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I tried to fall asleep to Jeff Bridges' sleeping tapes, and things got weird

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You may have noticed a particularly jarring commercial during the Super Bowl—and no, I’m not talking about the dead children or the toe fungus. It’s the brief, bizarre spot where Jeff Bridges appears to promote his newest project: sleeping tapes.

Jeff Bridges Sleeping Tapes are exactly what their title suggests: a collection of tracks in which Bridges guides restless souls into slumber, all to raise money for his charity, No Kid Hungry.

But what are these tapes actually like? I learned the truth this past Friday—even before the big ad aired—when sleep eluded me. Clearly, there was only one solution: I settled in with Jeff’s homemade album, thinking he might offer some relaxing music to drown out my noisy roommate. Even if it didn’t lull me to sleep, it’d at least carry me within inches of its reach.

I was wrong.

My evening with Jeff Bridges Sleeping Tapes will forever go down as one of the strangest nights of my life. It was awful…and amazing. These tapes are nothing like what you possibly think they’re going to be. It’s not that they’re bad—honestly, they’re not—but they’re unexpectedly funny, occasionally terrifying, surprisingly poignant, and, above all else, thoroughly unpredictable. Which is absolutely not what you want when you’re settling in with a sleeping tape.

There’s you, a bed, and the pitch black darkness. And Jeff Bridges, figuring out how to use a microphone. And:

1. The track where Jeff explains what sleeping tapes are

Eerie music. Jeff Bridges laughs. Jeff Bridges sighs. He hits the microphone a few times by accident. Once he is settled, his voice is calm and soothing, like a commercial voiceover for hot chocolate or, like, Smuckers. He smacks his lips together: “Sleep tapes. I love that idea. And all that it implies. Sleeping tapes. Sleep, of course, implies waking up. Tapes imply recording.” Huh. I never thought about it that way.

Already, my first assumption about these tapes is wrong: I thought I’d be in for 15 tracks of whale noises and rainwater. Instead, Jeff is narrating the entire thing. Fortunately, Jeff’s voice is so soothing that maybe this is even better than whale noises. (Can you imagine?) Jeff’s voice fades as he wishes me luck with enjoying his tapes. Hey, thanks, man. I will.

2. The horrible nightmare track

Jeff’s voice sounds a little different now. It’s distorted, like someone’s hacked into his vocal cords. “Sleep. Dream. Wake up.” His voice echoes, and a siren wails in the distance. “Sleep. Dream. Wake up.” Chimes bang. Everything is getting louder. “Sleep. Dream. Wake up.” Jeff’s voice grows more distorted and warped. The volume intensifies. His commands intensify. “SLEEP. DREAM. WAKE UP.” I’m absolutely alone in the dark, but this chant is getting louder and the sirens are screeching and the chimes are clanging and Jeff’s voice has gone full demon. What is happening?! Suddenly, there’s a loud clap of thunder and a techno beat. I look around my dark bedroom, and every nightmare from my childhood is there. There’s Chucky, and there’s Freddy, and Zeke the Plumber from Salute Your Shorts, and the VOLUME IS SO INTENSE and I don’t know what to do and my heart is literally pounding AND SUDDENLY… silence.

3. The chimes track

Chimes. Oh my God, chimes. I have honestly never been happier to hear chimes. My heart is still pounding from track #2’s terrifying murder-music, but I’m trying to calm my breath now. I have 90 seconds of earthy chimes to calm me down. I breathe. Okay, this isn’t bad. I could deal with this. I like chimes. And maybe this is the part where everything gets relaxing and I can drift off to sleep.

4. The humming track

Jeff is back. “One of the things I do to relax is to hum.” Oh no. And so Jeff decides to hum for me. I have to stifle giggles, because this isn’t actually humming. It’s more like anguished chanting, like he’s just been called to the Torah for the world’s most tedious bar mitzvah.

Then his hums get a back beat. Synths rise to counter his descending notes, and I get major Inception vibes. Suddenly: children’s voices! Now it’s actually just like Inception—I see myself in a gorgeous open-air kitchen as the children play outside. (But I can’t see their faces. Oh God, why can’t I see their faces?)

The kids’ laughter drowns out Jeff as he bottoms out his last note, and I’m suddenly happy. This is delightful. The background synth is somber but weirdly hopeful—like when someone dies on Lost, but you’re okay with it because it was really noble. 

5. The track where his wife doesn’t want to be involved

“Good morning, sweetheart.” Jeff again. His wife has just come into the room—my kitchen—and she’s groggy, having just woken up. Jeff tells her he’s doing some humming, and he asks her to share her own nice relaxing sounds. But she refuses: “I just woke up.” I wonder, should this actually be on the tapes? Is this very mundane exchange an outtake he forgot to edit? Honestly, they seem to be arguing about it.

But Jeff, with the vocal equivalent of a thousand comfy blankets, convinces her to hum for five seconds—and it’s actually beautiful. I’m reminded of meadows and picnics and my own mother humming me to sleep as a baby. In comes Jeff’s booming voice: “That’s it!? No more!?” Yep, she’s done with this. She threatens to leave the room, and so he turns off the recording to appease her. I’m now alone in the kitchen. That was kind of weird.

6. The track with the screaming children

Fade in. Children’s voices again. They weren’t just for effect before—there’s a literal party going on in the backyard, and I’m right in the middle of celebration central. The kids approach Grampa Jeff and tell him about their dreams. It’s soothing in the way innocence is, and I find myself relaxed by their poor grammar and adventurous pronunciation.

But then the kids begin to talk over one another to try to get Jeff’s attention. They start shrieking. Now I’m wide awake again; loud children yelling over one another tend to do that to a person. One child says, “I want to fly!” and all the sound begins to fade out. Slow chimes again. A palette cleanser of chimes. Where am I now?

7. Jeff has to pee

“Alright, you comfy?” Jeff is back. Am I in bed? Sure, let’s say I’m back in bed. It’s not like I’m sleeping or anything.

Jeff offers me a glass of water, which sounds pretty great right about now. And then he tells me that drinking water before bed usually makes him pee a couple of times a night. Sorry, what? He proceeds to describe the walk he takes on the way to the bathroom: “You pass the window, you see the full moon out there. On the way to the toilet, you’re noticing the patterns on the rug. It can be a good experience.”

So now I’m obviously picturing myself walking into Jeff Bridges’ bathroom at 4 a.m. Then I’m back in bed, because Jeff has told me that I need to get cozy for some bedtime stories.

8. Jeff reads a poem

It’s raining. Jeff has written a story about a raven. I’m not sure what actually happens to the raven, because suddenly we’re in a barn in the middle of a thunder storm. The horses are absolutely freaking out, but Jeff insists that we try to stay cool and not tremble, lest we further freak out the animals. Because, logic. Then, a saxophone.

9. Jeff reads another poem

Now we’re in a jazz club. Jeff talks about a trumpeter he once knew, who’s playing music in the background, and Jeff explains how the guy got the nickname The Hen. Okay.

10. The trip to IKEA

There’s a loud boom. Uh oh. Jeff’s voice is super distorted again. But like, it’s really distorted. It’s so distorted it makes the first Distorted Jeff track sound like Adele.

“When I die, there will be no burial or cremation,” says Demon Jeff. He says he’s going to become a satellite. A satellite. “My body will forever loop around the planet and emit a flashing light whenever it passes over a memorable location.” Oh. “Like that bar in Redondo Beach where we first met.” Huh. “Or IKEA.” What?

Suddenly, there’s crazy techno music! And I’m in IKEA! And there’s a sale and a million people and all the good furniture is being bought, and I’m in a panic, and it doesn’t help that the pounding techno and This Sick Beat™ sound like Mark Zuckerberg is solving an algorithm while I’m shopping for loft bed frames. I’m nervous. It’s loud and fast. My heart is beating again. SHOULDN’T I BE ASLEEP ALREADY? Suddenly, silence.

11. The underwater track, except not. Just kidding

I cannot tell you how relieved I am to be underwater. I breathe. I exhale. All I wanted out of this was some whale noises and that time has finally come. Jeff’s voice. “The sea is under the sky. The clouds are in the sky. The sun is between the clouds.” All right, I like where this is going. “My keys are on the table.” Classic Jeff—he takes things one sentence too far and kills my vibe.

Jeff now informs me that we’re not underwater. In fact, I’m at his house, reading a book and waiting for my man to return. He arrives at our seaside estate, and I put the bookmark in my book (I’m reading Gone Girl, finally) and rise to kiss him. I’m so happy he’s home. Then I realize I now share a coastal cottage with Jeff Bridges. That’s some hardcore relaxing imagery, if you ask me. I could be happy here. This is everything I’ve wanted. We’ve built something together, Jeff and I, and sitting here, in the rain, with my big strong man and this house that he built for our twelve adopted children… I am at home.

12. The eleven-minute hike

My new life with Jeff is going well. He’s taking me on a guided tour of a canyon. I love guided tours. I also love canyons. The crickets chirp, suggesting that we’re embarking on this nature hike at night, but Jeff insists we’ve just had Sunday morning breakfast. But I’m going to veto this because if I don’t picture nighttime, I will absolutely not fall asleep by the time this tape ends. So: It’s nighttime.

Jeff describes the canyon we walk through. It sounds pretty luxurious, the Ritz Carlton of low-intensity Los Angeles hiking trails. Jeff sees another hiker in the distance, wearing cargo pants and a white t-shirt. Jeff says he looks gentle, so he tells me to wave. I’m absolutely not going to do that, Jeff, because this hiker is a stranger and I saw 15 minutes of Hostel once in college. But Jeff is insistent that we wave, so, fine, I wave. The guy is not waving back. “He’ll notice shortly,” Jeff tells me. “Keep waving. He seems like a nice guy. Maybe his name is Jim or Neil.” And then, oh my gosh, Jeff just goes for it and calls out to this guy. “Hello Neil!” Oh my God. I want to tell Jeff that he can’t just assume this guy’s name is Neil, but inexplicably the guy waves back. “He must be a Neil,” Jeff says, smugly satisfied, and we move on.

Next we encounter a dog peeing on a tree, and an office chair that someone has left in the woods. Jeff goes to investigate, leaving me behind. When he returns, he’s successfully scared away the dog (maybe he called him Neil?). Thankfully, Jeff has also brought back the chair. Clearly, carting a rolling office chair with us on this hike is a great idea.

Jeff tells me that I’m looking up at the sky a lot, and that I must be fantasizing about what it’s like to be a bird. He sees a crow in the sky and says, “Makes you wish you had feathers, no?” And I’m sure he meant to say “wings,” because why would I possibly want feathers—but at this point, I’m not really sure of anything. Jeff and I reach a nice stream, and Jeff tells me to sit in the office chair and admire the water while he goes to skip rocks. Jeff says they’re “lovely rocks,” because everything is lovely here, including the peeing dogs and abandoned office supplies.

Uh oh. There’s a train in the distance. I’m not as concerned about the incoming train as I am about Jeff’s opinion of the incoming train. “Listen to the train for a while.” Okay. It’s hard not to, because it’s getting closer. Then Jeff notices the sound of the freeway. He wonders aloud why society named it “freeway.”

The train is gone, and Jeff is skipping rocks again. Suddenly, he has an important revelation. “Wait a minute—these aren’t rocks! These are Spanish doubloons!” Excuse me!? “You and I are rich, man!”

Jeff is gleeful as he pockets doubloons and tells me about how the Spanish conquistadores came to northern California.

I assume that the discovery of incredibly rare and insanely valuable coins will mark the end of the hike, but Jeff completely forgets about the doubloons and we plow onward. He wants to get to the top of the ridge before sunset. He asks where I feel the pain of the hike. My calves? My ass? These are the options he gives; I feel neither of them.

A helicopter sounds, but Jeff urges me not to “stress out” about it. The leaves crunch, and now I actually feel like we’ve been walking forever. I swear we have to get there soon. And finally, we are. The top of the mountain! I’m actually overjoyed. This is my biggest nature-based accomplishment since I ate one of those granola bars without leaving any crumbs. Jeff shouts a little “woo-hoo” into the canyon.

And then Jeff tells me he has hidden TWO HANG GLIDERS here, just for us, so that we can hang glide out of the canyon. WHAT. I’m freaking out. Hang gliders. He jumps off first, and I step into my hang glider and follow him with reckless abandon. I run and leap off the cliff… and suddenly we’re both gliding, Jeff and I, through the clouds and towards the sunset and over Neil, who is walking to his car. Jeff tries to get Neil’s attention, but he can’t, perhaps because his name is not actually Neil.

13. The track where Jeff tells me he likes my haircut

My flight brings me back to my bedroom. I feel like one of those kids in a ‘90s movie who went on an adventure in striped pajamas.

“As a way to put you in a good mood before you go to bed, I’d like to give you some affirmations,” says Jeff. “Sit back and close your eyes.” (This is what I’ve been doing for 13 tracks.) And the affirmations begin. They’re absurd; every good affirmation is followed by a completely random one. For instance:

“You are intelligent. I like your haircut. You belong and are accepted.”

“You matter to many people. You have strong hands, capable of woodworking. You have worth.”

“You are a positive addition to this world. You smell nice. You order well at restaurants.”

I think maybe I’ve been wrong about Jeff all along. Maybe his continued presence has actually soothed me into a state of relaxed consciousness. Jeff tells me that I’m very good at guessing when traffic lights will turn green. And he tells me that when birthdays happen at work, people sing at a lower volume just to hear me sing. I think I like Jeff’s company, and in fact, I fear that he may soon leave me for another younger, hotter sleep tape listener.

14. The track where I think Jeff actually falls asleep

Jeff closes his eyes and tells me what he sees, and I swear I think he might be falling asleep. And then I’m convinced he does fall asleep, and it’s just me and my bedroom and the darkness and my consciousness and the void.

Maybe this isn’t bad. The world has faded. I’m awake, but I’m almost not. This is exactly what the tape was supposed to do. This is perfect. I’m going to fall asleep. This is it. Sleep is coming. Then Jeff grunts. “Anyway, that’s what I do when I’m trying to sleep.” Aaaand I’m awake again.

15. The disgusting track

Water again. The dripping gets louder and faster. Am I in an Amazonian rainforest? A rain-soaked farmhouse? Near a river? In a shower?

“I love the sound of the toilet filling,” says Jeff. Oh my God. He didn’t. No, yes—he did. He took the microphone into the bathroom. “The pitch rises as it gets to the top of the tank, you get that little gurgle at the end.” Jeff. Oh my God, oh my God.

And then it seems to end. With a flush of a toilet, I come crashing back to reality. I realize that, after fifteen tracks, I’m still just listening to Jeff Bridges recording things he finds interesting.

“Maybe you’ve reached the end of this album and you’re not asleep yet,” he tells me. And no, of course I’m not asleep yet, because all I’ve heard are scary sounds and screaming children and an argument with Jeff’s wife and techno IKEA music and a very illogical nature hike and affirmations that I order well at restaurants and can possibly do woodworking.

If I’m still awake, says Jeff, “Fire this thing up again!” And I consider it, because maybe I’ll hear things differently. I consider it, because I’m still awake, and I’m actually not upset I’ve taken this ridiculous journey. I consider it, because maybe I’m too cynical and Jeff’s pure, unabashed warmth and giddiness for life’s simple pleasures is the pill I need to take. I consider it. But I turn it off, because sometimes not even an epiphany-inducing sleep tape can change you, even if you try to let it. I turn it off. And I go to bed. And all is well.

And then there’s the Nisha call.