Q&A: Jeff Bridges Talks Tom Waits, the Dude, and His Band, The Abiders

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Whose idea was it to immortalize The Big Lebowski by giving the moniker of The Abiders to your band's name?

We were sitting around trying to think of a name for the band. I came up with from The Big Lebowski, The Royal We's. It's something the dude says when he is dusted in the car. Then I thought that maybe too obscure. Then our pedal steel guy Bill Flores said, "The Abiders, it's gotta be the Abiders." that kind of stuck. We couldn't come up with anything better so we went with that.

Among the 14 cuts on Live, you do your 2011 single, "What A Little Bit Of Love Can Do," "Falling & Flyin" from Crazy Heart, and a Creedence song, Looking out My Back Door, just as was played in one of the classic funny scenes from The Big Lebowski, but you also do one of the modern classics by Tom Waits from his Orphans: Brawlers, Bawlers & Bastards three-disc opus, "Never Let Go."

Tom and I go back quite a ways. He was in Fisher King. You know, he's a wonderful actor. We worked together in a movie called Cold Feet, and another movie, American Heart, that I produced. [Waits sung the song, "Waiting for My Child."] It's a wonderful tune and one of my favorite movies. You might want to check that out.

And, as your music goes, your guitar of choice, the Gretsch G6122-1959 Chet Atkins Country Gentleman guitar? Obviously, a vintage country-rock-sounding instrument, but why that particular guitar?

Well, when we were looking around for one, when we were starting Crazy Heart with [producer] Scott Cooper, T-Bone Burnett (the film' soundtrack director) and (long-time friend and prolific musician-producer) Stephen Bruton, who was so instrumental in the making of the music for that movie, we were trying to find the right guitar. You know, what this type of artist might play. Scott, I believe was recording stuff for Merle Haggard. I asked him what his favorite guitar was, and I could be wrong, but I think it was a Country Gentleman. We also had a telecaster I played and a couple of the guys used that. I tried them all on, and I started seeing the kind of music that would speak to me, and that was it. It's just is a really good guitar.

The ongoing love affair and cult status that America has with The Big Lebowski is seemingly unexplainable, and yet it helped give you a name for your backing band, The Abiders. It showed you at the apex of your modern comic, quirky best. This would seem to be more than a pleasant, yet unexpected continuation of popularity for one role you have had for any one movie in your body of work. In your mind, what has given it such a sustained fame durability?

The Big Lebowski as far as I'm concerned, is a masterpiece, made by the masters (Ethan and Joel Coen). It's a great movie, and I am so proud of it. I am surprised it has taken off and had this new energy. but the fans are wild, man. I played at a couple of the Fests [Lebowski Festivals] with the Abiders. It's wonderful to be around people who love the movie so much.

How different is it for you, performing on musical stage versus the set of another movie, in terms of the nervousness and the energy? Is it similar or way different?

I think it's very similar than different. You have anxiety about pulling off what you want to pull off [in terms of performance]. Then when you get out there as opposed to being an actor on a movie, I'm doing a long improvisation with the audience. We sing together, and we're sort of out their together. When you're out there with the guys [in the band] the anxiousness disappears. If the audience is having a good time, it returns to the band.

You are truly in a time where you can do what you want. You have it all, legendary film career, body of work, loyal family, charitable causes, photography, painting, and more. How do you balance all of that? Does your meditation help?

It's a challenge. My wife keeps me grounded. You don't take yourself too seriously. I am more a Zen guy. I do meditation inside and it seems to bring me a certain amount of peace.

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Mark C. Horn
Contact: Mark C. Horn