It’s a story too odd to convey in a single song, so it took roughly two thousand to trace the sadly wonderful history of Jerome Felder. A fat, Jewish kid, with polio born in prewar Brooklyn, Felder heard blues shouter Big Joe Turner and decided he could do that, too, singing with and then leading bands before he was old enough to be in the clubs where he performed (on crutches).
His real forté was songwriting, however, and after randomly picking the name Doc Pomus, he churned out thousands of them, initially in the teen era, with rapturous soft-R&B numbers like “This Magic Moment” and his signature “Save the Last Dance for Me”—rivaling novelty masters Jerry Lieber and Mike Stoller, who appear archivally, along with Ben E. King, Dion Dimucci, Lou Reed, and many other beneficiaries and lifelong pals, in the this smoothly assembled look back.
Pomus had another heyday, usually accompanied by younger pal Mort Shuman (who later moved to Paris and became an unlikely sensation while working with Jacques Brel), writing songs for Elvis Presley’s assembly-line movies. Perhaps you’ve heard a little item called “Viva Las Vegas”.
Despite failing health and bad money habits, the good Doctor rallied again in the 1980s, crafting another batch of great tunes with another physician of the soul, Dr. John, who read (and sang) a moving sermon at Felder’s 1991 funeral. The overall feeling the film leaves you with is joyous, not elegiac. Despite terrible odds in a world he never made (to quote one of his best latter-day songs), Jerry Felder really lived the life he dreamed of as a boy in Brooklyn.
The Vancouver Jewish Film Festival presents A.K.A. Doc Pomus on Thursday (November 15) at 7 p.m. at the Ridge Theatre