I had never heard of Eve Babitz until Joan Didion and/or Jia Tolentino wrote about her. If you stand out to those two, you automatically have me on board as an eager learner. They speak of her as an artist and writer with respect and some distance, like a mythological folk hero. She’s somewhere in between Eddie & The Cruisers and Jeff Mangum from Neutral Milk Hotel, I guess? Anyway, I wanted to learn more about this Hollywood aristocrat. Unfortunately, Eve Babitz’ many books are out of print or unavailable at my local library. So, I had to settle for a book about Babitz instead of Babitz’ books.
Hollywood’s Eve is a great title. First, it’s a play on one of Babitz’ own books, Eve’s Hollywood. Second, it points to a wilder and maybe more complex time in LA – the 50s-70s. Those were Babitz’ glory years. This book covers those “glory days” in which Babitz bedded Harrison Ford, Jim Morrison, Steve Martin and lots of other interesting people. That being said, she wasn’t a hanger-on. She was a scene maker and an artist in her own right, designing album covers, writing respected books, and doing all kinds of other things that were probably ahead of their time. Anolik goes beyond those times, though, and into the present. While it’s fun to read all of the names dropped from the past, catching up with Eve now is where Anolik as a writer shines. Babitz unfortunately was severely burned in more recent history and became something of a recluse. Anolik presents this Eve Babitz as she is, without trying to turn her into an icon or a martyr or anything else other than Eve. It’s humane.
Weirdly, one of my favorite passages in this book doesn’t have as much to do with Eve Babitz as much as literature itself. Lili Anolik spends a few pages pontificating on what happened to novels, why aspiring writers think they need to write a novel, and whether the era of the novel has ended. She points out that people like Babitz, Didion, Hunter S. Thompson, and others have made the essay the literature of our times, a kind of journalism plus. She speculates that’s in part because a lot of the subjects of novels (marriage, mainly) don’t have the social power or sway that they used to. Thinking of the novel as ending kind of bummed me out, but if I’m honest I think episodic tv is my favorite medium. This is coming from a guy who reads 75+ books in a slow year.
I’d recommend this one for people interested in Hollywood, Babitz, and whether artists are tragic gods of cool or just a lot to put up with.