When Jeff Bridges debuted an ad during the Super Bowl that featured him chanting at the bedside of a sleeping couple, with a link to dreamingwithjeff.com, it was surprising but, for fans of the actor, not completely unexpected. Now in his 60s, Bridges has seemed content to embody the persona of his most famous character, Jeff Lebowski; it’s also possible that there was always more of the Dude in Jeff Bridges, and vice versa, then we realized. Bridges has let his on-screen persona evolve into a sort of grizzled old hippie sage with a perpetual Southern drawl, with varying degrees of success – his Rooster Cogburn in True Grit is one of his best performances, while his more cartoonish lawman in R.I.P.D. is not (to his credit, he always seems to be having a great time regardless of the quality of the material).
Bridges has cheerfully embodied these same qualities in his offscreen public persona as well – in his talk show appearances, he’s like America’s goofball uncle, dropping pearls of wisdom earned through decades of life experience while remaining so remarkably chill and Dude-like about the whole thing. He also tours with his band, Jeff Bridges & The Abiders, and is the national spokesman for No Kid Hungry, a non-profit devoted to funding school breakfast programs across America – even his pet cause is one that nobody can honestly object to! All of this is a roundabout way of saying that Bridges’ album Sleeping Tapes billed as a collection of spoken word and music tracks designed to encourage its listeners’ peaceful sleep, makes oddly perfect sense. I can easily believe that Jeff Bridges is sincerely concerned that I’m sleeping well, and I can think of few voices I’d rather have in my head as I’m lying in bed, gently encouraging me to sleep and dream.
As it happens, I could actually benefit from an album’s worth of Jeff Bridges lulling me to sleep. I work a third shift job, which has been a great way to leave my days open for writing and spending time with my kids, but makes maintaining a consistent sleep schedule and not living in a constant state of borderline sleep psychosis something of a challenge for me. I’m always open to anything I can add to melatonin and magnesium on the short list of things that help me get a full night’s (or day’s sleep), so I was eager to see if Jeff Bridges could help me out. I listened to the album in bed after a shift last weekend; given the circumstances, forgive me if my impressions of the album are inaccurate. It’s possible that I might have dreamt some portion of it.
Sleeping Tapes opens with Bridges pondering the meanings of the words “sleep” and “tape recording,” and his low drawl is immediately soothing. The short review is, the tracks where Bridges hums and chants mantras (“Sleep. Dream. Wake up.”) while backed by distant, echo-y strings, piano and other ambient instrumentation by composer Keefus Ciancia are everything you’d want them to be. It’s like light guided meditation from a guide who, pleasantly, doesn’t take himself too seriously. The effect is weirdly intimate, as Bridges talks directly to the listener, confiding in us; for instance, he tells us at one point that he often has to get up to use the bathroom during the night, but he doesn’t mind because it’s nice to look out the window. Moments like that might make Sleeping Tapes seem like one big ironic goof if Bridges weren’t so damn affable.
There are also vignettes where Bridges talks to young kids about their dreams and, in one particularly charming moment, tries to convince his clearly annoyed wife (I assume) to hum with him. There are also strange detours like the one where he tells us about his plans, after he dies, to have his remains launched into orbit aboard a satellite. It’s entertaining stuff that would hold my interest even if I wasn’t trying to fall asleep. I must admit, though, that it took me a little while to drift off, both because I was entertained and because my mind was filled with mental pictures of Bridges recording the album. Is he sitting in a comfortable recording studio, chanting into a microphone in an otherwise empty soundproof booth while two technicians adjusted levels on the other side of the glass? Is he in his own bed, in his pajamas (or possibly a bathrobe), a glass of Scotch in one hand and a microphone in the other? Is he lying naked in a field at night, as he and Robin Williams did in The Fisher King? Does he want me to wonder about these things?
I drifted off, I think during a track where Bridges is taking us on a guided hike of Timescal Canyon, describing the sights and sounds to us. My last memory before sleep is of Bridges declaring that we’d discovered Spanish doubloons left behind by the “con-kwiss-ter-dors.” Looking at the track list, it appears that I fell asleep three tracks before the end of the album. It was a close call – as much as I like Bridges and was entertained by Sleeping Tapes, I would have felt professionally obligated to rate it an F if it failed to put me to sleep. Luckily, that was not the case, and while Sleeping Tapes won’t be replacing melatonin for me, I suspect I’ll be revisiting it when I’m in need of a little cosmic perspective from the Dude himself.