're in good company.
Bill Drummond's KLF were Bill Withers-esque when they burned a million quid by the way.
It's not the other way around.
He could've had it all, for as long as he wanted it.
Whether it be the anthemic 'Lean On Me', the peerless simplicity of 'Ain't No Sunshine', or the pop chops of 'Lovely Day', you can't listen to Bill Withers without singing, humming and/or dancing. My kids and I were doing the same putting clothes away the other night, and we loved every minute.
Anyway, I was listening to this album, again, whilst driving out to an appointment this morning, and all of a sudden, I said this article's title aloud in my head.
"Bill Withers was probably a Scotland fan", and you only need to read the lyrics to 'Use Me' to understand why.
'Ah-huh and I wanna spread the news That it feels this good gettin' used Oh, you just keep on usin' me Until you use me up Ah, until you use me up'
'Use Me' - Bill Withers
Never have I heard such a beautiful description of being a Scotland fan.
Go read it again, if, unbelievably, you skipped over the song itself (above).
'Use Me' is a song all about the naysayers speaking into your life as if they know what is best for you. It's about being hopelessly infatuated with something so beautiful that you are putty in its hands.
Y'know... Sirens leading sailors to the rocks love.
Tie me to the mast love.
Overwhelming, transcending love... that risks being ultimately tragic.
Now, combined with Scotland's similarly tragic method of nearly qualifying over the years and snatching defeat from the jaws of victory; pain from bliss, despair from hope - you might see how being appended to this entity might have inflicted some pain on me over the years. I wrote a poem about it, after all.
You could see how well-meaning onlookers might suggest such a relationship was harmful, and even to my detriment.
You might imagine they'd point out the failure to me before it's happened, you might expect said naysayers to tell me the ills of such fierce devotion.
But then, that's being a fan, isn't it?
Because it's hopeless infatuation. It's being putty in another's hands. It's supporting said party 'evermore', irrespective of the hurt caused. It's forgiving time and again, without count. It's being in love, through thick and thin.
What I mean to say is, supporting Scotland is a... love-thing.
Solidly unspectacular to onlookers - even hurtful at times - but a love-thing nonetheless.
Additionally, I have no more say in it than I do being human or being born with freckles and brown hair.
I am my genes, and my genes are never more at home than when in the North Stand at Hampden. Something that began in 1993, and continues to this day - alongside the new generation!
Three generations of Tartan Army here.
See - Withers described the indescribable pull that doesn't let go - much to the bemusement of well-meaning onlookers, friends and family.
He delivers it with tongue-in-cheek of course, but the humour is used to describe the truth. That's why it's funny.
I'm also aware that some folk, some naysayers and onlookers, might see football as 'just a game', and look upon my devotion to Scotland as nothing less than tragic. I understand that, so let's address that here in closing.
I love my family. I love ice cream, too, and part-own an ice cream business.
Ice cream is a big part of our life, as a family, however, only a fool would think I love my family the same way.
My kids love ice cream as well, by the way, like living next to a micro-factory in our shed.
In other words, we share that love of ice cream.
Now, too much ice cream is not good for us. We could eat it all day, but then we'd fall out of love with it.
But just the right amount, shared together, can be beautiful.
It might even transcend taste and strengthen our relationship because we are enjoying it together.
It might just be ice cream, but it's more than ice cream.
You get this.
Bill Withers got this.
Scotland fans get it.
My daughters now get it.
It's a love thing. And you can jus' go ahead and use me, Scotland, until you've used me up.