This week, Jeff Dowd, the inspiration for The Dude in "The Big Lebowski," discusses the homogenization of cities and how movies help spin the life-imitating-art-imitating-life wheel.
LC: Oh, did you finish up your Seattle thing? That's what we were talking about.
JD: I was saying that there's an affinity between places like Seattle, Austin and New Orleans. And for that matter, Berkeley, San Francisco and places like that, you know? It's what gives it soul… If I could spend more time down there, it would become another, you know, second city.
JD: I spend time in Nashville working with the Doorpost Foundation, helping mentor filmmakers, and Nashville's another one of those towns, too. You know, obviously, they have bars and bands, you walk on Broadway. That's even more than in Austin. You walk down Broadway in Nashville at eleven in the morning and there's fifteen bands playing, you know, at eleven in the morning and the bars are half full. Classic, you know? You gotta love that.
LC: I love it about here.
JD: Yeah, exactly, so there's a real affinity. And that's what life is. And that's kinda what The Dude is, you know, if you want to get into that. You go all over places in the world now and you could be a certain place and you don't know where you are 'cause it's the same McDonald's, the same American Apparel or whatever, the clothing store, or Nike store or something like that, and you don't know if you're in Paris, Lafayette or San Jose. You look around you and you have no idea where you're at and that's not what humanity ever was. Every culture, you know, people like to get together, people like to walk, which is why now all Americans now have malls or promenades and stuff. That's the natural thing. You go to Europe, one reason people are in such good shape, you know you see a lot of walking around at night in every city, right?
JD: In places like France and Italy and stuff like that more so than, you know, England and (???) not so much, but you get fat staying home but everyone's walking around, you know? That's what people liked about a city, you know? You eat, you go to a store and you walk. You know my father's (???born in Italy???) and when they get invited to someone's house four miles away, and they've got a cool old car and all that kind of stuff, they don't drive there, they walk there and then at eleven o'clock, they walk home three or four miles.
LC: That's how we do, and lots of biking. Bicycles.
JD: Exactly. And New Orleans is one of the last vestiges of what almost every city in the world was in one way or another, okay? They may not have the (???), but they have the (??????). And America has become so homogenized, including the cities, not just the strip malls and the other stuff and you go to a rural place, you know, 50,000 people, 100,000 people, you really don't know where you are anymore.
LC: No, because it's a WalMart, that's it.
JD: There's no Main Street. And one of the coolest things about small town America, Ithica was 30,000, that's not very big, was Main Street, you know? State Street, it was called in Ithica. And, boy, it could be like childhood memories of State Street, (???), Woolworth's, there's a candy shop and a sporting goods shop, and there's a place you can go to get you a milkshake and (???) and a Rathskeller, or something like that and that kind of stuff. So, New Orleans is a symbol of a model, and the thing is that people do model this stuff, this is why Promenades started.
LC: Why what started?
JD: Well, like the Santa Monica Promenade.
LC: Oh yeah, yeah.
JD: You know, it's store city, but you see people walking and there's (???) there….
JD: You know, there's been tremendous progress in how people get along together here. Would Obama have ever won without shows like "The Cosby Show?" and stuff like that. You know what I'm saying'? Shows like that showed, hey, Black people are just like family people like us and they're just as (???) and, Huckabee or whatever his name was, Hudsucker or whatever.
JD: Huxtable. There you go. The score is six-nothing Laura. So, you can, by modeling, and it is true that in most places in America you can find much, much, much better food than you could twenty years ago. You still got more McDonald's, but you also have newer chefs trying newer things, you know, in small towns (???and that's just dining???) where you can find all kinds of good stuff and that's because people have picked up and they say, "Hey, I want to go back to my small town and I want to live here and I want to have better food in my town." So, in Ithica, it used to be just Joe's, Joe's the Italian place. And forget about the Chinese place, God. Even Chinese was (???). But that also happens in communities, education and so—
LC: Well, I think food is life. In ancient Egypt, the words for "bread" and "life" were the same word.
JD: You should interview Phil Cousineau http://www.philcousineau.net/ sometime. He's an erudite kind of guy that's involved in (???). He knows every kind of book. You know who started the first theatre in Ireland? The first movie theatre?
JD: James Joyce.
LC: Oh, really?
JD: Yeah, so here's a guy writing "Ulysses" but he's also starting a movie theatre 'cause he's a movie freak, right?
LC: Wow, I didn't know that.
JD: Yeah, I think he wanted to get, you know, foot traffic near a bookstore or stuff like that like. So the point is you can make, and I think that the role of people like us, and particularly (???film???), is to show what can be now. And it's one thing to criticize what was and make sure history is properly portrayed, I mean look what Oliver Stone tried to do with "Platoon" and "[Born on the] Fourth of July" and "JFK" and "Wall Street," but the real challenge to filmmakers is to have a vision, to have the filmmakers version of "Imagine," okay? It's easier to do it in a song if you're great like John Lennon, you can write "Imagine," but to do a film where you start to see— Let me give you an example, I mean, yesterday I'm watching, T. Boone Pickens is going around 'cause he's pushing something right now.
JD: He's doing a lot of these shows, doing morning, night, you know, interviews, but everywhere they do them, they're talking about alternate fuel. And not just T. Boone's perspective, but a lot of these people are different than T. Boone's perspective, not as corporate, but T. Boone's an interesting guy 'cause he's an insider who realizes the writing's on the wall so he's going toward natural gas and wind 'cause that what he owns, but he's talking about everything. And T. Boone said, look, you're gonna be in a situation where ten years from now, you could have a car that's solar, you could have a car that's hydrogen, you could have a car that's electric, you could have a car that's, you know, you could have biofuel, and that's the kind of car you get.
And the point is if we saw a movie right now— You take those guys on the rigs out there who don't want to lose their jobs, we're now back to, you know, jobs versus environment, okay? That old saw, well, you can't have, particularly in the Northwest, you know if we don't cut those trees down, we won't have jobs. Wait a second, you can cut the trees down in a manner that's not clear-cutting so they're renewable, okay?
I'd like to see a movie right now where you take some of these oil workers if they can't work for six months and watch them, say, get involved in alternative energy and they have jobs. Which is, of course, the case in Dayton, Ohio now, where a whole bunch of auto workers who were making, you know, autos, supply parts, stuff like that for (???) Toledo, I think, not Dayton. They got laid off and now they have this huge, huge thing that the city got behind and they're all working doing solar panels now, okay? Well, these are highly skilled workers in the first place, so, and I'm not sure how many of these guys out on the rigs dig working out on rigs if they could be in a place that had to do with alternate energy, but that's just energy, you know? They could be making stuff, but the point is to take away the job security fear by taking people and putting them in the Green economy.
Next week, The Dude talks more about possibility and reminds us of a prophetic old joke.