The first song of Jeff Bridges I played on the radio was Movin’…More or less on a whim I decided to see if I could contact his associates to tell them. They wrote back right away and said that he thought it was cool that someone was playing his music out there.
It was not too long after that fact that I got to welcome him on my radio show. We recorded this thing using the best equipment we could use, and the audio quality was not great. When Jeff says hello to “Jeff” in this interview, he was referring to Jeff Pike who was recording the conversation in the other room. We had never recorded an interview over the telephone. It had always been in a studio. When I had to tell him the audio quality was not great, he understood.
I was still very new to interviewing people and you may notice I was not very proficient. I am not someone who likes to use the word “celebrity” because I find it sometimes conjures images of popularity and not necessarily talent. I’ve never tried to interview someone because of how popular they are, but rather because I believed in their writing or their artistry.
So someone had to be my first “celebrity” interview. I was very fortunate that it was Jeff Bridges because he is a true artist. He has something to say. When I think of him I do not think of awards and red carpets, but rather the films I love and the sometimes surreal songs he writes and the ones he selects to record by other great songwriters. It helps that he is a good soul. The number of “stars” I have interviewed has grown and a part of this game is that you interview them and then you never hear from them again. Not so with Jeff Bridges. He is an artist and what comes with that is a curiosity in other people and what is going on with the world.
So go easy on me with this interview, ladies and gentlemen. I was very new and if you think the audio quality is not pristine, you should have heard it when it was aired! I have taken the original tape and done a lot of audio work to make it sound a little better. I think what we talked about is still valid and I hope you enjoy hearing from the very talented and sincere Jeff Bridges. A transcript is included if you prefer to read it. From 10 years ago, here is Mr. Jeff Bridges–actor, singer-songwriter, concert and recording artist, painter, sculptor, photographer and all around artist.
A big “Aloha” to Mr. Jeff Bridges…
Hey there, Paul and Jeff. Aloha Oe! (Laughs)
A lot of people are aware of your shows but some might be surprised to find out that you’re a songwriter and a musician and you have a very incomparable album called ‘Be Here Soon.’
How’d you get this passion for music?
Well gosh…I can’t remember not loving it. You know, I remember my brother back in the early sixties…maybe late fifties…having this white electric guitar and I kind of took it over and started playing on it and, you know, the great thing about the guitar is you can kind of teach yourself, you know, the chords are just pictures of where you put your fingers, so I had a ball just working on tunes that I liked, trying to play them and that kind of thing and then I started to write music with the knowledge of the chords that I’d learned…I just kind of started to make up songs and stuff and that really took off and I started doing that more than playing other people’s songs.
Speaking kind of in that same vein, you said you were looking up songs that you liked. What kind of music did you grow up with and what do you listen to now?
Well my brother, Beau, he’s about eight years older than I am, and so, um, you know when he was a young teenager he experienced the birth of rock-n-roll: Little Richard, Chuck Berry, and Elvis and all those guys…and so I, of course, looked at my older brother and I got involved with all that early rock-n-roll music and as I became a teenager, started that English invasion, you know, the British invasion with the Beatles and all the great Brit groups and that was a wonderful time to be involved with music. It was just so rich and honest…you know, the San Francisco scene…I don’t know…it was just a wonderful, wonderful time to be a musician and work with music and it was also kind of the birth of FM radio during those days. It’s kind of a shame now you get on the radio and it’s all Clear Channel and you don’t get to hear the DJ’s taste in the music,but back in those days you had FM and you could get these wonderful, long sessions of DJ’s turning you on to all kinds of great music. And I guess now-a-days, the internet’s going to do that for us.
So what do you listen to now?
Oh gee….I listen to all kinds of stuff, you know, from all kinds of people: old jazz…I’m a big Bill Evans fan…but you know I love Captain Beefheart. I listen to his stuff. Lately Howe Gelb, I don’t know if you know this guy Howe Gelb.
I’m not familiar…
Yeah…Mitch Cullin, a friend of mine, turned me on to Howe Gelb. I like his music a lot. I’m a big fan of Tom Waits. One of my favorite albums last year was his album called ‘Wicked Grin.’ I don’t know if you’ve heard that album.
Oh yeah? The John Hammond album? God, wasn’t that cool?
Did you like that? Is that your style? And then John Hammond is a great guitar player on this album. ‘Wicked Grin’ was an album Tom produced. It is all Tom’s songs, but sung by John Hammond. I thought It was great.
The title of the album, ‘Be Here Soon,’ comes from the song ‘Movin’ and some of the lyrics….
…which we played on a past episode so tell usabout ‘Movin’ and why you chose ‘Be Here Soon’ as the title.
‘Be Here Soon’ is sort of a take-off on that great Ram Dass called ‘Be Here Now.’
I don’t really claim to be any kind of guru or anything. I’m not quite as evolved as ‘Be Here Now’ (laughs). ‘Be Here Soon’ and of course is kind of an oxymoronic statement because if you’re already here, how can you be here soon? By saying you’re here, I don’t know…it’s a kind of tricky, screwed up title. But ‘Movin’ is kind of a reggae-ish number and just about how I moved through life, I suppose. Kind of like the ‘Be Here Soon’ title kind of refers to this fact that I’ve been involved in music most of my life but it took me a very, very long time to get anything out to the public concerning my music and I’m just really happy about the fact that my music kind of stayed on the back burner…simmered back there and, you know, during the acting deal, I kept my music alive which is, uh, I’m really happy about that. You get older and you stop doing the things that you love and you find out you don’t do it…you don’t accomplish some of your dreams and I’ve been fortunate to be surrounded by some great friends who also play music and write songs and sang and those kind of…those guys have kept me at it and kept me involved.
The cool thing about this album is a lot of it is not what I would have expected. Say, for instance, ‘Picture Frame.’ It kind of has a country feel to it
Oh yeah, that’s right.
So how did you get the inspiration for that?
Uh let’s see here…I’m turning to it here…I got the album and I’m looking at it. I kind of forget. Oh well…this is um…it’s uh…my taste in music is pretty eclectic. We tried this, when we recorded this song, we tried it a bunch of different ways and this is kind of the version that ended up on the album but we did a lot of different versions of it and basically, I guess it’s about, you know, how you view the world and how it’s kind of up to you how you feel it and it’s up to you…what are you going to do about it.
It was the lyrics on one of the songs that’s got me kind of puzzled and I’m trying to piece it together but it’s ‘Budda + Christ At Large…’
“We got a sexual president in office.” How did you decide on the title and tell us a little bit about the song?
Well this was written…I was making a movie….making a movie, what the hell was the name of the move? It was called ‘Arlington Road’ andwrote it all kind of in one night and during this time it was, well, Clinton was going through, well, having that fellatio performed on him in the oval office (laughs), you know…
That’s where that first line comes from, you know, “Surprise! Surprise! We have a sexual president.” I thought it was a great opportunity for us to kind of acknowledge our sexuality and how, uh, how powerful that is in all of us and, uh, we bury our sexuality. We don’t talk too much about it. We’re kind of embarrassed about it. Uh, I think he certainly was too and, uh, it’s a driving force and then it just kind of takes off from there and the lyrics roll along…just the thought was, um, you know, Budda and Christ actually hung out together and what they might think about what’s going on…what kind of action they might take. What lines are mysterious to you?
Well, I guess a lot of it. There’s that part and there was the other part about, um, the black hole, stars and planets being one single symbol…
Yeah…I guess it has the whole duality thing, you know, of separating good and bad and righteousness and evil and all apparently opposite things are really just all part of the whole, you know and you really can’t have one without the other and there’s a relationship that these things have together and I think the song talks about, uh, looking at the lyrics here…look at that part where he’s like “Budda and Christ met one day by the riverside and decided to join forces and let all the best ride….put all their jewels in the pot…let all the lights mingle…all the black holes, stars and planets be one single symbol.” I guess it was kind of like, you know, if Budda and Christ threw all the East and West notions of spirituality together and just let it all explode in a beautiful, spiritual firework.
There’s a great band on the album that does some background vocals for some interesting people. How did David Crosby end up doing background vocals?
Well all of the music is really…the birth of it really was started by that earthquake kind of like all those years ago and it shook me and my family out of our home in Santa Monica, California and we landed in Santa Barbara and, uh, I was like for as long as I had a place, I had some kind of little music set-up, recording set-up of some sort, and I was looking to turn a garage into a jam space and do some recording and I called up to some local guy…I didn’t know who he was…I don’t know where I got his phone number…in the phone book or something…but, uh, he was an acoustic specialist and it turned out to be this fellow, Chris Pelonis who was, is an award-winning acoustic engineer and a great musician, songwriter and singer himself and then we talked about the room a little bit and he said, “So let’s see some of your tunes,” and I whipped out my pile of tunes and started to sing and play together and he liked it and said, “Hey, you know, I got a buddy who might also like these tunes. Do you mind if I give them to him?” and I said, “Yeah, who is it?” and he said, “Michael McDonald,” and I said, “Oh, gosh.” I was a huge fan of Mike’s and I was thrilled to have him listen to the tunes so Chris sent them off to Mike and Mike liked the stuff and came to LA not too long after that, we all produced his album together and Mike sings on it, Chris sings on it, and Mike play this wonderful piano on it and another one of our mutual friends…we all know David Crosby, who’s a Santa Barbara guy…he’s grown up in Santa Barbara…and so he came along and sang backup with Mike on some of the tunes and that was really a dream come true if you can imagine having Michael McDonald and David Crosby backing you up…that was really thrilling…and then we had a great rhythm section in Brian Zupnick and our bass player…I can’t remember his name…one second here…it’s terrible what happens to the mind…let’s see here…Todd Smith, of course…unfortunately, Brian Zupnick is no longer with us but he was a great, great drummer and he had really a cool sound.
Speaking of the songs with Michael McDonald, looking back on one of our last episodes, we played ‘She Lay Her Whip Down’ by John Goodwin…
It’s such a smokin’ song and I was checking out his website and I was telling him actually about this interview. He was real stoked about it.
And you’ve covered three of his songs so I…
Yeah…well, Johnny and I, we go back to the fourth grade together and he’s one of those guys I was speaking about that’s kept my music fires burning because he’s such a wonderful songwriter and, like you say, I included three of his songs on this album and I just recently through the Terry Gilliam movie up in Canada called ‘Tideland.’ Terry Gilliam was the guy who directed ‘The Fisher King,’ ‘Brazil,’ and whole bunch of wonderful movies and I get to play a rocker in that one and I get to do one of Johnny’s tunes in that. I submitted it and Terry liked it and so that was really exciting. Maybe I can slip you an advance copy of that or something and you can spin it.
Cool! Yes please. For all the listeners at home, one of the places they can get this album other than Amazon.com is one Jimmy Buffett’s Mailboat records label and that’s Mailboatrecords.com. So could you tell us, why did you…how did you end up thinking this would be a good home for Jeff Bridges?
Well it…it happened in kind of a mysterious way to me. I didn’t have too much to do with it…it’s funny…the guy who is originally distributing ‘Be Here Soon’ and…we formed a record label when we made this album with Chris, Michael McDonald and myself called Ramp Records and Harold Sulman at Chicago Records was a distributor and then Jimmy bought up Chicago and so, here I am, back with my old friend, Jimmy Buffett. It’s pretty cool.
A lot of the listeners are familiar with a movie you did with him back in 1974, ‘Rancho Deluxe.’
Yes…that’s a very special movie for me. Not only did I meet Jimmy but I met my wife, Sue, on that movie. She was working at a dude ranch there.
…how appropriate (laughs)
(Laughs)..Yeah…working at my ranch and I fell in love and that’s all she wrote. But I met Jimmy…you know, he was a….he was a good buddy of Tom McGuane’s who wrote the script for ‘Rancho Deluxe’ and I met Jimmy over at Tom’s house and I can remember many evenings, sitting around listening to Jimmy play. I don’t know if the listeners know this, but Jimmy was also in the movie ‘Seabiscuit.’ Did you know that?
I did not know that.
No. He actually got cut out of the picture. They always cut the good parts, you know. (Laughs)
But we had…that was probably the last time I got to hang out with Jimmy was on the set there. We had a lot of fun.
I can imagine. One of the things I think is really important and everyone needs to know is that some of the proceeds from the CD goes to the End Hunger Network. I know it’s something you feel strongly about. What compels you…or what, I should say, inspired you to feel the End Hunger Network was (blurred)…
Well the End Hunger Network was something that I helped found in ’83. It’s a non-profit organization. We started out, really paying attention to world hunger because here in our own country we pretty much had it licked. You know, there were government programs in place that were keeping it at bay and then maybe fifteen years ago, these safety nets weren’t being funded properly and so hunger has kind of started to resurface so now we’ve got hunger here again so we’ve refocused our energies to hunger here in America and particularly children in America because hunger affects them the most, you know, the most damage to them and so we work to raise awareness and resources to end childhood hunger and also you have to keep hunger programs and organizations in Washington as well, lobbying and that kind of thing. Now we’re putting most of our attention on school feeding programs; breakfast and lunch and summer programs because, a lot of people don’t know this, but the government has funds that’s available to schools to feed kids…you know, breakfast and lunches and all these summer meals but the schools need to have these programs in place. A lot of schools don’t know about this and they think it’s too much of a hassle to do it and that kind of thing, but kids need food to concentrate…to learn, and a kid who’s hungry all through the day is not going to do well in school and that affects all of us too..
And so a lot of times, you know, the kids who go…the kids who eat…the kids who get fed at school, it’s like their only meal for the day, you know.
According to the latest 2003 report from the Department of Agriculture and the census bureau there, I’m reading off here some new statistics, 11.2% of American households experience food insecurity. “Food insecurity” is the term they use to describe the widespread hunger but it’s not…that we have here in America…but it’s not like the hunger you have in Africa. Here, food insecurity, it really has to do with a lack of access to food to meet the basic needs, you know, and, uh, usually has to do with kids who are living in poverty and we’ve got about 34 million Americans who live in poverty. That’s 12% of our population. Poverty, according to this census, is defined by the poverty line for a family of 4 is 18,400 dollars. So we’ve got 34 million people living below that. 12% of us. I have the statistics here…I know it’s kind of boring to read them but they’re kind of shocking and they deserve to be heard because the bottom line is that hunger threatens 36 million Americans, including 13 million children. 18% of all American kids under the age of 18 are at risk for hunger. That’s about one in six.
Is there a website where people can find out more?
Yeah…yeah…there sure is. It’s Breakfastfirst.org
Breakfastfirst.org and they can also check the End Hunger Network website and that’s EndHunger.com
All right. This is kind of a vastly different subject…I understand you have a book out called ‘Pictures by Jeff Bridges.’
Let’s hear a little bit about that.
Well, uh…this is a book I put out I guess last year. It was a compilation of photographs that I’ve taken on movie sets going back to ‘Starman’ and ‘King Kong’ around, you know, around that time…about thirty years ago…and what I often do..I don’t know…maybe twenty or so times…I’ll make a…when I’m making a movie, I’ll take photographs and make a small book as a gift for the cast and crew. I use a quite unusual camera called a wide-lux and it’s a panning still camera and so the lens actually pans and you get a very elongated negative and so last year I put out this gathering of all these different old pics and people were happy with it. It came out great. It should be available, you know, in bookstores or on Amazon. I think you can get it on Amazon.
And speaking of websites like Amazon, you have a website with lots of personality…it’s one of the most interesting websites I’ve ever been on. So tell all the listeners how they can get in on the madness.
JeffBridges.com isn’t it?
That’s it. (Laughs)
My memory…I forget things…my own phone number sometimes. Yeah that…I started the…I started this website because, as we were talking earlier, you know, I was so excited about the album I thought, “Gee, this is going to be a cinch to get on the radio. You know, I got a little bit of fame. I can do all the talk shows and publicize the thing and then the radios will play it.” Well, I went on the talk shows…did that part…but the radio, to break that thing, is, you know, very difficult to get on the list, you know, so I decided to create a website and sell the CD that way and I started to, uh, have so much fun with just the idea of communicating to the world that way that I kind of got hooked on it and thought, “Oooh..here’s another canvas…another way to express myself and have some fun, get some feedback,” so it’s kind of blossomed from there, you know. I don’t know where it will go. I mean, eventually I guess what I’d like to do is kind of what you guys are doing…have my own radio station and my TV station (laughs), you know and just put it up and just get it out there.
Is there anything on the horizons as far as the music?
Well, this Friday night we’re taping this so it’s going to be passed when people hear this but there’s a wonderful thing that I’ve never been to but I’m looking forward to it called the ‘Lebowski Fest”
Oh yeah…I saw that on the web…
The ‘Lebowski Fest West’…this is one in LA. So, I’m going to get on there and play a few tunes with Chris and the guys who have got together and there’s going to be another band there. Peter Stormare, the guy who played the Nihilist you know the guy who cut my Johnson off and had the marmot and stuff. He also happens to be the guy they throw in the wood chipper in ‘Fargo.’ He’s got a band called ‘Blonde from Fargo’ I think it’s called and he’s gonna be playing there and talking about his new CD and, uh, and they’re going to show the movie. It should be pretty fun. I don’t know. We’ll see.
I’m looking forward to playing.
This show goes out all over the world, so here’s a chance to let it all out, sort of like your website. What would you like to say to everyone listening?
Oh…gosh…now that’s a question you like to prepare for Paul.
I sent an email…
And it was probably in there but see…I didn’t do my homework enough here. God…the whole world’s listening, now what do I have to say? Oh my god…well…I guess I’d like to invite everybody to be as kind as possible. (Laughs) How’s that?
I like that.
Kindness…you know, I remember hearing the Dali Lama speak once and he was saying, “All religions are good. Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism…ah, Hindu is not so good…No! No! Just kidding!” (Laughs) Then he said it doesn’t really matter what religion or what beliefs you have. Just the important thing is to be kind. That made a lot of sense to me. Kindness will take us far I think.
That’s right. Well, Mr. Bridges, we’re just…it’s been a lot of fun.
Good talking with you Paul and Jeff.
TRANSCRIBED BY LORI DOMINGO