Los Angeles has always been treated like the frivolous youngest child in a large family. While its more respected, over-achieving siblings New York and Chicago are praised and admired, Los Angeles’s charms—its architectural delights, culinary offerings, and geographical wonders—are consistently undermined by a skin-deep focus on Hollywood. No matter how substantive and multifaceted L.A. becomes, the whole world treats the city like a vainglorious brat. “Get down off the table, honey, everyone knows you can tap-dance already.”
Only Eve Babitz could appreciate that vainglorious brat’s clever mind and her incomparable tap routine. Raised by an artist mother and classical-violinist father who played first chair in the 20th Century Fox Orchestra, Babitz was uniquely positioned to appreciate L.A.’s conflicted multiplicity: She socialized with Charlie Chaplin and Greta Garbo as a child; sipped glasses of scotch from her godfather, Igor Stravinsky, at age 13; attended dance parties in Laurel Canyon at age 16; and was photographed naked playing chess with Marcel Duchamp at age 20. Not only had Babitz marinated in the wild and terrible folds of Los Angeles’s love affair with itself well before she lost all of her baby teeth, but by the time she was 32 years old, she’d created album covers for Buffalo Springfield (Buffalo Springfield Again, 1967), the Byrds (Untitled, 1970), and Linda Ronstadt (Heart Like a Wheel, 1974), befriended Joan Didion, and seduced Jim Morrison, Ed Ruscha, Steve Martin, and Harrison Ford.