You probably know Jeff Bridges as “The Dude” in The Big Lebowski. Or perhaps you know him better as the one-eyed Marshall in True Grit or the fallen country music singer Otis “Bad” Blake in Crazy Heart (for which he won his first Oscar). He’s been in more than 70 movies and is celebrated as one of the best working actors in Hollywood. But Bridges didn’t always want to shine on the silver screen.
“My dad (actor Lloyd Bridges), unlike a lot of guys in showbiz, really wanted all his kids to go into it. He really loved all the elements of showbiz. I did have a bit of resistance to that growing up. I figure it’s pretty natural, you know, not many kids want to do what their parents want them to do,” he said in his deep, calming voice.
As a teenage boy growing up on the golden California coast, rock ‘n’ roll was his muse. When he first heard Buddy Holly bellowing out of his brother’s bedroom, he was hooked. But his father encouraged him to act, explaining that as an actor Bridges wouldn’t have to choose one role in life. He could tap into his love for music by playing a musician or embody a long list of different characters he shared similar interests with. Over the years he’s done just that.
But Bridges never lost sight of his teenage dream. These days he’s living it out as a 64-year-old who is still enamored with the musical legends of his youth. In 2000, he released his first album, Be Here Soon. He recently debuted a live album and is on tour with his band The Abiders (get it Lebowski fans?). His music is a heartfelt blend of country, rock and blues. He’ll be performing at Broadway Center in Tacoma at 7:30 on Friday, Nov. 21. Tickets are $55-$129.
We chatted with Bridges about his music, his character roles and his love for the Northwest. Turns out “The Dude” is a pretty “cool cat.”
LF: From your earliest memories, what inspired you to make music?
JB: Gosh, I would say my first memories of hearing music that really, you know, set me on fire was listening to Buddy Holly coming out of my brother’s bedroom, you know? Beau, he’s eight years older than I am, the music he was listening to as a teenager, Chuck Berry and Buddy Holly and the Isley Brothers, Little Richard and all of that stuff.
LF: I know you dedicate your album in part to your music heroes, would you say those guys are your music heroes?
JB: Well those guys certainly. I’ve got to put Bob Dylan in there. I’ve got a whole slew of music heroes you know. Tom Waits, Leonard Cohen, The Beatles. I’ve got a lot of music heroes, too many to list.
LF: “What a Little Love Can Do” is one of your most popular songs on iTunes.
JB: Heck ya!
LF: Why is that song meaningful to you?
JB: Well, for one it’s written by my dear friend Stephen Bruton along with Gary Nicholson. Stephen Bruton and I go back to Heaven’s Gate. I met him and T Bone Burnett there. Both those guys are very instrumental in my music. Stephen Bruton is no longer with us but the movie Crazy Heart is dedicated to Stephen so whenever I fire up that tune I just think of him.
Note: Heaven’s Gate is a film from 1980 starring Bridges. Bruton played a musician named D.B. Schultz in the film. Bruton also co-produced the Crazy Heart soundtrack.
LF: To me, the whole album feels effortless. Is it hard work getting that effortless sound?
JB: Um, yeah. I invented a word. I believe I said this is called ‘plorking.’
LF: Wait, what?
JB: I’ve invented a word! I think I’ve come up with it. There’s actually two ways of describing what it is. It’s either ‘plorking’ or ‘worlay.’ It’s a combination of work and play. There’s a certain amount of this ‘plorking’ or ‘worlaying’ that goes into most things creative. You spend time doing it, and you know? It’s labor intensive. You got to put the time in to make it look effortless, you know? And that goes for making movies and certainly making music. I think of the Coen brothers. You see a movie like The Big Lebowski and you think, ‘Oh that looks like that was nothing!’ But those guys, you know, they’re masters. And the masters tend to make things look easy. You take a Picasso and you say, ‘oh a kid could do that.’ You know? … But it’s about putting time into it.
LF: You’ve played several characters that are musicians. Do you look for roles that showcase your music ability?
JB: I don’t necessarily look for them but any movies that are about music — that interests me. But they kinda have to match the quality of the movies that I’ve done already about music. You know Baker Boys and Crazy Heart, they put the bar up pretty high.
LF: When you’re performing as a musician, is that a role that you’ve created for yourself or are you just being you?
JB: I don’t think about playing a character when I’m up there or a character for a specific song but I think each song does have a certain tone to it and a character and that kind of comes out naturally for me to tap into.
LF: What are you listening to these days?
JB: I’m listing to T Bone Burnett’s new album that he cut together with Bob Dylan and the basement tapes. Bob Dylan gave T Bone a bunch of lyrics, there was no music to it and, you know, he got a great band together and he’s putting out an album. It should be out soon if it’s not out already (Psst … it’s out and you can download it on iTunes). Using those lyrics and he put music to it. I’m listing to that. I’m listing to a guy named Blake Mills who I’m a big fan of. As well as a guy named Benji Hughes.
LF: You’ve jammed with some pretty amazing people. Have any highlights?
JB: Oh gosh, you’re right about that. Some wonderful highlights. You know, when you mention that I’m thinking of early on in my recording career anyway I got to make an album with Michael McDonald. He’s on my heroes list when it comes to musicians and I’ve got to work with him quite extensively. T Bone is also on there. Bob Dylan, I got to pick a little bit with him. We made a movie together called Masked and Anonymous. T Bone invited me to go on a tour called The Speaking Clock Tour and on that tour was Elton John and Leon Russell and Elvis Costello. It was so great. We got to play Neil Young’s concert, The Bridge School Concert. I was very fortunate to play with him. He’s one of my heroes.
LF: We’re up in the Northwest. Do you like it here?
JB: I love the Northwest! Some of my favorite movies have been made up in Seattle. Bakers Boys was made up there. A movie that I produced called American Heart was made up there. I made a movie called Vanishing up there. It’s probably the most evil part I’ve ever played. I played a guy who buried people alive. But I’m very fond of Seattle and the Northwest. Love it!
LF: I know you have three daughters. Has having all girls taught you anything about women?
JB: Has it taught me about women?
JB: [laughs] Well, I remain in mystery about you guys to a large extent. I love women. I’m surrounded by women in my household. I’ve got two female dogs, my wife of course, well not of course I guess, she could be a man, she happens to be a woman. And I’ve got my three daughters. My daughter Jessie opens for us often. I don’t believe she’s opening for us in Tacoma but that’s one of my joys is playing music with her.
Photo courtesy of Broadway Center.