Jeff Bridges Abides His Musical Passions
Jeff Bridges is best known for his acting for good reason: the Oscar winner is one of the most talented actors of the last 40 years, having created a slew of remarkable characters including Starman, Bad Blake, and, of course, The Dude.
But Bridges been making music as long as he’s been acting. The night before his AOL Music Sessions taping, he proved he was equally adept at commanding a music stage as a movie set during a rollicking, sold-out show at Los Angeles’ legendary folk club, the Troubadour, with his band — wait for it — the Abiders. (Named, of course, after a catchphrase from his cult classic movie, ‘The Big Lebowski.’)
During his time at AOL’s Beverly Hills studios, the laid-back Bridges ran through a number of tunes from his self-titled Blue Note album, produced by T Bone Burnett. He stayed long after his official duties were done, hanging with his band in the studio and welcoming warmly anyone who approached him. After his performance of four new tunes from the project, Bridges talked to The Boot about his musical regrets, the biggest thing he learned from his father, the legendary Lloyd Bridges, and how he keeps his blissful marriage together. And much to our delight, he freely channeled ‘The Dude’ when it suited him, which was often.
Most people don’t realize how far back your music career goes, including working with Quincy Jones, who introduced you at the Troubadour last night, when you were a teenager.
He was my first producer. He produced a song of mine in a movie that he was doing the soundtrack for called ‘John and Mary.’ I was 17 years old; I can’t believe it. Probably about a year before that, I was in the Troubadour at what they called a hootenanny back in those days, and so it was wonderful to have Quincy there. That meant everything.
You joke about being a piano lesson drop-out as a kid. What made you quit?
My mother, wonderful woman, gave me a lot of great advice in my life and I wish I listened to her more often. One bit of advice that she gave me that I’m sorry I didn’t take was sticking with my piano lessons. I bitched enough for her to say, “Alright, you don’t have to practice anymore, but you’re going to be sorry, believe me,” and she’s absolutely right. I regret that every day of my life.
Your guitar strap has ‘Bad’ on the back. What other parts of Bad Blake have stayed with you since you finished filming ‘Crazy Heart?’
One of the neat things about doing movies is you get to keep some of the stuff [Laughs]. And I got to keep that guitar strap and the guitar from that movie. A lot of stuff has stuck with me from that movie. Certainly my relationship with T Bone Burnett, we go back thirty years before that. We met on ‘Heaven’s Gate’ with [the late] Stephen Bruton, who wrote a lot of tunes for that movie and also wrote tunes for this new album.
The song that closes the album, and one you did today, is ‘The Quest,’ which is about being of service to something greater. What do you feel your quest is?
It’s a favorite of mine for a number of reasons. One is because it was written by one of my oldest friends, a guy named John Goodwin; we go back to the fourth grade together. What is ‘The Quest?’ Well, I guess my personal quest is waking up. Waking up to all sorts of stuff, [to] see that we’re all so connected more than we think we are. And to wake up to that fact and then start behaving that way.
What does “behaving that way” mean?
“Behaving that way” means taking care of each other. We’re travelers on this little, tiny dust speck thrown out into space, and we got to get together and make this place work. It’s as simple as that.
What kind of creative outlet does making music give you that acting does not?
I look at acting and music very much the same way. There are aspects of it that are solo — the parts where you’re learning your lines or practicing your instrument or writing a song. And then my favorite part about both of those things is that they’re collaborative. You’re dealing with working with other people. So in the case of this music, T Bone gathered these musicians — oh my God, so wonderful! You’ve got all these talented guys and they just throw it all together. They’re all inspiring each other and it’s real magic. It’s like alchemy. You don’t know what is going to happen, but chances are it’s going to be gorgeous and I’m diggin’ it.
Another song you performed from the album is ‘Maybe I Missed the Point.’ When was the last time that you felt that happened to you?
I can be pretty hard on myself [laughs]. Kind of judgmental. Every once in a while I think back and think, “Oh, I shouldn’t have done that, I should have done this.” I don’t know, maybe a hundred times during the day I’ll be singing that song to myself [Laughs].
You didn’t miss the point on marriage. You and your wife, Susan, have been married more than three decades. What’s the key?
Keeping a successful marriage is very much like the punch line of that joke: Some guy’s walking down the street and he says, “Excuse me, how do you get to Carnegie Hall?” And the guy says, “Practice, practice, practice.” That’s what marriage requires as well. I’ve been married 34 years, but you don’t need that much time under your belt — a week of marriage would probably do it — when you’re going to get something that comes up and rubs up against your fur and you say “I can’t take this anymore.” Rather than look at those things as the thing that’s going to break the deal apart, those are precious opportunities to get deeper, get more intimate. The high of life is intimacy, the getting to know each other. So getting to stick with those tight feelings, relax together and realize that we’re in this together. We’re on the same team.
You navigate your fame very well. How’d you learn to do that?
I really took my clues on how to navigate fame from my father, Lloyd Bridges, who loved acting and show biz and wanted to turn his kids all onto this life. I learned so much just watching him and how he behaved with people and how he enjoyed that aspect too. He taught me all kinds of things about acting, but probably the biggest thing he taught me wasn’t really in words, it was when we got to do two films together as adults: ‘Tucker’ and ‘Blown Away.’ I noticed whenever he came on the set, the joy that he was feeling about doing what he was doing was contagious. It would just spread out and everybody says, “Oh yeah, this is kind of fun. We’re doing some fun stuff here.” That’s how I do it. I don’t know if it’s hereditary or just learning from the old man.
You recently became a granddad. What’s the best part?
My daughter lives up in Oakland, so I haven’t really held my little Gracie too much. So I haven’t really gotten going on this grandfather thing. I’ve settled my name, though. I’m Dude-Pa [Laughs].
Is there any stigma that you have to overcome that people have against actors turned musicians?
There is a stigma for actors who become musicians, but to quote the Dude, ‘That’s just your opinion, man.” You know the joke about opinions are like anuses: we all have one, you know. The opinion I care about is my own and I am just loving this music. And I care about T Bone’s opinion, he digs it. I care about my wife’s opinion, and she’s digging it. On opinions, I’m doing pretty well.