AFF2012: 'A.K.A. Doc Pomus'
You already know the songs, now meet the songwriter
By Marjorie Baumgarten, 9:10AM, Mon. Oct. 22, 2012
No matter what you think of that silly Viagra commercial set to the tune of “Viva Las Vegas,” hearing it should make you smile with the thought that the estate of the late, great songwriter Doc Pomus is getting a piece of the royalty action – or, at least, you will smile after learning about the man in this documentary tribute to his life and genius.
"This Magic Moment," "A Teenager in Love," "Save the Last Dance for Me," "Lonely Avenue," and yes, "Viva Las Vegas" – these are but a few of the more than 1,000 songs written by Doc Pomus, who belongs in the pantheon of great American songwriters. Born Jerome Felder in Brooklyn in 1925, he contracted polio at the age of 6, which left him on crutches and in wheelchairs for the rest of his life. When he began performing in New York City clubs in the Forties, this anomalous white Jewish man who sang the blues while on crutches adopted the name Doc Pomus. Although he recorded many of his own songs, Doc Pomus never found true success until he started writing songs for others. Once that started, the hits just kept coming.
As romantic and soulful as his tunes are, the life lived by Doc Pomus was, in contrast, never easy. This documentary, which receives a great assist from the participation of his daughter Sharyn Felder and an impressive gallery of musical colleagues, recounts the history of the music and the man. Using home-movie footage, archival photographs, first-person recollections, and fragments from unpublished memoirs read by Lou Reed, the film paints a rich portrait of the man and his experience as a cog in the music machine. Working with partners, Doc Pomus was able to use his blues foundation to make the switch to teen-based R&B while working in the famed tune factory of the Brill Building. Later in life, he taught songwriting to another generation of upcoming artists and and fought for the rights of musicians who had been abused or spit out by the system. The array of colleagues, artists, family, and writers who appear in this film to share their knowledge of the life of Doc Pomus is a testament to the impact it had.
A.K.A. Doc Pomus screens again on Monday, Oct. 22, 9:30pm at the Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum – The Texas Spirit Theater.