13.11.15

A Shattered Chocolate Bar, A Confusing Tragedy, & Hair That Means Something About the Ocean


BY LIZ

I finished Eve's Hollywood by Eve Babitz a couple weeks ago. Jen May sent it to me, along with the Cher + cats print I'd ordered from her print shop, plus a bunch of other gorgeous prints and that cheese-sandwich sticker stuck to my book in the above photo. Reading Eve's Hollywood made me feel like I've been ripping off Eve Babitz my whole life, or at least for the past 13 years, even though it's the first time I'd ever experienced her writing. We're both in love with Los Angeles, and the L.A.-love thing takes up a lot of our heads. And I love these few sentences of hers, from her essay "Daughters of the Wasteland," even if I don't completely agree with them:

"It takes a certain kind of innocence to like L.A., anyway. It requires a certain plain happiness inside to be happy in L.A., to choose it and be happy here. When people are not happy, they fight against L.A. and say it's a 'wasteland' and other helpful descriptions."

My prob with that is most people I know who've got attitude about L.A. are actually pretty plain in their thinking, or at least unimaginative. I think it takes imagination to love L.A. and to be happy in it; I think it's one of the easiest things in the world to look around the beautiful-disgusting city and only see the disgusting part. You've maybe got to have a slightly twisted sense of wonder, and if that doesn't come naturally to you, I'm not sure how to twist it on your own. Maybe start by walking around more? It's good to look at things up close. That nobody-walks-in-L.A. thing is a lie.



One night at the end of August, in the bar of a luxury pizza restaurant, I was talking to my friend Christine about my trip to Seattle in July and how Seattle wasn't quite what I'd expected. I told her how I couldn't feel any Nirvana vibes anywhere, which was fine (I loved Seattle!) but so different from my first trip to Los Angeles. The first time I came to L.A., as soon as I got off the plane it was like, "Yes, okay - Jane's Addiction, Guns N' Roses, Red Hot Chili Peppers: got it.'" And I still think that's true: L.A. still feels so mystical/sleazy/cosmic/electric to me, like a beautiful-disgusting amalgam of those crazy bands I just mentioned. What I love most about Eve Babitz is that she absolutely embodies the mystical/sleazy/cosmic/electric dynamic, despite being a writer instead of some guy in a band. Plus she adds a goofy elegance to all of that, along with her whole secret-nature-girl thing of being so enchanted by bougainvillea and lavender and roses and all the other pretty nature growing around us all the time.

(P.S. While Christine and I were talking at the bar, Paul Kinsey from Mad Men walked past us, wearing a white polo shirt tucked into dad jeans, total dad look all around. My celeb sightings have really gone to the dogs lately - I used to see famous people all the time, but now it's just like, "Tony from No Doubt walked past us at Blur. I saw Paul Kinsey from Mad Men at a pizza restaurant four months ago." Where have all the famous people gone?)
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Apart from her loving Los Angeles in a way that's entirely symptomatic of chill genius, my fave thing about Eve Babitz is the way she writes paragraphs and sentences. These are some of the paragraphs and sentences and sentence fragments I loved most in Eve's Hollywood:

-"The days of Roadside rolled back on me that night and the next morning I saw myself as belonging to them and my hair as meaning something about the ocean." 

-"It was raining cats and dogs made of wet fur"

-"Barry got a girlfriend, one of those thin ones who looked like Holyoke or Vassar and horses." 

-"Her reddish hair followed her around"

-"We were drinking bourbon and eating potato chips, delivered from the Liquor Locker right next to the Chateau."

-"'You're old enough,'" he said. His voice was exactly like chocolate, it was like chocolate chocolate chocolate. One of my dreams of childhood was opening a door and finding an entire room with nothing but chocolate in it, no air, all chocolate so that you had to chip off a piece with a knife just to begin. I have never wondered how the chocolate got into the room. His voice was what he used to tell the lies with, but it didn't matter, I suppose, since blue heaven and chocolate noise make distress over lies pathetic."

Eve Babitz loves chocolate. She especially loves these extinct chocolate bars called Look!, which apparently are "rich chocolate covered nougat with peanuts":


In the essay "Frozen Looks," she writes about being 14 in the summer of 1958 and hanging out at the beach (the aforementioned Roadside) and having a little snack routine with her beach friend, Carol:

"We went to the hot-dog stand at noon and both got our daily rations of snowcones (mine, pineapple - hers, cherry) and frozen Look bars which we shattered against the counter in their wrappers and ate the splintered pieces which were heaven - nougat so sweet and reluctant and coated with chocolate. Heaven."

I like the thought of the nougat being reluctant. I love the idea of smashing a frozen candy bar against a hard surface: I'm passionate about frozen chocolate bars, and the cheap-and-easy decadence you can get just from messing with temperature and texture and other matters of physics. So I'm just gonna announce right now that I'm 100% stealing this whole smashed-frozen-candy-bar deal for my book. I think a smashed frozen candy bar might show up in the first three pages, even.

In the meantime, here are a few other ways that Eve's Hollywood changed my life/revealed new truths to me about the universe and Los Angeles:

i. I WANT ABBEY ROAD TO BE MY "LAST ALBUM." In the essay "Ingenues, Thunderbird Girls and the Neighborhood Belle: A Confusing Tragedy," Eve Babitz writes about drinking coffee with her friends at Schwab's and someone asking, "What would you do if you were going to the gas chamber and instead of giving you a last meal they gave you a last movie?" Which is a really great question. I don't know that I can answer it. But in the middle of typing those last two sentences, it occurred to me that my "last album" would probably be Abbey Road. I think that'd feel so nice and safe and dramatic and golden.

Another amazing thing in the "Confusing Tragedy" essay: Eve Babitz writes about a friend of hers from high school, a girl named Sally, who is basically Lana Del Rey:

"Everything to do with Sally was a romance, that was how she was. She wasn't one of those cheerfully sunny girls who bring spring into the room with them. She was way too Garbo, sullen and tragic."

And:

"Sally had that same missed beat in her face from which Marilyn derived her special tragic wonder. But they both fell into the 'torch singer' category, loving the wrong thing, loving beyond what they see in Death's eyes." 

I did a little Googling to try to find out if anyone had already made the Sally-Lana connection, but all I got was this Emily Books tweet that I'd already faved. I too would love to know Eve Babitz's Lana Del Rey thoughts. I'd also like to know Lana Del Rey's Eve Babitz thoughts. I really like the idea of Lana lightening up enough to let a little Eve Babitz into her life. I hope she does that/has already done it.



ii. MICK JAGGER BELIEVES IN CREATIONS. I was hoping for a little more rock-and-roll gossip in Eve's Hollywood than what I actually got, but it's all right. This bit from "Rosewood Casket" was a cool revelation:

"Mick Jagger became a Catholic in order to marry Bianca, and that did not amaze me. Mick Jagger believes in creations and Bianca created a Catholic figurine."

Does Mick Jagger believe in creations? I'd never thought about that before. I'd never thought about Mick Jagger believing in anything, apart from himself and maybe sumptuous fabrics and the finest of wines. And I'm still not sold on what Mick Jagger may or may not believe in, but I also like this Rolling Stones-adjacent insight, from the Eve's Hollywood essay about living in New York for one year:

"'Marianne Faithfull has 36 pairs of shoes and goes around barefoot. She's the kind of girl who is always carrying books about witchcraft, only they're new.'"

That is such a good burn. I'm so happy I'm long over my late-20s phase of pretending to care about Marianne Faithfull and Anita Pallenberg and how they dressed themselves and how they dressed Mick and Keith, when really I just want to listen to "Heaven" or "Citadel" or "Get Off Of My Cloud" 100 times and call it a goddamn day.

iii. THE FREEWAY IS COLDHEARTED. I've become anti-freeway in the past year or two. It's partly because my car's getting old, and I've got this quasi-irrational fear that it's literally going to explode anytime I drive over 50 mph. But my anti-freeway stance also has lots to do with a sentiment that's nicely articulated in this paragraph from "The Landmark," which is Eve Babitz's essay about how Janis Joplin should have gone down to Olvera Street and bought some taquitos instead of dying in a hotel room:

"The City of Our Lady, Queen of the Angels is not hard to take going 35 mph on Sunset with the hills and flowers and car part places where guys are transacting small business and ladies in jeans with their children are on the way to the laundromat and teenage girls practically sit on top of their boyfriends in the car next to you at the light and steep inclines with staggered houses stand in the delicate lushness of morning glories. There is no one here in a Mercedes Benz looking fucked, and there's none of that emptyhearted shakiness that comes over you like when you go on the freeway. The convenient freeway. It's for if you don't want to know about anything, you just want to get there."

I do want to know about things! I want to know about everything in Los Angeles. Lately I'm into taking Sunset so far east that it's not even Sunset anymore; it's Cesar Chavez. Last month I found this residential street in East L.A. that's got a cool haunted house with weird old-timey lampposts and some signage that says it's a bakery? I don't know. But I do know that I never would've come across it if I'd taken the freeway instead.



My point is I agree with Eve Babitz when she says: "Most people would take the freeway, but that's a little too coldhearted. I mean, taking the freeway when you're on your way to get a taquito for 45 cents is like taking a jet to go visit your cat, the texture's wrong." I want to start thinking about the texture of everything I do, all the time.

iv. THE L.A. PUBLIC LIBRARY IS THE BEST PLACE. I've been going to the LAPL more and more lately, the downtown branch, 5th & Flower. Right now I've got eight books out, including the new Mary Gaitskill, which I totally lucked out on, plus a Germs CD and Tchaikovsky's Sleeping Beauty (music for working to). The library makes me so mushy and goopy and drunkenly openhearted; I get all worked up about there being this gigantic place full of books and people go there and they get to take some of the books home with them. In "The Hollywood Branch Library," Eve Babitz writes about books, especially M.F.K. Fisher, whose book The Art of Eating my friend Hallie gave me years ago but I've never read it, mostly on account of the fact that it's the biggest thing in the world. But after writing that sentence I went to my closet and pulled the book out and it opened to this recipe for War Cake, and now it's going to live right by my bed, for a little while at least.



v. CANTER'S DELI IS THE OTHER BEST PLACE. Reading Eve's Hollywood helped me identify a very important truth about myself and Los Angeles, which is that Canter's Deli is my maybe my #1 L.A. place of all time: the most perfect combination of ordinary and magical. I went there on Wednesday night, impulsively popped in on my way back from the Grove and got a piece of coconut rugelach, which cost 77 cents. I didn't even know coconut rugelach existed. But last time I went to Canter's, at the end of May, after Nick's birthday party at the bar down the street, I got a nice big coconut custard danish thing, and also some chocolate rugelach. Rodney Bingenheimer was walking out as we ordered at the bakery counter; it was my third-ever Rodney sighting at Canter's. When we went outside he was having an intense moment with a very young woman dressed up like a flamenco dancer, and I hung back a few feet away from them and took lots of selfies in the mirror of the Canter's window display with the black-and-white cookies.



I wasn't even trying to eavesdrop: I just wanted to be near Rodney and think about how he used to hang out with the Beatles and the Rolling Stones and David Bowie and all those guys like that. It doesn't even make sense to get high off of standing next to someone just cuz he used to stand next to the Beatles and the Rolling Stones and David Bowie, but I do. I always, always do. And I think Eve Babitz knows that more than anyone: how L.A. makes it possible to grab these tiny crazy moments and just sink into them and let them color your whole life, and it's unreal how long the thrill of them can keep you going. So I think this is my favorite paragraph, in all of her beautiful book:


"Like scents certain songs just throw me. And I wanted to be thrown into that moment of perfume when everything was gone except for the dazzle. It doesn't last long, but in order to have everything you must have those moments of such unrelated importance that time ripples away like a frame of water. Without those moments, your own heaven party can die of thirst. They're like booster shots, they make you stronger. You know it's worth the twinge of envy when you've recovered from the dazzle because the mystery of life fades when death, people having fun without you, is forgotten. Time escapes unnoticed, and time is all you get." 

3 comments:

  1. It's so good to read something from you Liz! The writing in this (yours & hers) is gorgeous and dreamy and makes me feel good. I visited LA in February and I loved it, despite being a NYC girl for almost 7 years. I've got a little daydream about moving there now. Gotta learn to drive first. That part about hair following a girl around is just beautiful.

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    1. thank you, mary! move to l.a.! driving is annoying sometimes but not really scary. xoxoxo

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