Eve Babitz: Crossing Boundaries

By: Bill Whaley
1 January, 2019

Prose and life

Recently, while reading about new books in Harper’s I came across a review of Lili Anolik’s Hollywood’s Eve: Eve Babitz and the Secret History of L.A. Similarly, this morning, the New York Times featured a piece on Anolik’s book. In particular Babitz has been praised for capturing the spirit of L.A. in the sixties and seventies, in both Eve’s Hollywood, a novel and a non-fiction novella, Slow Days, Fast Company: The World, The Flesh, And LA., both of which are published today by the New York Review of Books.

A year or more ago, while perusing the New York Review of Books’ classic reprints, a familiar Larry Bell “pink lady” caught my attention on a book cover. Ostensibly I was looking for Afloat by De Maupassant, a slight masterpiece, purportedly non-fiction but seemingly boundaryless like the writer’s stylish mind and prose, when I saw the cover art. So, I sent for both, read De Maupassant a few times but forgot about Eve, who waited in my bookshelves.

Last fall or summer I mentioned the book and cover to Larry, who giggled, and referred fondly to “Little Evie.” The review of Anolik’s book intrigued me so I got Eve out and read Slow Days, Fast Company. The ride through her LA life was a joy. She captures the lighter side of Didion’s more serious analyses of California during a similar time period. In addition to a weekend in Bakersfield among the Grape growers, she enjoyed the pleasures of Basque restaurants and frequently flew up to San Francisco or visited Palm Springs and other environs.

More pertinent to our connections she sports a certain affection and connection to the LA “Cool School” artists who came to national attention at the Ferus Gallery in the 60s and include artists like Larry, Ken Price, Ron Cooper, Ed Rusha, etc. as well as Dennis Hopper and Dean Stockwell. Some of the stories she tells I had heard from Larry, like the time Marcel Duchamp arrived at his studio, but he, Larry, didn’t know much about the famous French artist, whose 1917 ready-made “fountain” set the art world on its edge.

Eve’s famous picture above, playing chess with Duchamp, originated as an act of revenge against a lover, who was trying to escape her charms and return to his wife. She reminded me of a similar adventuress whose sexual intrigues amounted to a way of life without the redemptive nature of a book as an end. Or as Emerson might have said about Eve, “Art is the path of the creator to his [her] work.”

She waitresses at Ports, the mother of all jobs, and embraces Musso and Frank’s bloody Marys that can “cure anything.” I don’t remember if Barney’s Beanery makes an appearance, but Janis Joplin, Harrison Ford, and Warren Beatty do, whom she classifies in interesting ways. She blows like a breeze through LA and loves the city and its suburban feel the way she does the Santa Ana winds: “I know those winds the way Eskimos know their snows.”

Eve prefers the ocean to the desert and disparages the Southwest as well as its inhabitants. In Taos as a child, she says, “For one week my father exposed the family to enough Southwest to last a lifetime.” She does not like turquoise or the cactus and “leathery-skinned Indians wrapped in pastel flannel plaid blankets from J.C. Penney’s.”

“Sex is art,” says Eve. Her polymorphous full-bodied expressive behavior seems both timely and prophetic, given all the fucking in the 60s and 70s, as well as today what with all the expressions of intersectional love. Though Slow Days seems like a gossip column cum breezy memoir, the prose soars and dances with the wind in a peculiarly artful way that matches critic David Shield’s notions of the lyrical essay in his profound literary summary of today’s prose in Reality Hunger: a manifesto (Vintage Books, 2011). She’s neither as insightful nor as artful say as Joan Didion, but she’s way more fun.

Still Eve and a friend from San Francisco discuss the organizing principle in life re: the “work” and she obviously, despite appearances as a slacker or bon vivant woman about town, did the “work.” For Eve Babitz, as Stephen Mallarme’ said, “Everything in the world exists to end up in a book.”