A profile of everybody’s favorite dirtbag, Al Goldstein, founder and publisher of Screw magazine. The New Yorker cock blocks movie critic, Pauline Kael. Says no way to a review of Deep Throat. Out of the Blue: Deep Throat, Last Tango in Paris, and the Art of Cultural Penetration. Eve Babitz on Being Photographed Nude with Marcel Duchamp. The perfect wave, the perfect artist, the perfect image. John Van Hamersveld and the poster for The Endless Summer. The wild times and wilder life of writer and party girl, Eve Babitz. O.J. didn’t just (likely, probably, oh, come on, he did it) kill Nicole and Ron. He killed popular culture, too. Art Pepper, jazz man, junkie, heartthrob. Laurie Pepper, wife of Art. The two give birth to Art’s memoir, Straight Life. Cootchy-cootchy-coo-skeetle-at-de-op-de-day. Play It As It L.A.'d: Joan Didion's Days and Nights in Movieland. Warren Beatty Tells Pauline Kael, You Ought to Be in Pictures. Lorena Bobbitt’s American Dream. Paris, Lindsay, Britney: The Rise and Fall of a Celebrity Supernova. The Secret Oral History of Bennington: The 1980s' Most Decadent College. The Secret History of Hollywood’s Wildest Club in the 1980s. 'A Felony Just to Own': The Story Behind Penthouse’s Most Controversial (and Bestselling) Issue of All Time. A Q&A about T&A. Showgirls turns 25. An extended conversation with Showgirls casting director Johanna Ray.
Punctuation be damned, let them all bleed into each other. That's poetry to me. They're all titles or descriptions of pieces Lili Anolik has written over the past decade for the likes of the New York Observer (god I still miss that paper in its heyday), The Believer, Vanity Fair (mostly Graydon's, for obvious reasons if you know VF then versus now), Esquire, and Air Mail (Graydon again). Lili is so good at and comfortable where the seamy meets the mainstream in popular American culture—especially if it happened in LA from 1970-2000—that I'm thrilled whenever she mines any topic from those decades. A podcast she made last year, called Once Upon Time...in the Valley, was all about Tracy Lords' years in the porn industry. No surprise to anyone who knows Lili’s interests.
You saw Eve Babitz's name twice above because Lili put so much time into tracking Eve down that multiple national stories were justified and it all led to Lili's first book, a "biography" about Eve. I'm giving Lili the primary credit for Eve's revival the past five years (but not discounting what you've done, NYRB, with your re-issues of her books). Lili's next book is included in the first paragraph as well. She's deep into it so I'm very pleased I was able to get what I could here. Read on to see which one it is, I assure you it'll interest many great readers. -Wes Del Val
WDV: Do you have any examples of books you really liked before they became too popular?
LA: Well, I loved Eve Babitz’s books before she became such a thing. My favorite book of hers is Slow Days Fast Company. My second favorite, Hollywood’s Eve. There’s a young guy writer named Jarett Kobek—Turkish-American, I think. Lives in California. He wrote a book called I Hate the Internet. Self-published. It got attention, but not enough. And the book of his I really love, The Future Won’t Be Long, seemed to sink without much of a trace. It’s absolutely brilliant, though, and completely off the wall.
I’m with you on both, though as you point out Kobek isn’t exactly too popular. As for Eve, I applaud all that NYRB has done with her books the past few years, but frankly she’s one I’d rather read about then read—hence why I was so pleased when I saw your Vanity Fair piece on her turned into a proper biography!
I don’t know if I’d call Hollywood’s Eve a proper biography. Though maybe with a subject like Eve, improper is the way to go.
Well “proper” or not—you’re right about improper + Eve—it certainly satiated what I was curious to know about her.
Which two living writers talking for two hours would you happily pay to watch online?
Mary Gaitskill and the Marquis de Sade. That’s a bit of a disingenuous answer because I’m more interested in Mary than the Marquis. So I’d probably watch her with both eyes; him out of the corner of one eye—you know, just to make sure he wasn’t getting up to anything too, too weird.
I thought you were saying disingenuous because only one of them is living. Once again with you on the Marquis, but Mary talking to another breathing writer?
Disingenuous because the Marquis isn’t a particular fixation of mine. He’d be there strictly for Mary. I’d like to watch her bounce off him, react to him. But I can tell, Wes, that you're the anal type and are going to insist that I stay within the bounds of the question. You said "two living writers," which disqualifies the Marquis. So I'll swap him out with the cultural critic James Wolcott. I happen to know, Mary and Jim went on a date in the 80s. I'd want to eavesdrop on them reliving it. What did they do? Dinner and a movie or just dinner? Who paid? I'm dying to know.
I’m right with you...and because they’re both alive ;) it could happen!
What do you wish you could read again for the first time because it left you so moved upon finishing it?
I can’t really answer this question because I’m more of a re-reader than a reader. I mean, if I really flip for a book, I read it a bunch of times. But the first grown-up books that moved me are Straight Life by Art and Laurie Pepper, which I read at 9; and Great Expectations—by Dickens, obviously—which I read at 12. I still love both. Two books that I read in my 20s—that is, as a grown-up—that I’ve read over and over: Kafka Was the Rage, an unfinished memoir by Anatole Broyard, and Tapping the Source, a surfer noir by Kem Nunn (I named my older boy after the lead character in Tapping). And I’m always dipping in and out of David Thomson’s The Biographical Dictionary of Film. So, in a way, I’m never not reading that book.
Good lord, Straight Life at nine years old? No wonder you went on to tackle the subjects you have. How did you find this book and how many times have you read it? What does it mean to you now compared to when you were a (precocious) child? I’d love to know all you want to share about this as it’s such an unforgettable autobiography.
My father is a bebop fiend. He was reading Straight Life, and I thumbed through it in a bored moment and my eyes popped out of my skull. It’s one of those books that tells you everything you want to know—about sex, about drugs, about crime, about sweating it out in San Quentin. There’s also a photo in it of Art at 12. He was a dreamboat and an older man to my 4th grade self. I was hooked! I read it every single night for a solid year. As soon as I came to the end, I flipped right back to the beginning.
I stumbled on it again in my mid-20s. That’s when I realized it was a flat-out great book, and maybe as good as Dostoevysky.
Since you brought up Thomson’s Dictionary, I have to share this, I loved it when I first saw it, and still do:
When the magazine Sight and Sound organised a poll of the greatest books about film, Geoff Dyer chose all five editions of the book known in its latest — sixth — edition as The New Biographical Dictionary of Film. Here’s what he said, it’s all so very him:
“I would restrict my choice to the various editions of David Thomson’s A Biographical Dictionary of Film. I’m sure some future scholar will produce an admirable thesis comparing the changes in—and evolution of—what has come to be, along with everything else, a vicarious and incremental autobiography. In that context, even Thomson’s diminishing interest in cinema—or current cinema at any rate—becomes a source of fascination. The Dictionary is not only an indispensable book about cinema, but one of the most absurdly ambitious literary achievements of our time. It deserves a shelf to itself.”
David created a form with that book. It’s absolutely sui generis. I own at least four of the editions, but I can’t distinguish between them. Meaning, I know he adds new people and new movies each time, but I can’t tell who or what or where. All I know is that I buy the new edition and it’s more of what I like.
I’m a Geoff Dyer fan, too, by the way. His book on not writing a book on D.H. Lawrence, Out of Sheer Rage, is pure heaven.
I’d for sure be happy to read Out of Sheer Rage again for the first time.
You wouldn’t have become a writer if you hadn’t read who and/or what?
I started reading the movie writer Pauline Kael at 14. (My dad bought me her last collection, Movie Love, for Christmas my freshman year of high school.) She’d already retired by then, but I hunted down her earlier collections at various libraries. The only time I’ve ever stolen anything was a copy of Taking It All In from the library at Milton Academy. Pauline will always be the gold standard for me. She writes with such energy and intelligence and flash—with such libido, too.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t ask you which writers and books you’re disappointed you didn’t read while in your teens?
In a weird way, I wish I’d read less in my teens. I was a compulsive reader then, but an immature one. Any book I read in middle school or high school, I have to re-read now because I don’t trust my teenage taste or reactions.
I like that. I feel that way for some reason about what I read right after college.
What’s a book series that should exist and for which you’d be the perfect editor?
I’ve never edited anything except, occasionally, work for friends who happen to be writers. I don’t have an editor’s mindset. Or skillset.
Ok, then to consult on? The point is there must be something thematic which would make you very happy were it available.
You think I’m being an intentional pain-in-the-ass here, Wes, but I’m being unintentional. Really, my brain doesn’t work like that. I’ve never edited except in the most informal, slapdash way, so I don’t look at books with an editor’s eye.
Boo! Ok, next.
With which writers do you wish you could have been college roommates?
I’d have loved it if Pauline Kael and Joan Didion were roommates, with me in the single next door so I could put a glass cup to the wall and eavesdrop. Who would’ve taken the top bunk, though? That’s the real question.
What are favorite magazine pieces you’ve ever read which would make for fantastic movies or series if adapted today?
Janet Malcolm’s book-length piece for the New Yorker on Sylvia Plath called “The Silent Woman.” It’s journalism as blood sport. Malcolm is the main character in it and I wonder which living actress has the chill perversity to play her. Ruth Gordon would be perfect except for the living part. Judy Davis maybe?
Which people are you disappointed didn’t write their memoirs before leaving us?
Tuesday Weld. She’s still alive, but she’s disappeared from public life for so long I sometimes forget. She’s one of my favorite actresses, though, and she was a teen sex kitten in the 50s; dated Elvis; turned down Lolita in Lolita and Bonnie in Bonnie and Clyde; and she’s so good in Pretty Poison and Once Upon a Time in America it’s crazy. She once did an interview with Dick Cavett that you can see on YouTube and it’s just out of sight. Yeah, I’d like to hear more of what she has to say.
I would, too! Seems perfect for you to tackle à la Eve Babitz...
My intuition is that Tuesday would be more responsive to a male writer than a female. I could be wrong, but that’s my guess.
You get 30 minutes and two empty Ikea bags to take the books you want from any bookstore. Which store and what are you walking (more like hobbling due to the size and weight of the bags) out with?
Book Soup on Sunset Boulevard. Because they have great taste there. It’s where I first read Denis Johnson (I’d avoided him for years because I thought he spelled his first name in such a dumb way) and Elmore Leonard (because I thought he and James Ellory were the same guy, and James Ellroy is a problem for me)—two of my all-time favorite writers. They also sell great non-book products. When I was trying to woo Eve, I bought her a Kim Novak postcard that I plucked off a spinner by the cash register.
Oh I love that about Denis (it’s always the first thing I’ve thought of as well when I see his name in print—like I just did again, right now) as well as your Elmore/Ellroy mix-up. Makes me think of a moment where I burst out laughing during Jesse Pearson’s excellent Apology magazine podcast when he confessed in an episode that one of the main reasons he could never get into Updike is because Updike was just too weird-looking for him. I knew exactly what he meant. I adore those kinds of often irrational admissions, yours and Jesse’s, especially concerning anything cultural.
What’s impressing you the most these days about anything to do with publishing? Traditional, self, digital, book, magazine, doesn’t matter.
I do not have a PRAYER of answering this question. I’m too checked out.
Boo! Boo! Ok, next.
What years produced the sexiest books/authors combo?
Well, I’m working on something now about Bennington College Class of 1986 (class of Easton Ellis, Donna Tartt and Jonathan Lethem), so I’m going to name the mid-80s/early 90s as the sexiest period. Though the 1920s also rates high on the sex appeal scale. I mean, everybody loves The Great Gatsby and I’m no exception. Never does that novel seem un-au courant. It’s endlessly fresh. And Fitzgerald’s life matches the scope of his work. You feel like if you can figure him out, figure his book out, you can figure out what it means to be an American.
Fitzgerald has never done much for me...I hate his awful 20s hairstyle with the middle part, I always just see Oldman in Coppola’s Dracula... Thanks Lili!