We Watch It For The Music | The Big Lebowski

Mike Merucci, Writer/Volunteer

To quote The Big Lebowski’s narrator, The Stranger: “Sometimes there’s a man… I won’t say a hero, ’cause, what’s a hero? But sometimes, there’s a man. And I’m talkin’ about The Dude here. Sometimes there’s a man, well, he’s the man for his time and place. He fits right in there. And that’s The Dude.”

Everyone has their comfort movie — with ease, I’ll say the Coen Brothers’ 1998 cult-classic The Big Lebowski is mine. The $5 DVD I bought at Target a few years ago is one of my most cherished possessions, and it’s the lone physical movie I plucked from my collection to have with me at college. I suppose it’s essential in the way that ibuprofen and bandages are — I never know when I’ll need it, but whenever I do, it’s there. Because, as The Stranger says, “Sometimes you eat the bear and sometimes, well, he eats you.”

But hey, if we’re being honest here — and we are, we certainly are — I think The Big Lebowski has a healing power much greater than that of ibuprofen or bandages. I am not a doctor, by the way. That should be obvious. And I am not studying to be one, either — I’m in advertising, which is kind of all the way across the spectrum. Polar opposites, if you really think about it. I’ve been thinking about it. But that’s not what I should be thinking about right now — I should be thinking about The Big Lebowski! I should be thinking about some critical analysis or something! I’m sure you can forgive me. 

Those who love The Big Lebowski and The Dude/His Dudeness/Duder/El Duderino know that one of the beauties of the movie is how derailed everything becomes. It’s just a lovely, jumbled collection of various thefts, awkward gun moments, a severed toe, a ferret bath, a nihilist parking lot brawl and lots of White Russians. But at the center of this chaos, it’s just a bunch of guys who want to drink some beers and go bowling. In the end, it’s about absolutely nothing. And that’s all I could ever want — it’s so calming, so nice, so warm. It’s a fucking blanket. Or a rug, perhaps. 

Contributing so heavily to this magic of The Big Lebowski is the soundtrack, and it’s a damn good thing that’s the case, because I just wanted an excuse to write about how much I love this movie. Here’s my avenue! The soundtrack conjures a completely new world in between ours and the dream-like, bringing a new romance to smoke-filled bowling alleys, destroyed cars and the overarching mentality of “Fuck it, dude.” So whenever I turn on The Big Lebowski, I’m lulled into a sort of zen by Sons of the Pioneers’ “Tumbling Tumbleweeds” and The Stranger’s opening narration. But then the opening credits kick in and all I can do is smile. The combination of Bob Dylan’s “The Man in Me” and middle-aged bowlers hittin’ strikes is just so powerful to me. In these few minutes, I am utterly in love with life. It happens every time. I’ll be sitting around, feeling like shit to put it bluntly, but then those credits swoop in and I’m completely lost in the world of The Dude. For the next two hours, I am insulated. I am laughing. I am happy. 

After pondering this nature of complete contentment, I understand why Dudeism — known officially as The Church of the Latter-Day Dude — exists. The Big Lebowski has established a bit of a philosophy for me; it’s been a bit of a cure at times. And there was no better place for it to be born than the City of Angels, I suppose. Is watching the movie a spiritual, beyond-this-world experience? I don’t know, man. It does make me want to keep my hair long and my bowling skills polished. But I wouldn’t say it inspires me to love bowling quite as much as Jesus — the “pederast” from The Big Lebowski, not the religious figure. Maybe that Jesus would roll too, I don’t know. 

We’ll stick with what was going on in 1998. As Gipsy Kings’ “Hotel California – Spanish Mix” serenades the lanes in the “Jesus scene,” Jesus puts on a hilariously sexual display with his bowling ball. One could say he worships it as he flicks his tongue against it. As his hips thrust slightly forward one can certainly see the strike that is coming. The music builds and builds up to the throw down the lane, which leads to that inevitable climax. Jesus swings around, and as the vocals kick in, he celebrates. All ten pins down. As The Dude puts it, “That creep can roll, man.” 

If you do have that spiritual — or sexual — connection with bowling, this next “song” is for you. Let’s find a genre for it, perhaps ambient bowling drone works? If that’s not on Rate Your Music already, I say we add it. Here we find The Dude at his most meditative on his newfound rug, listening to the sounds of the 1987 Venice Beach League Bowling Playoffs. Ah, to lie on one’s rug with nothing but strike after strike after strike on the mind. It’s such an enviable peace, but such peaces are so short-lived in The Big Lebowski. This one ends with a haymaker to the jaw — and another rug stolen. 

Speaking of short-lived peaces, let’s touch on the “Nice Marmot” scene. What’s the musical connection to this scene? Whale noises. Some ambient whale drone now. I just love this scene, so I needed some kind of excuse to drop a mention of it here. How could I neglect to mention one of the funniest scenes in the entire movie? Here’s another excuse for the mention: it carries a valuable lesson — never mess with a group of German nihilists. They just might drop a ferret in your bathtub while you’re hanging out or — this could be a good thing or a bad thing depending on who you ask — they might play techno-pop around you. 

The Dude has plenty of misfortunes throughout The Big Lebowski, but one thing goes right: no one ever steals his Creedence tapes. Well, I suppose when his car is stolen the Creedence tapes are in the trunk, but the intention wasn’t to steal the tapes. There was no malice on that front and for that we can all be thankful. Two Creedence Clearwater Revival songs appear in the movie, both in pretty shitty circumstances for The Dude. “Run Through The Jungle” plays as he and his friend Walter mess up a money drop-off by launching Walter’s underwear over a bridge; “Lookin’ Out My Back Door” plays when The Dude is just hanging out in his car, smacking his roof to the beat. Sounds nice, but as he’s driving along, he flicks a joint from his fingers, causing it to bounce off his window and land on his lap. His beer is no match for the burning joint, so he crashes the car right into a dumpster. Not the best result, but hey, at least the song’s a lot of fun. 

The pain certainly wasn’t over for that car, either. At least it’s treated by some more great music toward the end of the Larry Sellers scene. After Walter’s done teaching Larry “what happens when you fuck a stranger in the ass” by destroying some random guy’s sportscar, that random guy comes back to do some of his own work on The Dude’s car. So The Dude is left with shattered windows and a field of craters in his car’s body. But at least he, Walter and Donny were able to dine on some burgers from In-N-Out with Santana’s Oye Como Va to accompany them on the radio. Can’t be too mad about how it worked out in the end. 

The last song I’ll touch on is The First Edition’s “Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In).” I hope I haven’t already said this about another scene — because it’s entirely possible — but the scene this song accompanies, Gutterballs, is my favorite in the entirety of The Big Lebowski. Quite the crown, quite the crown. The song choice is perfect for a dream scene — specifically a porn parody dream scene. And then there’s Saddam Hussein handing The Dude some bowling shoes, The Dude shakin’ what he’s got and the bowling dance number going on all around. Just like the opening credits, this whole spectacle simply makes me love life. It’s around this point in the movie where I’ll always say to myself, “Yeah, this is the greatest comedy ever made.” 

Yes, I’d say The Big Lebowski is the greatest comedy ever made. I’ll agree with myself on that. I also like to sit around and call it the greatest sports movie ever made because it seems to make people mad. But, as I’ve already stated, it’s my go-to comfort movie as well. That goes beyond the jokes, beyond all the stupid situations set up throughout. What’s been created is a portal to the care-free, the stringless. It’s a two hour experience that I wish would last a lifetime. And so whenever I think about The Big Lebowski or The Dude himself, I can only smile. As The Stranger says, “The Dude abides. I don’t know about you, but I take comfort in that. It’s good knowin’ he’s out there. The Dude. Takin’ ‘er easy for all us sinners.”