(Reviewed by JD Jung)
“Los Angeles isn’t a city. It’s a gigantic, sprawling, ongoing studio. Everything is off the record. People don’t have time to apologize for its not being a city when their civilized friends suspect them of losing track of the point…Work and love—the two best things—flourish in studios. It’s when you have to go outside and define everything that they often disappear.”
I personally lived in Hollywood and later on the West side just a few years after Eve Babitz published her 1974 account of life in her twenties in Los Angeles in Slow Days, Fast Company: The World, The Flesh, and L.A. It has just been re-released by NYRB Classics.
Babitz , a writer who also designed album covers for famous rock icons in the late 1960’s wasn’t famous but “got near enough to smell the stench of success”. She loved the city but at the same time provided us with a cautionary tale. It seemed to figuratively take her hostage and she couldn’t nor wanted to escape.
Even the weather, specifically, the Santa Ana winds and sporadic rain gave her realizations about herself personally as well as life in general.
She, as all of us, was caught up with L. A.‘s obsessiveness with perfection. She considered herself overweight, though I don’t know if she really was. She noted that this perfection even spread to music which tried to be “raunchy and soulful” but didn’t succeed. “Linda Ronstadt and The Eagles and Jackson Browne can’t scare anyone.”
Of course, there’s a lot about the drug culture, specially Quaaludes and heroin. “…smoking, although glamorous, has never been as glamorous as heroin—and dying from cigarettes just doesn’t have the tragic sunset quality that O.D.ing lends to death. Heroin is the celebrated romantic excess of our time. ” She goes on, “Having something that both kills pain and is illegal is too tempting when you’ve suddenly got everything but the prince…”
Yes, there’s a lot about looking for the prince, settling with gay men and friends in general. This gives the story depth in a somewhat superficial setting.
She also took us to cities all too familiar to Angelenos: Bakersfield (where we drive through on road trips to get anywhere– San Francisco, specifically); San Francisco, where she felt claustrophobic; Palm Springs, the desert city were we escape to for the weekends; and Laguna Beach, an elite artist community, south in Orange County that at the time always tried to be something it wasn’t.
Though I disagree with her assessment of San Francisco (I never found it “claustrophobic”), I must remember that this was before the stifling traffic in Los Angeles which inhibits its citizens from venturing out of their own communities.
So would this appeal to readers unfamiliar with Los Angeles or those not from the baby-boomer generation? Though Slow Days, Fast Company brought back many reflective and even haunting moments for me, many of Babitz’s situations will have universal appeal. Another allure is her very personal writing style and understated, deadpan wit.
So in answer to that question, I would say “yes”, but would love to hear your opinions.