Eve's Hollywood by Eve Babitz: In Defense of Colors

EVE'S HOLLYWOOD  by Eve Babitz. NYRB ed. 2015. $17.95.

EVE'S HOLLYWOOD by Eve Babitz. NYRB ed. 2015. $17.95.

In between mentally strenuous reads which toy with my attention span, I retreat to Los Angeles. I have never actually been to Los Angeles and have little desire to do so, but my mental refuge sits in the mid-century West Coast of Joan Didion, Eve Babitz, Thomas Pynchon and whoever ever else will give it the time of day. I don’t think I ever want to go to LA because I love my LA so much but my LA doesn’t exist. If it ever did exist, I don’t know that I would have been able to find it, because it is more of a geography of the spirit rather than a place on a map. My Southern eyes just don’t see colors that way, and so I must borrow the eyes of others. Eve’s Hollywood offers temporally disjointed vignettes into the spectrum and vivacity of her experiences with LA, administering to her readers the medicine of broad human profundities in the form of the sweetest candy.

Like Valley of the Dolls, one may take a look at the cover of Eve’s Hollywood, electric pink with a image of a Eve in a black bikini and feather boa as photographed by Annie Leibovitz, and write it off as trashy fluff. As I carried my copy outside with me on my smoke break, my coworker remarked that I had “that dirty book” again. “It’s not dirty!” I insisted, turning the book’s cover around to obscure it from the eyes of judgment (What would Eve say? I thought). “She’s a really great writer," I uttered defensively. Read the dedication to the book alone, more approximate to "Howl" than any dedication I’ve read, and you’d know it too. Eve’s Hollywood, like the LA it describes, is a remarkable thing, hidden under the bright colors and tanned skin from which many of us don’t expect profundity. Eve will defend LA to the grave, and I will defend Eve.

Still from  Beach Party  (1963)

In many ways, Eve Babitz may be considered LA’s literary counterpart to Patti Smith (ala M Train and Just Kids); both women create works based in a firm reverence for their respective cities complete with lists of dropped names that are something of a cultural Who’s Who list. Yet where Patti is a serious romantic in the traditional sense, often idealizing destitution and the young, fast lives of a number of contemporary and historic greats, Eve shuns grit for sheer beauty and childlike novelty. Eve writes off the dirty hippies who take LSD to have a spiritual experience--she is content and ultimately driven by the pursuit and possession of color. To Eve, the quest for cosmic understanding is secondary to the quest to see every color in the world as vividly as possible. While some lovers are mentioned, their memory is tied to experience, sexual discovery more linked to Rainier Ale than a man. When it comes to men, for the most part it seems she could care less about her lays… she reserves romance for beautiful things, like her glamorous set of friends in their glamorous city. At one point she describes a friend as “having all the colors”, making the rest of the world seem dull in comparison. Eve collects her friends like precious gems and marvels at the way light is distorted around them.

Eve plays chess nude with Marcel Duchamp

Eve plays chess nude with Marcel Duchamp

Although Babitz was the goddaughter of composer Igor Stravinsky, and accordingly exposed to high art and refined taste, she shuns refined taste for the sake of being refined. She compares herself to a child in the Emperor’s New Clothes, able to view past the facades of good taste and draw her own conclusions about what is good and beautiful. Good taste is not taste in fine things, but an unabashed passion for what you love. Caviar is great, but have you ever had taquitos from a certain particular street vendor at 11:05 a.m. on a Sunday? Eve is a staunch defender of Los Angeles, the Los Angeles underneath tourist impressions and artificial facades, the Los Angeles of pachuco and surfer subcultures, glamour, sunshine, and stumbled-upon elegance. To each person who calls Los Angeles a wasteland, she says to them, you don’t know this place like I do.

What is, it seems, the essence of Eve Babitz’s LA experience, and what manifests in her observations of the moments that matter to her, is the relationship between facade and honest beauty. Beauty does not exist in spite of glamorous facades, nor not entirely because of it, but rather it is an inextricable relationship. The desire to be seen is in harmony with idealistic assimilation. In so many teenage girls lies the potential to be an ingenue; in so many ingenues lies the potential to become a washed-up, youthless junkie. The facade is as much a part of the interior as it is exterior, contributing structural aspects that uphold the integrity of Eve’s Hollywood. The book jumps around in time (occasionally in space although the essence of LA is maintained), allowing Eve to observe how time alters the composition of the people around her, becoming more beautiful or withering into obsolescence, largely according to their own ability to find and embrace what is beautiful and good in their life. Beauty for Eve is bound to youth, youth being more an approach to life than a temporal property, although youthful appearances cannot be discounted. Youth is a pure, unfiltered experience with the world, embodied by ingenues, surfers, and Romans, the most beautiful people. Youth does not seek to escape, but to embody. Those who seek to escape inevitably lose their youth.

The cynic who cannot enjoy the world will waste themself away. To the person for whom the world does not matter, that person will not matter to the world. By the way, if you talk shit about Atlanta, I will kindly point you to one of its most sacred places: the Tropical Breeze Laundromat on Moreland, right next to the Popeye’s. You’ll know it when you see the LED lights that declare "FAST GENTLE DRYERS BY DEXTER" and the marvelous palm tree mural; the spin cycles there are rejuvenating.


Katherine Beaman

Katherine Beaman