Now that David Levine is dead, I guess another reassurance is down the drain: leafing through the New York Review of Books, first examining all the obscure titles from the university presses, then inspecting the index to see which erudite summation of a new tome to read so that one does not have to buy said book, spotting a familiar byline (Joan Didion, Garry Wills), sighing with satisfaction at the inevitable David Levine caricature of the bylined author, hoping that another book on Richard Nixon has been released to occasion the reprint of a Levine classic of the trickster, bypassing the always dull Simon Schama or Louis Menand, then on to the spiteful letters section and the pitiful personals from intellectuals in Nantucket.
People seem to be dying a lot faster these days. I thought of this while purchasing a bag of Newman's Own chocolate chip cookies the other day. How nice to see Paul Newman still staring out at me with daughter Nell and a brand new label announcing that "Paul Newman has raised over $200 million for charity," as if Cool Hand Luke were still warm and with us. David Levine was an equal master of cool, probably at his best when drawing someone he admired. In that contingency, Levine could sex up Joan Didion into Pussy Galore or John Updike into a dashing Fifth Avenue Playboy.
Yes, Levine loved writers most of all, because his heavy line and dark shadows that disappeared like smoke were a kind of writing, which complemented the dark print and squint-inducing type of the New York Review of Books like marshmallows in cocoa. With David’s passing, can we expect an occasional resurrection of his images in the publication so closely identified with him? Probably not: Al Hirschfeld disappeared from the Times pretty quickly and the New Yorker, after a valiant effort at continuity, abandoned Richard Avedon. Such is the cost of timeliness and dependability. It is in the moment, but, then again, so are we, and now we shall never be drawn by David Levine.
CHARLIE FINCH is co-author of Most Art Sucks: Five Years of Coagula (Smart Art Press).