Friday, September 16, 2016
There’s Adam, and then, there is of course, Eve Babitz. There are those who call her a party girl, but in truth, she had documented her times and social world in Southern California, as if she was Charles Dickens. Or perhaps Marcel Proust. Her landscape is the Los Angeles art world of the 1960s and 1970s. I first met her when I was a child, and I think it may have been at Barney’s Beanery in West Hollywood. My father, the artist Wallace Berman, would go to Barney’s for a glass of beer or two, and so would the entire population of the L.A. artists of that time and period. Eve was attached to various artists, so therefore she was a regular as well. My initial reaction to her as a child was 'pretty lady. ' To the outside world, she was introduced as the naked girl who played chess with Marcel Duchamp, in the now a famous photograph by Julian Wasser. Babitz also did colleges, and she did the artwork cover for the second Buffalo Springfield album. She was famous for dating interesting men. But now, as people look back and noticing or reading the new reissues of her books (published by NYRB and Simon & Schuster) - Eve Babitz is a writer of great distinction and importance.
One thing I have noticed, that people from my age and time, if they’re still alive, the younger generation is very much interested in those who lived the life during the 1960s. If for nothing else, just because one has had breathed with the greats, or acknowledge to share the same glow as those who are now deceased. The subject matter of culture in Los Angeles is very much a huge interest among those who study cultural history. It’s an area of the world where every great person of some note, has visited or lived under the sunny skies. Movies and music have been produced, written and made here, and so the same for its literature. A lot of Los Angeles fiction or literature comes from writers who came from somewhere else, and are trying to deal with the physical aspect of living someplace that they perceived as hostile to their physical and mental well being. Eve Babitz is not in that category at all, because she’s very much the daughter of Los Angeles, and was raised in a highly cultured household. Her mother was an artist, and dad a classical violinist, who worked for the 20th Century Fox studios. Her godfather is Igor Stravinsky. Eve’s life is a mixture of the high and low culture that was Hollywood from the 1940s to 1960s. The city is a magnet for the displaced, the adventuresome, and the romantic as they shadow-punch the shadows away from the direct sunlight. In such a fashion, Babitz is the skilled guide to the landscape and citizens of Southern California. She resembles both Marcel Proust and F.S. Fitzgerald, because she has a great eye for detail, and clearly has an understanding regarding the importance of the landscape within the characters’ make-up as well as their presence in that world.
Also, she has the magnificent talent of being in the right place and time. The famous image taken by Julian Wasser of Eve, in the nude, playing chess with Marcel Duchamp was a matter of luck and by the hustle of the photographer, knowing to get a great shot. The background story was that Babitz was having an affair with Walter Hopps, the curator of the Duchamp exhibition - and at the time, there was some discomfort between the both of them. In a sense, it was Babitz’s revenge towards Walter for not allowing her to come to the Duchamp opening. Ironically enough, as it is a playful homage to Duchamp’s “Nude Descending a Staircase” it is also a secretive (which Duchamp would approve of) commentary on Eve’s part as well. Although the whole image was dreamed up by Wasser, I suspect Babitz saw the many levels of such a setting.
I just finished reading “Slow Days, Fast Company: The World, The Flesh, and L.A.” and it’s an incredible snapshot of not only Los Angeles proper, but also the getaway locations such as Palm Springs, Bakersfield, and various beach communities. I have also read “Eve’s Hollywood,” but I prefer “Slow Days” because i feel in this book Babitz really conveys her love for Los Angeles, not only for its obvious reasons of sun, beach and fun - but also for its darkness and great culture. Babitz is very opinionated and focused on the weaknesses of the various characters that run through her narratives. That is what gives her writing the noir quality. It’s not about crime and guns, but more regarding sexuality and how one looks at life. She is thought of as a party girl, yet she strikes me as a realist, and how everyone plays out their fate in the community. Also her commentary that she makes in the book regarding the nature of doing creative work in Los Angeles is 100% correct. To quote, regarding Stravinsky in L.A.: “I think that the truth was that Stravinsky lived in L.A. because when you’re in your studio, you don’t have to be a finished product all the time or make formal pronouncements. Work and love - the two best things - flourish in the studios. It’s when you have to go outside and define everything that they often disappear. “ In her eyes, New York and elsewhere is where the final product is defined and noted for its importance. Yet, doing art in Los Angeles is very much part of life, and it is not about defining who you are, but the enjoyment of being in a studio or being studio-minded and processing all of that in your artwork, music or film. An interesting and wise observation from Babitz. She's an excellent writer.