Author Spotlight: Eve Babitz
Georgia Balmer discusses Eve Babitz’s life and writing, and why her work remains relevant today.
Nobody writes sexy like Eve Babitz. The god-daughter of genius composer Igor Stravinsky, Eve grew up in the shadow of the Hollywood hills, cultivating a satellite of West Coast bohemian icons while she was still doing maths homework. When she was 19, she posed for one of the most iconic images of the 20th century; the still of Eve playing chess nude against Marcel Duchamp even featured in posters for the Museum of Modern Art. Eve only agreed to the nude photo to get back at her married boyfriend, Duchamp’s curator, for not inviting her to the opening night of his new exhibition. Checkmate, indeed.
The epitome of a bright young thing, her novels are finally emerging from the shadows of her LA ‘it’ girl image. I first delved into Eve’s world with Sex and Rage, her 1979 fictional piece that many think falls short of her spectacular memoirs. They may have a point; if the appeal of Eve is Eve herself, her memoirs are probably the best place to start. I may not have started with her best, but even at Eve’s worst, her prose is deliciously sinful.
Babitz is unabashedly cool: The Doors’ song, LA Women, is supposedly written about her innate stylishness. Her writing oozes an unattainable sexiness that makes it addictive. One could argue that half the appeal of Eve’s various memoirs – such as Eve’s Hollywood – is her status as the ultimate LA groupie. Her agent, Erica Spellman-Silverman, claims that Babitz is “not just some hippie chick from the 70s”: there is social significance to her writing. While Joan Didion was on the front lines of decade-defining stories, Babitz captured the time’s zeitgeist – and she probably had more fun doing it.
I may not have started with her best, but even at Eve’s worst, her prose is deliciously sinful.
Sex and Rage follows a reluctant writer’s attempt to build a career. The protagonist, native Californian Jacaranda Leven, somewhat resembles Babitz herself. Spellman-Silverman states that her Mondays would start with a routine call to Babitz at 7 am, to ensure that she was awake; this scene features almost word for word in the novel. What is most appealing as a reader, and probably a nightmare as an agent, is the action’s apparent pointlessness. Eve had no real drive as a writer, no real career in mind, and the recent ‘Evenaissance’ is viewed as a slight inconvenience now that she is in her 70s. Her writing feels like a gift that we are lucky to receive; a diary fluttering open; a tenuous permission to enter a bygone world.
Before the republishing surge of the last decade, Eve’s novels were decaying at the back of second-hand book shops, little gems hidden in stacks of dusty old books. Meanwhile, Babitz famously suffered horrific burns in the late 90s while lighting a cigarette – her ugg boots managed to save her calves from suffering similar injuries to the rest of her limbs. Despite her current reclusiveness, Babitz’s past eccentricity continues to fuel her prose’s mysterious tone. Eve’s former self is solely confined to her writing, as reading becomes a portal into the past.
Babitz may have had a long list of famous lovers such as Jim Morrison, Harrison Ford, Steve Martin, Annie Leibovitz and Walter Hopps, but she was more than just a groupie. Elevated from Edie Sedgwick and the rest, Babitz immortalised a time unlike any other. A chaotic spin on the final heydays of Hollywood and written in the middle of the summer of love, her memoirs are a love letter to a time she didn’t yet know was fading. Eve Babitz is the ultimate hot girl summer read, and the sexiest author on your to-be-read list. Thank me later!