She Was the Promised Kiss of Springtime

It’s acting like it might finally be Spring. A sprinkling of daffodils and ornamental tree blossoms give hope the cold is about to be gone. This is a season that makes even grouchy autumnal people remember their innocent, or at least naïve, youth.

For baby boomers who dominated pop culture by sheer weight of numbers for so long, the last decade or two have been a shock. Heartthrobs who once set us aflutter now look as old as the faces in our mirrors. Movies, music, TV are all dominated by incomprehensible drivel performed by unformed children. We have become our parents or, God help us, our grandparents. Out of touch fogeys.

Which made the refreshment of discovering Eve Babitz all the sweeter. Somehow I missed her in the days of her fame. She was brought to my attention recently by an affectionate profile in
Vanity Fair by Lili Anolik.

She seemed a classic California surfer girl, a zaftig version of Mama Michelle who hung with a fast crowd in the 60s and 70s. She knew all the up and comers, indulged in the usual substances and had a lot of liaisons. Her conquests included Steve Martin, Harrison Ford, Stephen Stills, Ed Rauscha, and Jim Morrison.

But as Anolik points out, you aren’t really a groupie if you knew them before they became famous. In fact, they may have been the groupies since Eve was a kind of icon or muse. A famous photo of her playing chess, nude, with Marcel Duchamp was everywhere. She designed an album cover for Buffalo Springfield.

She wasn’t just another cool blonde beach bunny but the child of bohemian artists — a violinist and artist – and the god daughter of Igor Stravinsky. She thus came equipped with considerable cultural background, had read everything and eventually became a witty chronicler of her time and place.

To my surprise I found several of her books on my local library shelves where they have been gathering dust for decades. They include: “Slow Days, Fast Company,” “L.A. Woman,” and “Sex and Rage.” The last is typical. It poses as a novel but may be closer to memoir and, despite the title, the only rage is to live and the sex is largely offstage.

Our heroine Jacaranda Leven is taken up by a prosperous arty set who jet around the world. She likens their charmed existence to being aboard Cleopatra’s barge and she is thrilled to be along for the ride. But those invited aboard for novelty can just as quickly find themselves back on the wharf among the hoi polloi watching the barge full of beautiful people disappear into the distance.

Her writing has the voice of youth. While acting all grown up and wised up and writing delectable prose, Eve is as fresh as the breeze off her beloved Pacific, warm and alive and with a little salty tang. Reading Eve reminded me of another Eve, that of Gislebertus whose sweet, youthful sculptures from the 12th century announced it was spring again after the long winter of the Dark Ages.

Boomers have often been maligned for being reckless, feckless, self-obsessed and immoral. They’ve been punching bags in the culture wars of the last forty years. God knows, the beatnik-hippie era ended badly and proved deadly to some and disappointing to many more.

But for shame. How wrong to damn the innocent for not losing their innocence fast enough. Our generation eventually conformed, settled, sold out and turned as old, cold, sclerotic, cynical and suspicious as its critics. But Eve reminds us that, once upon a time, ”bliss was it in that dawn to be alive, /But to be young was very heaven!”

Forgetting what that once felt like is our loss. We read in polls that the generation of our kids or grandkids — lives thrown off-kilter, perhaps forever, by the Great Recession, still sleeping in parents’ basements, unmarried, underemployed, saddled with college loans — are nevertheless optimistic about their future.

And we think, “The fools.” But as Eve reminds us, we’re wrong. If the young aren’t optimistic that they can remake the world, spring may never come again.

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