Jeff Bridges abides
Academy Award-winning actor taps his inner rock star with his band The Abiders
Jeff Bridges is one of the most versatile actors out there. While it was his role as The Dude in The Big Lebowski that made him hip to generations of film fans, Bridges has appeared in a number of classics—from fantasy flicks like King Kong and Tron, to more serious parts in The Fisher King and 2009’s Crazy Heart, for which he won an Academy Award for Best Actor.
He’s also a musician, and is one helluva nice dude. He and his band The Abiders have been recording and touring for the better part of five years, and they released a self-titled live album this past summer. Bridges took some time to talk to the CN&R about the similarities between music and movies, picking up the guitar at a young age, and songs about King Kong.CN&R: How does life on the road as a musician compare with acting? Do you adhere to the typical road life?
Jeff Bridges: It’s very much like making movies. You’re working with a lot of other artists; you’re traveling around. Right now we’re on the way to the airport, having spent a beautiful day in Tucson. I just took an incredible walk among this forest of saguaro, these giant, classic cactuses. It’s unique in that I get to travel with my good buddies, The Abiders. My wife’s in the back seat—she’s my groupie.That sort of leads me to my next question. You’ve been married 38 years, you’re a sought-after Academy Award-winning actor, a respected musician, and all-around likable dude. How is this possible?
I don’t know. I guess it’s that old nature/nurture question. I suppose by nurture, I think about my family, my parents that raised me in a loving household. I guess the nature part is being born with a certain personality. It’s hard to answer the how or why with that stuff.It just seems pretty atypical in your business to be so well-rounded.
I don’t know. I’ve run across so many actors and people who, to me, seem quite well-rounded. A lot of it has to do with luck, too. There are some talented people that don’t get recognized and others who are lucky to be recognized.When did you start playing guitar?
I would say around 14 maybe, somewhere in there.I assume you grew up on the classics—Dylan, the Stones, artists like that?
For me it kind of goes back before that. My brother Beau, he’s eight years older than I am, so the music that was making a lot of hits was Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Buddy Holly. Those guys. That was the music that hooked me first. My dad had a guitar he couldn’t play because he had some problems with his fingers, so I kinda took that over. Then my brother got a Danelectro guitar that he started playing and writing songs and stuff.So it goes back a ways. What do you get from music that you don’t get from acting?
There are more similarities than differences, really. There’s solo time, where you’re studying the script or writing the song. And you’ve got the times where you’re jamming with other artists—actors and musicians.You’ve been with The Abiders for a few years now. Obviously, the name comes from The Big Lebowski, but how did you settle on that? How did you come to play with these guys?
Well, [laughs] I’m kind of realizing this teenage dream late in my life—I’m 65 years old—and I wanted to bring some attention to what we were up to. Lebowski’s probably my most popular film, and we were throwing around different things. I wanted us to be called The Royal We, another, more subtle, Lebowski reference. Our pedal steel player Bill Flores brought up the name The Abiders. I was like, “Oh yeah, The Abiders, it’s so obvious!”Clearly, your role as The Dude was huge for you. But for me I have great memories of Starman and Tron. And especially King Kong.
[Laughs] Yeah. I laugh because a lot of stuff comes to mind with that. We used to pretend to be sick and ditch school back when I was in grammar school so I could watch the original. I’d see in the TV Guide that it was on TV, and I’d say, “I’m not feeling well, Mom.” So to be in that movie [the 1976 version featuring Jessica Lange], that was terrific. I actually wrote a song about that whole experience that one day will come out. Maybe on the next album.