I first saw Eve Babitz’s name on the Buffalo Springfield Again album in 1967 and again on the Retrospective: The Best of Buffalo Springfield (1969). She also took the photograph of Linda Ronstadt for the cover of Ronstadt’s Heart Like a Wheel LP (1974). Discogs has a list of eighteen covers that Eve Babitz has either designed, illustrated or photographed (although two were in recent collections.) I had a few of them, including Heart Like a Wheel, The Byrds (Untitled) and, of course, all the Buffalo Springfield albums. There were also other covers including Noel Harrison’s 1968 album Santa Monica Pier, Earth Opera’s self-named album from 1968 and Danny O’Keefe’s album titled Danny O’Keefe from 1971. She also designed the cover for Leon Russell’s Hank Williams is Back, Vol I.
However, I knew nothing about Eve Babitz until I recently heard a radio programme on Swedish Radio that outlined her life and work (only a passing mention of her record cover design, though) focusing mainly on the resurgence of interest in her writing. Eve was born in May 1943 to Sol and Mae Babitz. Her father was a classical violinist, of Russian Jewish descent and friend of Igor Stravinsky, who became Eve’s godfather, and her mother, an artist, had cajun descent.
Through her parents, Eve met many Hollywood stars and people from the music and art worlds and she was known for having affairs with many soon-to-be famous people. But she became best known for her writing, as Wikipedia says: Her articles and short stories have appeared in Rolling Stone, The Village Voice, Vogue, Cosmopolitan, and Esquire magazines. She is the author of several books including Eve’s Hollywood; Slow Days, Fast Company; Sex and Rage; Two By Two; and L.A. Woman. Transitioning to her particular blend of fiction and memoir beginning with Eve’s Hollywood, Babitz’s writing of this period is indelibly marked by the cultural scene of Los Angeles during that time, with numerous references and interactions to the artists, musicians, writers, actors, and sundry other iconic figures that made up the scene in the 1960s, 70s, and 80s.
Babitz’s first claim to notoriety came when she crashed the 1963 opening of the exhibition Pop Art: New Painting of Common Objects at the Pasadena Art Museum. Artists included Kurt Schwitters, Joseph Cornell and Marcel Duchamp. Babitz had affair with the Gallery’s head, Walter Hopps, and Hopps had forbidden Babitz to attend as his wife would be there. Babitz was invited by a friend and asked if she would play chess with Marcel Duchamp and she agreed only appearing in an overcoat that she dropped to sit nude to play the game.
Apparently, however, Duchamp didn’t notice Babitz’s nakedness and concentrated on the game, going on to win.
Eve Babitz was severely burned in an accident in 1997. She was driving her car trying to light a cigar when she dropped a lighted match into her lap igniting her dress and causing her 30 percent third degree burns to the lower part of her body and legs. She became a recluse thereafter.
There has been a resurgence of interest in Babitz’s writing in recent years though it is her record cover design that most fascinates me. She knew Ahmet Ertegun, head of Atlantic Records, who, presumably, gave her the opportunity to design covers for that label, though she also did covers for Capitol Records (Linda Ronstadt), Warner Brothers and Reprise Records (Eric Anderson, Noel Harrison), and Elektra Records (Earth Opera, Lord Buckley), Columbia records (The Byrds).
Another indication of Babitz’s fame comes from a band calling themselves Misery Loves Company which released a CD in 2006 called All About Eve Babitz, with a cover picture recreating that famous chess match! A CD I must try to get hold of.