Forgeries, freeconomics and Freddie Krueger

Britain's government wants fans involved in the arts, while Israel's says "sorry" to dead pop stars.

Happy Hippy Times

The book is dead, long live the e-book: Amazon’s Kindle has been launched – and immediately sold out. It seems likely that the literature industry will be transformed by this, and publishers and writers might want to keep an eye on the music industry, where technology has also worked some startling changes. Excitement about Qtrax, the free (and legal) online music station, proved anti-climatic as the website was suspended just before its launch (putting HMRC’s woefully unsteady tax returns website in good company); leading record labels denied having licence agreements with Qtrax. The music moguls seem united in their disapproval of ”freeconomics”: in a speech entitled Who Is Making All The Money And Why Aren’t They Sharing It?, U2 manager Paul McGuinness laments the role of technology in the entertainment industry, blaming Silicon Valley’s ”hippy values”.

Happy hippies or not, in these troubled times of global credit instability it may be a little comforting to know that sometimes the people making all the money are not spending it either. Family forgers George and Olive Greenhalgh (84 and 83 respectively), and son Shaun (47), were found guilty of creative impressive forgeries of sculptures, paintings, and historic artefacts from their back garden, and selling them to collectors and museums. The family is reported to have made around £1m from their forgeries (over 17 years) and had more works that could have sold for a further £10m – but continued to live in their council flat. In defence of Mr Greenhalgh Junior, his barrister said that Mr Greenhalgh "had only one outlook, and that was his garden shed".

Forces of Darkness

From the back garden to the world stage: 43 years after being banned from Israel as morally hazardous, the Beatles have been apologized to, and invited to perform. Which is nice. But perhaps too late for some.

Closer to home, the new Bond film has been announced, the directors once again engaging with issues of contemporary international problems. Quantum of Solace, aka “Bond 22”, features a villain played by Oscar-feted Mathieu Amalric: when asked who had inspired his character, Amalric replied ”Tony Blair and Nicholas Sarkozy” . Coming at a time when Sarkozy has proposed Blair for “President of Europe”, perhaps we should be taking note.

Following the tremendous and heartening show of solidarity in the arts world reported here, the Arts Council cuts are now off. Meanwhile new Culture Secretary Andy Burnham’s proposals that fans get involved in the boards of arts organisations are set to revolutionise the relationship between audiences, critics, funders, and fans. Watch this space.

Great men of history

After the widespread relief about the Royal Academy’s From Russia exhibition going ahead, it is sad news, then, that the man credited with bringing it to Britain, the Royal Academy’s Norman Rosenthal, is stepping down as Secretary. Among his other successes were Aztecs, Turks, and Unknown Monet, and he is also the man who famously shed blood for an artwork at the ICA, spat at a critic, and took part in Alternative Miss World dressed as a newt. He will be a hard act to follow.

Another surprise departure this week is Sylvester Stallone’s Rambo . Apparently the Rocky and Rambo franchises, at a total of 10 films between them, have lost their lustre for Stallone who would prefer instead to get involved in “heart-warming dramas and off-beat comedies”. Apprehensions that Hollywood studios will now have to look for something original can be swiftly suppressed: Freddie Krueger is set to return , subject to the availability of screenwriters. With casualties like these, long may the strike moulder.

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Conjuring the ghost: the "shape-shifting, queer, violent, hippie genuis" of David Litvinoff

A new biography tracks down the elusive Kray confidant who became a friend of Mick Jagger and Keith Richards.

David Litvinoff is a mythic character to anyone with an interest in London during the Sixties. An intimate of the Krays, he was a tough and violent Jew from the East End. He was also a musical genius with an unrivalled knowledge of jazz, the blues and rock that made him a valued friend of Mick Jagger and Keith Richards. It was his ability to move from the East End to Chelsea, from the dives of Soho to Notting Hill, that was the critical factor in the extraordinary vision of London that Donald Cammell and Nicolas Roeg conjured into the film Performance, for which Litvinoff is credited as dialogue coach. And yet, even though all this is known and recorded, he remains a ghost, a figure who wrote nothing and who systematically destroyed all the records of his life he could lay his hands on. Even his exact role in Performance is shrouded in mystery. He is said to have dictated much of the script to Cammell. This biography claims that Jagger’s mesmerising song on the soundtrack, “Memo from Turner”, was in fact a memo from Litvinoff.

Multiple reports describe him as the most brilliant talker London had known since Coleridge, but although there are rumours of tapes they have always been just rumours. I’d have thought he was a figure who would defeat any biographer – a shape-shifting, queer, violent, hippie genius lost in a mist of hallucinogens – but Keiron Pim’s account of this extraordinary character is a magisterial work of scholarship. He tracks down all the living witnesses; he has also unearthed letters, and even some of those long-lost tapes.

The story that emerges is even harder to believe than the legend. Litvinoff came out of the Jewish East End but he was from one of its most talented families. His name was not even Litvinoff: his mother’s first husband went by that name but David was the son of her second, Solomon Levy. Long before he met the Krays or the Stones, he was a gossip columnist on the Daily Express, practically inventing the Chelsea set that shocked the prim Fifties. By that time he had met Lucian Freud, who painted him in an astonishing study, the working title of which was Portrait of a Jew. Litvinoff was furious when Freud exhibited it with the new description of The Procurer, and the bad blood between these two men, both of whom inhabited the drinking clubs of Soho and the Krays’ gambling joints, remained for the rest of their lives. In fact, it is Freud who comes over as the villain of the book, fingered by Pim as the man behind the most violent assault on Litvinoff: he was knocked unconscious at the door to his own flat, on the top floor, and awoke to find himself naked and tied to a chair suspended from the balcony, nose broken and head shaved bald.

I learned much from this book: a period working for Peter Rachman before he became involved with the Krays; sojourns in Wales and Australia when he was fleeing threats of violence. The big discovery for me, however, was Litvinoff’s encyclopaedic knowledge of the jazz and blues traditions that gave birth to rock’n’roll. He taught the Stones a lot but he taught Eric Clapton even more – they were both living at the Pheasantry building on the King’s Road, and Litvinoff seems to have had unlimited access to the most recherché back catalogues and the most recent unreleased recordings. The book traces, but does not comment on, a transformation from an amphetamine-fuelled hard man in the Fifties and early Sixties to the oddest of hallucinogen hippies by the Summer of Love in 1967.

But, for all Litvinoff’s knowledge, wit and gift for friendship, his tale is a tragedy. A man who could talk but couldn’t write; an out gay man long before it was acceptable, who seems never to have been at ease with his sexuality; a proud Jew without any tradition of Judaism to which he could affiliate. Above all, this was a man who lived to the full the extraordinary moment when London dreamed, in Harold Wilson’s Sixties, that class was a thing of the past. Back from Australia in the early Seventies, Litvinoff awoke again to find that it had indeed been a dream. His suicide in 1975 was cold and deliberate. He had outlived his time. 

Colin MacCabe edits Critical Quarterly

Jumpin’ Jack Flash: David Litvinoff and the Rock’n’Roll Underworld by Keiron Pim is publisyhed by Jonathan Cape (416pp, £16.99)

This article first appeared in the 25 August 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Cameron: the legacy of a loser