“It’s only temporary: you either die, or get better — Something we used to say about life in general, feeling sophisticated and amusing in bars, back in the days when we thought how you behaved was the fault of other people.”
Reading Eve Babitz was a revelation. She was a quiet but cultish obsession you kept in the bedside table and carried with you in your spirit. She was the secret that “real girls” who knew a thing or two about living kept between ourselves and giggled over in passing reference, driving down Hollywood Boulevard. In actuality, with the reissuing of her books in the 2010s, she had experienced a renaissance and an explosion in popularity that was perhaps bigger than anyone reading her books since then realized.
I discovered this upon her death last month, with both surprise and a twinge of annoyance. It’s deflating when you realize you’re not so unique in your tastes; the bits of culture you define yourself by. Just another Hollywood girl. I imagine we all felt a personal ownership of Eve’s books, like she was our own rarity we discovered on a dusty back-shelf. Babitzians, you can call us.
She’s a religion, really, or the closest thing I had to a religious figure as an atheist sex-empowered female in Hollywood with a certain kind of self-deprecating and sometimes intoxicating joie de vivre — a state of being Eve inhabited, captured and bottled up in her writings. Her works are a treasure trove full of Confucius-like fortune-cookie lines for brainy girls with a wild side, on the sidelines of fame, fortune, triumph, and tragedy. I can honestly say that I exclusively read Eve Babitz from the moment she came into my life. I clung to dog-eared copies of her books like bibles, and carried them with me in suitcases across the world in case I needed them. My friend Gigi (a New Yorker, an LA transplant) told me she was saving one of the Babitz books (of which there are painfully few) as unread, because she was afraid of being left with nothing new of Eve to indulge in. I had done the same. The last stash of a unique drug, no further supply in sight. I stipulate the New Yorker in my friend Gigi, because Eve was so quintessentially LA. There is a never-ending rivalry and silly understanding that New York people don’t get LA people and vice versa, Eve wrote about this often with hilarious accuracy: “People with brains went to New York and people with faces came West.”
She was an answer to Joan Didion (who has also sadly died, in the same week). To me, they were two sides of a coin, though Eve is only just starting to be recognized with the same kind of seriousness. They have been referred to as the Britney and XTina of the literary world. I recently watched a video where Didion is being interviewed on C-Span, and Eve calls in, giddy like a little girl, to say hi. Didion is unflinching and cold as ice, sunglasses on like Anna Wintour. Babitz finally gets her to crack a smile when she uses Joan’s Spode china as an example of how adult Joan always seemed. Decades before that, she thanked “the Didion-Dunnes, for having to be what I’m not” in her first book. I love how it’s cheeky and catty, but coming from her, is likely genuine and heartfelt too.
My mother, perhaps knowing me (as a hedonist) better than myself, handed me a copy of Slow Days, Fast Company: The World, The Flesh and L.A shortly after my arrival in the City of Angels. The title summed up the new life I was drinking up/drunk on in a single line. I had no expectations of this slim print, as I clambered into the back of the tour van setting off toward Route 66, opening this clearly new edition (the fonts are usually uglier) with a pale pink color I tend to avoid because it reminds me of women who fancy themselves as Holly Golightly characters, glossing over the sadness and cherry picking the glamor. It’s funny the way fonts and colors, clothes, hair styles, and foods can have a world of subjective and intimate meaning, aversions and attractions to them. Eve understood this. She was shame-free, indulgent and light hearted about her observations. Though sometimes harsh, they were always true and they always hit the spot.
“I did not become famous but I got near enough to smell the stench of success. It smelt like burnt cloth and rancid gardenias, and I realized that the truly awful thing about success is that it’s held up all those years as the thing that would make everything all right. And the only thing that makes things even slightly bearable is a friend who knows what you’re talking about,” Eve wrote in Slow Days. I don’t know if I’ve ever related to a person more. It was like she was stealing thoughts I definitely would have had but hadn’t; more refined, more funny and fiery than I would ever be. I would forever be in the shadow of Eve Babitz who was the self-actualized version of myself I always wanted to be. I was dating a Cuban artist who led me to El Floridita Restaurant (which explodes into a dance club, with vibrant latin bands) and I started salsa dancing there every Wednesday. I opened a page of Babitz and she was on a Tango dancing odyssey in Highland Park. My part-time lovers were meeting me for dinners and rendezvous at Dan Tana’s or The Beverly Hills Hotel. I opened a page of Babitz and there she was, haunting all the exact same spots, 30 years earlier, but with better dates, like Harrison Ford or Jim Morrison. It amazes and spooks me out that she even anticipated, in Black Swans, this exact feeling I had: “And I was in love with his book, which I felt I could have written myself. Which is one of the troubles with writing; people who love your writing already think they’re you. They think if they sat down and wrote, it would be your book. Exactly what I thought about Walter.”
It’s hard to describe the thrill and the comfort of finding a friend who knows what you’re talking about — not only in Hollywood, but just generally in the often lonely inner world of being. Eve was that friend. Most notably, after a secret elopement on an island in Thailand, a miscarriage on tour in America, and an overall pandemic experience (complicated by visa and border closure dramas) worthy of its own Babitzian memoir, I ended up living alone in Cyprus. Exhausted, broken and penniless, having felt I’d lost all sense of who I was, I pulled my yellow bikini and white sun hat on and lay myself across a blue and white striped sunbed by the glittering sea, whipping out a collection of Eve’s essays, I Used to Be Charming: The Rest of Eve Babitz. This was the book of hers I’d been saving for an emergency.
The title essay she wrote in a rehab hospital after nearly burning to death, trying to smoke a cigar while driving. I used to be charming too, I thought. What happened? I felt the absolute furthest thing from charming, but within moments of opening the first page I was laughing from somewhere deep and slightly painful within me at an anecdote about having large breasts (my breasts were large too). The reliable remedy of Babitz was bubbling up inside me, and suddenly the owner of the long- stay hotel — mostly full of fabulous retirees — was walking toward me with an offering of fresh cut figs on a plate, picked from the tree beside me. An hour later, a local man, weathered by the sun and time in well-worn dick-togs wandered over to me, gifting me with Turkish delights (branded with Botticelli’s Birth of Venus) and citrus from his garden. He had a small white scruffy dog donning a diamanté collar at his feet, and invited me to his family’s house for a BBQ.
Suddenly, the spirit of Eve came swooshing through the air to grab hold of me and I was present in my own life again, ready to live. I was powerful in my fallibility and vulnerability, in the same way I could be powerful in my sexuality and fabulousness. Even the most tragic moments were glamorous and my life had meaning and were potentially worth writing about. I could laugh at my own life again — at the absurdity of life in general, with that self-deprecating laissez-faire sense of humor that Eve exuded in every word that she brilliantly crafted and curled into breath-taking sentences. I was charming again. I started writing my memoirs that afternoon as a storm rolled in, rustling the palm trees against the backdrop of a sunset worthy of Venice Beach.
“I felt luxuriously involved in an unsolvable mystery, my favorite way to feel.”
― Eve Babitz, Slow Days, Fast Company: The World, the Flesh, and L.A
And so, the Babitzians like me, luxuriously involved in Eve’s unsolvable mystery, walk in her gigantic shoes (or tango heels and lilac-somethings, martini in hand) with only a sliver of hope that we can fan the flames of her torch to light our paths as brightly as she burned them.