Jeff Bridges on Finding Zen, the Dude's Musical Skill
I can’t stop staring at Jeff Bridges’ refrigerator.
I’m fixated on it throughout our 40-minute Zoom call. Like everything other visible inch of his Montana home, the all-white appliance looks about two decades too old for an Oscar-winning movie star and cultural icon.
Or is that exactly what I should have expected from the Dude? Just like his free-spirited protagonist from the Coen Brothers’ beloved The Big Lebowski, Bridges feels beautifully out of step with the rat race of modern life. But he does have pressing real-world concerns: The actor-musician is online to chat about his new signature Breedlove guitars, all sustainably sourced and emblazoned with his “All in This Together” motto.
“Ruining our forests is a silly thing to do,” he says. “We’re trying to encourage all instrument makers — and also furniture makers and floor makers — to use sustainable wood.”
Bridges also talked to SPIN about his inclusive new song with backing band the Abiders (“My Welcome Mat”), theorized about the Dude’s musical skills and doled out advice on achieving zen in the worst year ever.
SPIN: These guitars are made entirely from sustainable woods, which feels fitting, given your background in environmental issues. How did this signature model come about?
Jeff Bridges: The musical director of the Abiders is Chris Pelonis, a world-class player and acoustician. He said, “Hey, I got this new guitar, and you gotta play it and see what you think … I want you to meet Tom Bedell, the owner of Breedlove Guitars, ’cause you guys are really gonna hit off.” So I met with Tom, and he said, “I’m so glad we’re meeting because I know you’re all about our environment and the health of the planet.” I said, “The wood looks so unusual.” He said, “Yeah, that’s Myrtlewood.” I said, “I’ve always thought about getting a signature guitar. I wanted to promote something with this guitar, and what you’re all about — making guitars out of sustainable wood — is something I’m really into. Let’s get in cahoots and build some guitars and see if we can get guitar buyers to ask guitar sellers, ‘Hey, where’s this wood coming from?’”
You have the motto “All in This Together” on the guitars — a sort of aspirational slogan for the divisive times we’re living in. I know that expression means a lot to you.
I think that kind of says it all: This pandemic really brings it to the fore — we’re really connected, man. Everything’s contagious. It hopefully invites people to celebrate our diversity, our differences. Not only us humans — animals, insects, trees. One of the things I tried to do with this guitar was to make people realize this connection we have — to the music, to each other, to the world. And we’re connected to our trees, man. Take care of our trees, and they’ll take care of us.
The inclusive message of that message pairs nicely with your new song “My Welcome Mat.”
That tune was co-written by one of my oldest friends, John Goodwin — we go back to the fourth grade together. John has supplied the Abiders with about 50% of our tunes. He’s a great writer [inclusiveness] has sort of been my the thrust of my life. My parents were kind of that way too. It’s how I was raised.
Have the Abiders worked on any other new music? Have you been writing remotely?
The remote thing [has] the latency problem — it’s tough. I would love to. Some great stuff is going to come out of this remote thing — what we’re doing here [Zoom] is going to get a lot more sophisticated because we need it! You save so much money and drive time and pollution from meeting like this [on Zoom]. “My Welcome Mat” is the latest thing with the Abiders. I’m in the middle of doing [an FX] TV show right now The Old Man, and we got stopped in the middle of making that. The Abiders don’t have any concerts or anything lined up, but I look forward to when we do.
The world needs some medicine right now — we need a sequel to that Sleeping Tapes album you did several years back.
That Sleeping Tapes thing has had such a wild life. It’s morphed into so many different things. [To record the album], I went into a studio for a week with Keefus Ciancia. He’s one of T Bone Burnett’s guys — they’ve done all this great [TV scoring] work. And we worked on an album together, just the two of us, and jammed for a week, man. We had no idea what was gonna happen. I recorded a lot of stuff on my iPhone. I just love that fucking album. It’s so interesting. And it keeps growing! It just keeps morphing. Maybe Keefus and I will do another album — we had such a good time.
To bring things back to guitars and Lebowski for a minute, what kind of guitar do you think the Dude would play? He seems like the kind of guy who’d know a few chords.
Yeah! Although you don’t see a guitar in his apartment, do you? He might be more into that little African instrument? [makes high-pitched tone]
The thumb piano?
Yeah, or some kind of Indian flute or something? He probably knows a couple of chords. He might go over to Walter’s house or something: “Walter, what’s that over there?” He says, “Oh, that’s a guitar. You know, my wife, she left it here.” “Oh, can I open that thing up?” “Dude, I didn’t know you could play!” “Oh yeah, I know a few chords. Can I borrow this thing for a while?” “Sure, man.” Hey, you just made Lebowski 2: Walter and the Dude Form a Band!
Every public figure seems to be divisive right now. But you’ve always been a uniting presence — pretty much everybody can appreciate the Dude. Do you have any advice to help us get through this shitty year?
I meditate — I think relaxation is where all the good stuff comes out. I wrote a book with my buddy Bernie Glassman, the Zen master. He realized that The Big Lebowski is filled with modern-day Zen Koans. I said, “What are you talking about?” He says, “Look who directed and wrote it — the Koan Brothers.” [Laughs.] “The Dude abides” — it can’t get much zen-er than that.” Or “Shut the fuck up, Donny.” Our favorite one was, “Well, that’s just, like, your opinion, man.” We came up to Montana and we wrote this book. If [only] we could think of all these “truths” that we all take so fucking seriously as opinions. Bernie said, “A lot of my zen friends don’t like it when I say this, but the Four Noble Truths of Buddhism are the Four Noble Opinions.” All of these things that we’re so certain about, [we need to] realize that they’re opinions.