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Cathleen Falsani

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The Dude's 'Buddhistly Bent' Album

Posted: 08/20/2011 11:04 am

In the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, the practice of training one's mind to be clearer and more compassionate by studying and meditating on 59 short aphorisms from the Buddha's teachings is called Lojong.

Number 21 on the Lojong list: "Approach every situation with a joyful mind."

If Jeff Bridges hadn't chosen to self-title his new album of "blues and country hymns," he might have called it "A Joyful Mind."

Bridges, 61, the Oscar-winning actor best known for playing the iconic character Jeffrey "The Dude" Lebowski in Joel and Ethan Coen's 1998 cult classic, "The Big Lebowski," released the 10-song album earlier this week.

Produced by T-Bone Burnett, a longtime collaborator of the Coen brothers and a friend of Bridges for 30 years, the album is tender, groovy and soulful. To borrow a line from the Bible, Bridges' album makes a decidedly "joyful noise."

"Music for me is like a weed that just keeps springing up," Bridges says in a video trailer for the album. "No matter how thick the concrete is it somehow manages to eke its way toward the light. I've been doing music since I was a young teen and man, I'm really digging the way the weed popped through this concrete."

Born into an acting family -- he is the youngest son of Dorothy and the legendary Lloyd Bridges -- Bridges began acting when he was 6 months old. He calls making movies "a wonderful spiritual playground."

About a decade ago, Bridges began meditating and studying Buddhism. While he doesn't call himself a Buddhist, he told the Buddhist magazine Tricycle that he is a "Buddhistly bent guy" who also has "a lot of Christian input, too."

That label -- one of the most creative I've heard since the director Harold Ramis told me a few years back that he was "Buddh-ISH" -- even makes an appearance on new album in the song, "Tumbling Vine," which Bridges wrote:

Here is the freedom
I have been sent
I'm delighted
I'm buddhistly bent

In the 2010 Tricycle interview, Bridges cited a second slogan from his Lojong practice: "Of the two witnesses, hold true to the principal one."

Bridges explained the meaning of the second aphorism this way: "Always be true to your own perception. Your own self is your main teacher. I have a lot of different feelings about my laziness. Sometimes I enjoy it. Kind of like the Dude."

Ah yes. The Dude.

A character so indelible and spiritually intriguing that an actual religion was founded to celebrate his "path." Dudeism (or the Church of the Latter-day Dude if you're not into the whole brevity thing), has ordained more than 120,000 "priests" worldwide and its founders recently published "The Abide Guide," a kind of Bible for the deeply casual set.

With Bridges' new album -- he released his first, Be Here Soon, in 2000 and performed several songs on the soundtrack of "Crazy Heart," the film for which he won an Oscar -- Dudeists have music to go along with their scriptures. (Could a Dudeist liturgy, a la the so-called "U2charists," which incorporated U2's music into Christian worship services, be on the horizon as well?)

In the up-tempo, beautifully lyrical opening track, "What A Little Bit of Love Can Do," Bridges, with his collaborator from the "Crazy Heart" soundtrack, Ryan Bingham, singing harmony, says:

I know that you've been feelin' down and blue
But there ain't nothin' really wrong with you
You just need a little tendin' to
Let me show you what a little bit of love can do

"What a Little Bit of Love Can Do" is one of those magical love songs that can be about many different kinds of relationships, depending on who's listening. At first listen, I got a little choked up, hearing it as the voice of someone who knows exactly who I am and loves me anyway.

Someone like God.

The ethereal-sounding "Falling Short," which Bridges wrote and where he is joined by the idiosyncratic loveliness of singer-songwriter Sam Phillips on backup vocals, Bridges seems to reflect -- existentially, spiritually -- on his extraordinary life:

And in my wondering do I answer why
I'm alive
To make a space -- bushwhack a path --
Leave a sign -- dodge the wrath
Of myself and leave the math to God

Over the slow, country groove of "Maybe I Missed the Point," written by John Goodwin, who Bridges describes as his oldest friend (the two men have known each other since grade school), Bridges lists his faults in a way that recalls the Anglican prayer for forgiveness of things done and said -- or left undone and unsaid:

I know somebody whose life is tough.
I help a little, but it isn't enough
Cuz I go an' spend money on stupid stuff
When I know he's strugglin' to stay above.

And I have so many chances to be
The hero I believe's inside of me
But I get busy and I get distracted
And I do nothing when I could've acted

Bridges draws his self-titled album to a close with a simple, rolling waltz also written by Goodwin called "The Quest." A contemplative yet ultimately hopeful tune that is perfectly fit for Bridge's warmly inviting baritone voice, the song made me yearn for a road trip through the countryside where I could have a good, long think.

My memories will stay but my body must go
Back to the thunder, the rock and the wheel
And the truth about love only time will reveal
And I've just been forgiven and I'm all confessed
So I've got to get back to the quest


I don't know about you, but I take comfort in that, knowing he's out there -- the Dude, takin' it easy for the rest of us. Keeping his mind joyful (and limber).

Godspeed and Namaste, Mr. Bridges, and thanks for the righteous tunes.

A version of this column first appeared via Religion News Service.

Cathleen Falsani is the author of 'The Dude Abides: The Gospel According to the Coen Brothers' and the forthcoming 'Belieber!: Fame, Faith and the Heart of Justin Bieber' (Worthy, Sept. 2011).

 

Follow Cathleen Falsani on Twitter: www.twitter.com/godgrrl

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