Did you know that the enduring rock ‘n’ roll ballad “Save
the Last Dance For Me” was written by someone who could not dance? Stricken
with polio at the age of 6, Jerome Felder spent much of his life on crutches or
in a wheelchair. Once you know this and recognize the soulfulness of the
lyrics, you begin to understand why the man universally known as Doc Pomus was
so widely admired—by fans, friends, and colleagues ranging from John Lennon to
Bob Dylan. Among his many standards are “This Magic Moment,” “A Teenager in
Love,” “Viva Las Vegas,” and a stunning 1981 number introduced by B.B. King,
“There Must be a Better World Somewhere.”
How a nice Jewish boy from Brooklyn became a blues shouter, in the tradition of the great Joe Turner, and one of the poets of the Brill Building during its legendary hit-making years, is the story told in a fascinating new documentary by Will Hechter and Peter Miller called AKA Doc Pomus. It opens today in Manhattan and next Friday, October 11, in Los Angeles and other cities. Felder’s daughter, Sharyn, initiated the project and helped the filmmakers find archival interviews with the songwriter, as well as calling on family members and celebrated friends. The colorful cast of characters includes Ben E. King, Lou Reed, Dr. John, Phil Spector, Dion Dimucci, Shawn Colvin, Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, and the lyricist’s brother, notorious divorce lawyer Raoul Felder.
There was nothing routine about Felder’s life, and there is nothing rote about this documentary, which is thoughtful, intimate, and filled with warm, candid recollections. If you love stories about the music business you’ll certainly be entertained, but AKA Doc Pomus is intrinsically compelling because it charts the life of such a singular man. He was definitely one of a kind.