Enthusiastic Dispassion in Eve Babitz's 'Slow Days, Fast Company'

Whether these tales are intentionally remote or the projection and appropriations of Babitz’s own afflicted desires, her ability for sagacious detail is never obscured.

Slow Days, Fast Company: The World, the Flesh, and L.A.

Publisher: New York Review of Books
Length: 184 pages
Author: Eve Babitz
Format: Paperback
Publication date: 2016-08

Eve Babitz, during the ‘70s, had the distinction of being part of the hip, high-brow literati circles of L.A. as well as a popular socialite. Skirting back and forth effortlessly between some of the more randy rock stars of the era (Jim Morrison) and artistic icons like Marcel Duchamp, Babitz really had the best of both worlds. It’s not so difficult to understand why she should have taken up the noble (and difficult) profession of writing: she had so much experience and, therefore, material, it would have been nearly criminal to not so much as even consider picking up a pen.

Babitz, for all of her glamorous excursions into L.A. nightlife as an adult, wasn’t exactly new to this lifestyle when she began writing. Her parents were very well integrated into a lavish scene that included some of the biggest and brightest stars of those days; Greta Garbo, Charlie Chaplin, and Igor Stravinsky are just a few names that the writer knew well growing up as a child in the Hollywood Hills.

Babitz’s writerly angle is scene-capturing the too-cool-for-school members of L.A.’s social intelligentsia. Her slim novel, Slow Days, Fast Company: The World, The Flesh, and L.A. (originally published in 1977 and reissued this year by New York Review Books) expounds the lives of bored Californian denizens, hungry for company and a few thrills. It's to Babitz’s credit that she captures L.A.’s hipster elite with such precise observation; her world of lonely would-be lovers, who are just regular people and, somehow, still spectacular, is described plaintively but with great detail.

This collection of stories, however, read more like elongated and richly-textured diary entries. Often, the tales are devoid of any narrative arc and merely serve to provide readers a slice-of-life composition of '70s easy, free living.

Babitz’s narrators are all observers who are at once a part of the action taking place as well as perpetual outsiders. These characters offer the stories a unique perspective that seems to say something about the alienation one can feel in a city like L.A. Too often, however, the stories read like reportage. Though the worlds of these hapless people are lovingly described, the emotion sometimes falls flat.

Opening story “Slow Days” (merely a slip of a story at about two and a half pages) is sharply written but thoroughly navel-gazing. “Bakersfield” opens up the language a bit so that there's more flow to the narration. The surrounding arid landscapes of California’s vineyards are beautifully and atmospherically rendered here, but Babitz’s narrator seems to take in her experiences off-the-cuff and perhaps in a manner a little too blasé. She claims to have experienced something truly remarkable as she is chauffeured around the vineyard by a new friend, but we just don’t feel it deeply enough.

An even denser read appears in the form of “The Flimsies”, which feels like an exercise in serious exposition. There's a strangely enthusiastic dispassion at work here, which places the reader squarely inside the head of Babitz’s narrator and yet shuts him off from the emotional pathways that would otherwise connect him to the material.

There are certain moments which do, rather slowly, draw the reader in. “Dodgers Stadium” is a curiously reserved love story in which two friends are drawn to one another over a baseball game. There's wit here, at once gentle and pointed, which turns the story over with inquisitive humour. “Sirocco” feels like a story that could have been written by Erica Jong, but Babitz provides the tale a sparkling ingenuity that seems born from a Californian narrative of women’s sexual freedom (slow-sizzling and lackadaisical) than it does the speedy passions of Jong’s New York.

Whether these tales are intentionally remote in their rendering of West Coast bohemia or they are sincerely the projection and appropriations of Babitz’s own afflicted desires, the author’s ability for sagacious detail is never obscured. If you can’t get on board with these stories that go nowhere, you must, at the very least, acknowledge the sheer force of Babitz’s ability to transcribe the complications of the ‘70s woman with the exactitude of the most dynamic sculptress; we often don’t feel a beating heart beneath the clay of her women, but their knowing smiles are clearly perceived -- and carved with the most dexterous of fingers.


The Best Indie Rock of 2017

Photo courtesy of Matador Records

The indie rock genre is wide and unwieldy, but the musicians selected here share an awareness of one's place on the cultural-historical timeline.

Indie rock may be one of the most fluid and intangible terms currently imposed upon musicians. It holds no real indication of what the music will sound like and many of the artists aren't even independent. But more than a sonic indicator, indie rock represents a spirit. It's a spirit found where folk songsters and punk rockers come together to dialogue about what they're fed up with in mainstream culture. In so doing they uplift each other and celebrate each other's unique qualities.

With that in mind, our list of 2017's best indie rock albums ranges from melancholy to upbeat, defiant to uplifting, serious to seriously goofy. As always, it's hard to pick the best ten albums that represent the year, especially in such a broad category. Artists like King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard had a heck of a year, putting out four albums. Although they might fit nicer in progressive rock than here. Artists like Father John Misty don't quite fit the indie rock mold in our estimation. Foxygen, Mackenzie Keefe, Broken Social Scene, Sorority Noise, Sheer Mag... this list of excellent bands that had worthy cuts this year goes on. But ultimately, here are the ten we deemed most worthy of recognition in 2017.

Keep reading... Show less

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less

The Best Country Music of 2017

still from Midland "Drinkin' Problem" video

There are many fine country musicians making music that is relevant and affecting in these troubled times. Here are ten of our favorites.

Year to year, country music as a genre sometimes seems to roll on without paying that much attention to what's going on in the world (with the exception of bro-country singers trying to adopt the latest hip-hop slang). That can feel like a problem in a year when 58 people are killed and 546 are injured by gun violence at a country-music concert – a public-relations issue for a genre that sees many of its stars outright celebrating the NRA. Then again, these days mainstream country stars don't seem to do all that well when they try to pivot quickly to comment on current events – take Keith Urban's muddled-at-best 2017 single "Female", as but one easy example.

Keep reading... Show less

It's ironic that by injecting a shot of cynicism into this glorified soap opera, Johnson provides the most satisfying explanation yet for the significance of The Force.

Despite J.J. Abrams successfully resuscitating the Star Wars franchise with 2015's Star Wars: The Force Awakens, many fans were still left yearning for something new. It was comforting to see old familiar faces from a galaxy far, far away, but casual fans were unlikely to tolerate another greatest hits collection from a franchise already plagued by compositional overlap (to put it kindly).

Keep reading... Show less

Yeah Yeah Yeahs played a few US shows to support the expanded reissue of their debut Fever to Tell.

Although they played a gig last year for an after-party for a Mick Rock doc, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs hadn't played a proper NYC show in four years before their Kings Theatre gig on November 7th, 2017. It was the last of only a handful of gigs, and the only one on the East coast.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.