It’s hard to describe just why The Big Lebowski inspires Achievers (fans) to watch the film time and time and time again. Is it the brilliant, profanity-laced dialogue? Is it the strange homage to Raymond Chandler, or the memorable characters who seem to live in their own reality? Is it all the bowling? I tend to think it’s because every scene in Lebowski is incredibly funny, “parts, anyway.” For a better analysis, check out A.O. Scott’s take.
The Big Lebowski may have thudded on its initial theatrical release, but has since garnered a cult following that only seems to grow, complete with conventions and legions of fans spewing Lebowski quotes like a second language. (Being intimately familiar with the film’s dialogue is practically a prerequisite for holding a conversation with me, as nearly half of my own speech patterns are lifted directly from The Big Lebowski. It’s like that episode of Star Trek where the aliens only talk through metaphors, and Picard has to figure out just what the hell “Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra” means before Riker gets the Enterprise blown up.)
Like many of the Coen Brothers’ other films, Lebowski owes its great soundtrack largely to T-Bone Burnett, who is able to sniff out fantastic and obscure music. To true Achievers (and proud we are of all of them), it’s difficult to separate in one’s mind the music from the movie. Can we ever hear any Eagles song without spurting, “I hate the fucking Eagles!” Can we ever hear “I Am The Walrus” without thinking of Steve Buscemi? In that spirit, and in the parlance of our times, theFiver proudly presents the Top 5 8 songs fromThe Big Lebowski:
1. “Tumbling Tumbleweeds,” Sons of the Pioneers
This oat ballad introduces the film, as the camera follows a tumbleweed from the desert to Los Angeles, where we find main character, The Dude (Jeff Bridges), using a personal check to purchase a carton of milk.
2. “The Man In Me,” Bob Dylan
Slightly dopey and relaxed this obscure Dylan tune best exemplifies The Dude’s style. It is used for the opening credit montage, as well as the film’s first dream sequence as The Dude follows the bohemian Maude Lebowski, who is riding atop a flying carpet (i.e., The Dude’s rug which, as we know, really tied the room together).
3. “Requiem in D Minor,” Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Played as The Big Lebowski stares dramatically into the great fireplace, where he thickly lays on the drama thickly over the alleged kidnapping of his wife, Bunny, to a seemingly oblivious Dude. (This scene was reproduced nearly shot for shot in an episode of The Powerpuff Girls.) Strong men also cry.
4. “Hotel California,” The Gipsy Kings
A mariachi take on The Eagles’ standard, it is used to introduce the memorable Jesus Quintana, a pederast, bowler and The Dude’s antagonist. Jesus is a relatively minor character, but as portrayed by John Turturro, he’s larger than life. That creep can roll.
5. “Run Through the Jungle”/”Lookin’ Out My Back Door,” Creedence Clearwater Revival
Creedence, along with Dylan and whale songs, appears to be The Dude’s music of choice. “Jungle” is aptly played during a botched hand-off – one wonders if Walter (The Dude’s close friend and veteran) still believes he’s in Vietnam as he tries to pass off a bag of dirty underwear as the million dollar briefcase. On the other side of the Creedence spectrum is “Back Door.” The Dude seems in an excellent mood as this is playing in his car, only to be interrupted by the presence of a suspicious Volkswagen Beetle, a lit joint he drops into his crotch, and the homework of one Larry Sellers.
6. “Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In),” Kenny Rogers & The First Edition
If it hadn’t been for “The Big Lebowski,” Kenny Rogers would likely be only known as the country legend who knows when to hold ‘em, fold ‘em, etc. Would we ever remember his attempts at psychedelic rock early in his career? This is the song for its time and place in the film, providing the soundtrack to a drug-induced dream sequence featuring bowling, a Valkyrie, Saddam Hussein and a tool belt.
7. “Theme to ‘Branded,’” Dominic Frontiere and Alan Alch.
Mumbled by The Dude after he is picked up by the cops but before he is interrogated by the facist chief of Malibu police – also, “Branded, especially the early episodes, was a source of inspiration” to Walter.
8. “Dead Flowers,” Townes van Zandt
This country-infused live Rolling Stones cover stands out because its inherent sadness matches the feel of the film’s denouement. It’s heavy stuff, rarely seen in Lebowski, yet it fits right in.
Runners Up: “Muchas Muchachas,” Juan Garcia Esquivel, used to introduce the Big Lebowski’s young trophy wife (I just gotta find a cash machine …); “Oye Como Va,” written by Tito Puente and performed by Sanata, evocative of the In And Out Burger; “Ataypura,” Yma Sumac, perfect for any gathering at Jackie Treehorn’s; ”Peaceful Easy Feeling,” The Eagles, played in the cab of an angry black man; “Viva Las Vegas,” Big Johnson/Shawn Colvin, Bunny Lebowski’s homecoming anthem – Colvin’s version plays during the end credits.