The celebrated actor/singer/activist talks Lebowski and Crazy Heart, music and politics – and his role with the “No Kid Hungry” project.
BY MICHAEL G. PLUMIDES, JR.
Foraging through the carnival-esque streets of Charlotte, North Carolina during the opening ceremony festivities of the Democratic National Convention, it occurred to me that I didn’t recognize my town anymore. On my bicycle I traversed the once familiar byways to find CNN had invaded the EpiCentre with its moniker erected on the side. I contemplated I was actually in Atlanta or even New York as people bustled and newsmen reported on the street corners. It was alien to me.
Not one to overly reminisce (well, maybe…), it had come to mind that the old warehouse on 5th Street, once home to my legendary 4808 Club where the infamous GWAR obscenity arrests had occurred in 1990, had been leveled and is now paid parking. In the blink of an eye, the city had grown up with all the unadulterated commerciality of any metropolitan area. The Daily Show was
taping live in the Queen City as was Colbert, Tom Brokaw was rushed to the hospital after mistakably taking a morning Ambien, Chris Matthews was broadcasting live, and Scarlett Johansson was somewhere. Even more enthralling, one of my all-time heroes, Jeff Bridges, was performing songs with his band “The Abiders” in the middle of Tryon Street.
I originally thought I would approach this article with an attempt at some sprawling New Yorker type shit as any tragically aging hipster turned political pundit would – but my page count and subject
matter were not only prohibitive but cautionary. Although my charge was to cover the events that transpired at the convention, this article’s focus is primarily representative of a legendary man; a man who is truly a priceless piece of Americana. In my opinion Bridges is, and has been, a quintessential example of an American Patriot: An entertainer, philanthropist, devoted father and husband, Jeff Bridges truly is “The man for his time and place.”
BLURT: First, let’s talk about the new record on Blue Note you recorded last year. You worked with T Bone Burnett on your self-titled album, Jeff Bridges.
JEFF BRIDGES: T Bone and I go back maybe 30 years. We worked on a movie together called Heaven’s Gate. Kris Kristofferson starred and he brought along a lot of his musician friends – Ronnie Hawkins, Norton Buffalo, and T Bone. And you can imagine having all of those great
musicians there. We played a lot of music together. We had a wonderful time and we remained friends all these years but had kind of lost touch.
You have collaborated with Burnett on numerous occasions, for instance on the Crazy Heart film and soundtrack. Did you usher T Bone into the Coen Brothers fold on The Big Lebowski and is that how he garnered the attention and later collaborations with the Coens?
We hooked up again when T Bone was music supervisor on The Big Lebowski. I don’t think I
introduced Bone to the Brothers. It was just a coincidence. Crazy Heart came down the pike and originally I turned it down. Although it was a good story, it needed music, so I sent the script to
T Bone to see if he had any interest in it and he said, “If you’ll do it, I’ll do it.” So I said, “Okay, let’s go.” The movie, Crazy Heart, was dedicated to Steve Bruton. He died shortly before the movie came out. “What Little Love Can Do” off the latest album is a Steve Bruton tune. But Steven wrote a lot of the songs from Crazy Heart. “Falling and Flying” is one of his.
There’s been some reference to the newest album; that it’s “gloomy” and “slow”, even a
bit “dirgy” which, to me would reflect dissatisfaction of some kind in life. But with all your successes in film, art, photography, and now music – let’s face it, you are a pop icon – you are “The Dude.” Although your persona is one of melancholy with a hint of realist-positivism, do the songs that you contributed to the album reflect that tint of sadness you possess?
As a human being I have my dose of melancholy as we all do. You know, it’s funny. Even when you’re at the top of your game it doesn’t mean that you’re happy all the time.”Falling Short” is an old song but one I can relate to. It’s about never quite hitting the mark. Being obsessed with perfection and sometimes that desire can keep you from enjoying life. “Everything But Love” was written by my old friend, Johnny Goodwin. We go back to the fourth grade. It talks about what an
incredible thing love is. You could be on top of the world and if you don’t have love, you’ll be wanting and hurting. “Tumbling Vine” is an up song, in a way. It speaks to my thought process.
I’m what I would call Buddhistly bent. I kind of lean toward that philosophy.
A review of your live set on Austin City Limits by Ain’t it Cool News described the show as “good-time music-hand-clapping, toe-tapping and yee-hawing.”
That doesn’t sound so melancholy. (laughs)
There are your obvious influences: Dylan, Johnny Cash, The Grateful Dead, The Beatles. What about more obscure influences such as Frank Zappa, or Dr, John?
I was sort of a Captain Beefheart fan over Frank Zappa. Leonard Cohen is a great poet. I love his stuff. My buddy, John Goodwin, I love his stuff. I don’t listen to a whole hell of a lot of music. I have an iPod. I don’t text, or use Facebook, or tweet, or anything that sophisticated. I do have a website though.
You know, you being from Charlotte, I’m surprised you didn’t ask me about my North Carolina
And what is that?
Well, one is I was in a film with Gary Busey, another actor-musician, called The Last American Hero, about the life of Junior Johnson, the race car driver. The other is Benji Hughes, man. He’s a wonderful cat. I love his music. He sang back up on my album. You should check out Love Extreme on iTunes. I had a wonderful time hanging with him at the convention.
You know, someone said that to me at the DNC. I mentioned Benji in my book, Kill The Music. Okay, I have to ask you a serious question.
Oh, wow. Go ahead.
Do you really hate the fucking Eagles?
That was a character I played, man. No, the Eagles have made some good music and I don’t hate them. But every time I see one of those guys at a party around town they give me a dose of shit.
You perform some songs from Crazy Heart – a film you won your first Academy Award for. But Rolling Stone referred to you as a “Cleaned up ‘Bad Blake’ or a ‘Dude with ambitions beyond the bowling lanes’.”
That’s not so bad, is it? I don’t see that as a dig.
You touring with The Abiders, and as your good friend, Sam Elliot narrated in Lebowski, “There’s a man for his time and place”… you are doing so with a few secular purposes, one being “No Kid Hungry” – which I think has really raised consciousness about hunger in America. Expand on your different roles as an entertainer, a philanthropist, a musician, but mostly as an American.
Basically, I consider myself a product of nepotism. My father, Lloyd Bridges, was on a television
show in the ‘60s called Sea Hunt. If you’ve ever seen it you’d see a little chubby kid. That was me. I grew up in the entertainment business, and all the other actor’s children were becoming actors. My father helped me get my first break. When my acting took off in my teenage years I was still interested in music. It was my dad who told me stick with acting. The great thing about acting is you get to use all sorts of different aspects of yourself. I’m glad I listened to my dad because he was right.
But as I got older I started thinking about being not only an American but a citizen of the
world, man. An Earthling, you know. And my dad brought home a book one day called, The
Family of Man, a photographic essay that looked at all the different people of the world as a big family. I started thinking how we’re this little speck out in space and all this fighting doesn’t make any sense. That’s when I realized we’re all in this together and we should try to make it a good trip
for all of us. That train of thought led me to my hunger work with the “No Kid Hungry” program. In America we have sixteen million kids hungry. It wasn’t a matter of how to end hunger, but to
create the political will to make it a priority. I just felt that safety net they talk about was starting to get holes in it.
In Esquire you said, “Live like you’re already dead, man. Have a good time. Do your best. Let it all come ripping right through you.” So, is politics next? Do you have any
Not really. I’m best used outside of politics, but I went to both the Democratic and Republican
National Conventions because I felt American children going hungry is a non-partisan issue. I was happy to find that the Chairman of the Governor’s Association informed me both the Republicans
and Democrats are all on board. Governor O’Malley from Maryland and I jammed together at the School of Rock (at the NC Music Factory in Uptown Charlotte). We rehearsed and we were
supposed to play but it rained on us so it didn’t happen.
You know that you have 1257 fans on Facebook for you as a “write in” for President in 2012.
The slogan at the top of the page is, “They say America is becoming a third world country, but, like… that’s just their opinion, man.”
Yeah, I don’t think that’s an accurate quote (laughs).
What about a Clinton/Bridges ticket in 2016?
Oh, God. That would be something, wouldn’t it? Only in the movies, man.
Interacting with the politicians at both conventions, what have you learned first-hand
about the political process? My guess is you’ve met a lot of “Big Lebowskis” stealing from the little “Urban Achievers”?
You got to hand it to these guys, you know? Politicians, people willing to get into that game it takes a lot of courage and a lot of heart. Just like every aspect of life there’s corruption, but there are those that are really good people. I had dinner with the Secretary of Agriculture, Tom Vilsack, and he was inspiring on the hunger issue – it was heartening that he was so supportive. It gives you a feeling of hope when you can talk to guys like that. When I heard about Paul Ryan’s plan to cut food stamps by a hundred billion dollars over the next ten years, I thought that was a bummer, man. We had to get motivated.
So, I’m throwing all these ham-handed Lebowski references at you. But didn’t you just reunite with your cast mates in New York?
That was a kick off for The Big Lebowski Blu-Ray release at Lebowski Fest. We all got together and we were interviewed on stage in New York. It was wonderful seeing everyone again. I have a film coming out with Julianne Moore next year called Seventh Son.
And your Thunderbolt and Lightfoot co-star Clint Eastwood stole the show at the Republican National Convention. I think it was a publicity stunt for his upcoming film release, Trouble with the Curve. Care to comment?
That’s one of the great things about being in the movies. You get to work with people with
all kinds of “opinions” as The Dude might say.
Speaking of past co-stars, she won a Golden Globe and a SAG award recently for her role as Constance in American Horror Story, also recently received an Emmy for her role.
Describe what was it like when you first laid eyes on Jessica Lange in 1975 for King Kong?
Oh, God. She was and still remains a wonderful woman inside and out. She was gorgeous. In that
movie, King Kong, playing the airhead was so far away from her, actually. She was a smart person and a talented actress.
Have you thought about doing television?
I’m open to anything. I wouldn’t rule it out.
You’ve got a thing for blondes. You are married to one. And they are a big inspiration for you. Your daughter even has a new album, correct? Jess Bridges?
Jess has an album that’s up on iTunes. She’s been my assistant on the last three movies I’ve been in. We shot the last one in Vancouver. We ended up playing a lot of music together. Jess liked it so much she stayed two months afterward to record some music. They’ve got a wonderful music scene up there.
My niece, Alexandria’s favorite movie is True Grit. Of all of your films, give me
your top five and why?
Oh man, that’s gonna be hard. I’ll just mention my favorites, the ones that come to mind. The Last Picture Show, that stands alone. It sits there all by itself. Great performances by Ben Johnson, Cloris Leachman, and Sam Bottoms. Sam was great – he passed away recently. The cast was wonderful. It’s films like Picture Show that have a home movie quality to me. Lebowski, True Grit, it’s always great to work with the Brothers… Crazy Heart, Fabulous Baker Boys, The Fisher King with Terry Gilliam. I’ve made some great movies, man.
Do you have any advice for filmmakers, musicians, photographers, writers, or artists
You’ve got to just do it. There’s so much fear involved in life. That’s why you’ve got to be afraid
and then do it anyway. Follow your dream.
Michael G. Plumides, Jr. is the author of KILL THE MUSIC, about his experiences in music during the moral hysteria of the PMRC years available on Amazon. Also a filmmaker, Plumides’ concept, GHOST TREK, is in development. Plumides recently contracted with Morgan Creek Productions as a Creative Consultant on “Clive Barker’s Night Breed”.