BY DAVID S. LEWIS
When Jeff Bridges called last month, it was late in the game with lots to do before going to press (that deadline thing). Our expectation was a mere comment or two by email, but it turned into something more, a 30 minute conversation, and we were of course delighted to have greater access to the Dude.
And so we set other things aside and put that story together speedily. The printed interview though, center-ing on Bridges’ No Kid Hungry efforts, left a good deal of material on the plate, and hardly represents all that Bridges had to say or that we learned subsequently. And so, what follows amounts to Part Deux of that interview—the outtakes from our recent conversation with Jeff Bridges.
What strikes one immediately is that Bridges is comfortable with himself, without pretense, and so much like other dudes around town that you have to wonder if thirty years in the area haven’t had an effect on the guy—or perhaps it’s the other way around, in that Big Lebowskihood, here, is the ideal to which many aspire (so it’s safe to say Bridges never went Hollywood, even though he is now one of the film industry’s most accomplished actors. He won an Oscar for his role in Crazy Heart, in which he played a washed up alcoholic country singer, a film in which he croons authentic vocals and plays guitar with the production assistance of T Bone Burnett, an association Bridges seemed to take pride in during our interview. And then, in True Grit, well, what can one say? It was a classic western that rivals the greatest classic westerns, and a remake that surpasses the original, a rare thing, in no small part due to the outstanding talent of young Hailee Steinfeld, whose performance soars lightyears beyond that of Kim Darby’s in the original, even as the Dude’s equals or surpasses that of the Duke’s—apologies to John Wayne fans).
Conversing with minstrel Mike Devine at the LBG more recently, I mentioned to him that Bridges invoked his name in the course of our interview—fondly (because Mike is one of the more pleasant people in this world), and Mike began talking about his thirty-year friendship with Bridges, since his Rancho Deluxe days, which of course was filmed in Liv-ingston before he was a big movie star, and at a time when, or just after, he had intended to pursue a career in music, Mike told us. That was something I didn’t know, that Bridges had been playing music all along, from the get go, or that he had wanted to make a career of it, and that he got into movies at the behest of his father, Lloyd Bridges, who secured him an agent so that he could get his foot in the door. Jeff did mention during our interview that he had been playing with folks in Livingston since, as it turns out, the early ‘70s, and then Mike Devine filled in some of the gaps (these are the kinds of things, by the way, you learn hanging out in bars, a neces-sity for journalists, and it’s the reason doing so should be written off as a business expense. Trouble is—lots of notes scribbled on cocktail napkins, and if you feel compelled to fully participate in the enterprise, accepting free drinks, there’s a chance a deadline could be missed).
Mike mentioned that he helped with the studio Bridges built down the valley, used for some of the music he’s been recording lately, and so he seems to have an inside track on things. We learned, further, that on June 28, Quincy Jones introduced Bridges at the legendary Trouba-dour in West Hollywood, a month before he would play with the Abiders at the Dulcie in Livingston (not legendary yet , but getting there).
Talking to Mike, I told him what I told Bridges, that my favorite of his movies is not the Big Lebowski, the “cult following” of which so many speak of, nor The Fabulous Baker Boys, or his more recent hits, but the somewhat undiscovered and under rated White Squall, the story of a Clipper ship captain making his way around the world while teaching young men, boys, really, how to sail, and, well, how to be men. The film is based on the tragic fate of the Brigantine Albatross that sank on May 2, 1961. The character of the Skipper Bridges plays could not be more different than, say, that of the Big L. It’s a story the way stories used to be told, one that combines adventure, genuine characters, triumph, tragedy, and the mythic lessons learned upon the sea that turn boys into men. The poignant but difficult denouement has the Skipper, played so well by Bridges, taking the rap for losing his ship in a freak storm, a white squall. I can’t say enough about the film, have watched it several times, and each time I see Bridges draw from within himself a sternness, a fatherliness (combining compassion with at times harsh discipline) that leaves its mark as a positive emotional imprint upon even the most reprobate of his adolescent crew—all of whom sooner or later seek their Skipper’s approval, in the way boys seek the approval of men—overlooking their flaws and emulating their virtues.
I mentioned this to Bridges in but a few words, so as not to bore the guy, and so perhaps if he chances upon this treatment he will better understand my fascination with the movie, and the role he plays in it. Bridges responded, simply saying, yet enthusiastically, “White Squall, great story, great story,” and we agreed that the movie is rarely talked about as one of his better films (but it ought to be).
What else did we talk about? Humanitarianism, doing what one can, not necessarily to perfection but as one is able, and according to the circumstances of one’s life and temperament. He intimated a beautiful expression of that ideal by suggest-ing that one need not turn one’s life upside down, or strive for utter selflessness, but that finding a way to express the ideal of helping others in a way that fits with one’s life is a worthy ideal, and something to strive for. One might say it’s easy to do if you are a wealthy movie star, but that would miss the point entirely. It’s finding a way of making this a better world that suits your life and circumstances, as you are able. That’s what Bridges suggested.