Jumpin' Jack Flash: David Litvinoff and the Rock'n'Roll Underworld by Keiron Pim

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Jumpin' Jack Flash: David Litvinoff and the Rock'n'Roll Underworld by Keiron Pim

Category: Biography
Rating: 3.5/5
Reviewer: John Van der Kiste
Reviewed by John Van der Kiste
Summary: David Litvinoff was one of those elusive misfits from the sixties who became famous for being famous without achieving much during his lifetime. Apparently determined to elude biographers, he died leaving only a pale imprint on the history of his time and succeeded very well. This somewhat rambling, sometimes unfocused account of his life and era captures the essence of the man, but to an extent he still remains elusive.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Yes
Pages: 432 Date: January 2017
Publisher: Vintage
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 9780099584445

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Each decade throws up its misfits, mavericks and anti-heroes, its icons of what might be loosely termed social estrangement and disillusion. In the 1950s it was James Dean, and in the 1970s it was Sid Vicious. In between them, although admittedly a good few years older, was one David Litvinoff.

David who, you may well ask. Born David Levy in 1928, the son of a bookmaker, he was as the cover tells us 'one of the great mythic characters of 1960s London'. To some he was one of the storytelling jesters who helped to make Swinging London what it was, to others he was an unpleasant, even sadistic crook best avoided. He knew the Krays and their circle, Eric Clapton, Mick Jagger, Lucian Freud (who called him 'revolting' and 'horrible' but painted his portrait nonetheless, albeit a very unflattering one) and others. In fact, it was the Rolling Stones association which largely prevents him from being more than a very small footnote in the history of the era. He claimed (falsely) that the song 'Jumpin' Jack Flash' had been written about him, although many a fan will tell you that said number was inspired by Keith Richards' gardener. More to the point is that he was the one on whom the central character in the cult film 'Performance', starring Jagger and James Fox, was based.

This is a biography, but a somewhat rambling one. Although Litvinoff is the subject, he tends to weave in and out of these pages, in between the portraits of Bohemian, party and gangster life in London and digressions on the life, music and career of Bob Dylan. Being gay and Jewish, he always felt like an outsider and evidently revelled in being unconventional as he shoplifted, partied, and generally ducked and dived his way through the East End, Soho and Chelsea.

Significantly, we are told how he was determined to 'live without trace' and left a rather convoluted trail behind him, evidently in an effort to elude biographers. It is partly life story, partly an account of London low-lifers, and partly of pop culture and social history from the 1950s onwards. Perhaps significantly, it opens with an account of him opening the front door of his flat in Kensington High Street, being knocked out by a sharp punch in the face, and then discovering when he regains consciousness that he is bleeding, naked, with a broken nose and shaved head, and tied to a wooden chair strapped to the outer railings of his balcony. It's that kind of book.

Did I enjoy it? I'm not sure. It was an unusual read, one of those rather unfocused, slightly surreal ones which leads you to question what the character at the centre of it all actually achieved, if anything. To borrow Andy Warhol's phrase, he was famous for being famous for fifteen minutes – several times over.

Kieron Pim has done his research pretty thoroughly, interviewing over a hundred people, from Marianne Faithfull to 'Mad' Frankie Fraser (brave man, obviously). But overall, it left me feeling as though I had read what at times was an impressionistic portrait in words of someone who had done his best to live and die without leaving more than a pale imprint on the history of his time and succeeded very well – even if it was perhaps the only real success he achieved in his forty-seven years on earth. He is one of those characters who is as difficult to capture in words as he always intended to be.

For further loosely-associated reading, we can also recommend Jack of Jumps by David Seabrook, a London true crime tale of the early 60s, while for more on the Rolling Stones, there is the entertaining and in places quite revealing memoir of one of their guitarists, Ronnie by Ronnie Wood. Another equally entertaining memoir of the era is provided in An Education by Lynn Barber.

Buy Jumpin' Jack Flash: David Litvinoff and the Rock'n'Roll Underworld by Keiron Pim at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Jumpin' Jack Flash: David Litvinoff and the Rock'n'Roll Underworld by Keiron Pim at Amazon.co.uk.


Buy Jumpin' Jack Flash: David Litvinoff and the Rock'n'Roll Underworld by Keiron Pim at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Jumpin' Jack Flash: David Litvinoff and the Rock'n'Roll Underworld by Keiron Pim at Amazon.com.


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