posted by meowser
Chances are pretty good that unless you are a serious student of songwriting or a 1950s/1960s rock/R&B super-completist, you’ve never heard of Doc Pomus. But chances are equally good that you’ve heard at least some of the songs he wrote or cowrote, which entered the national (and international) bloodstream like whooooaaah, and after all these decades have never left — “Lonely Avenue,” “Can’t Get Used to Losing You,” “Viva Las Vegas,” “Young Blood,” “This Magic Moment,” “Save the Last Dance for Me,” “Little Sister,” “Marie’s the Name (His Latest Flame),” “Suspicion,” “Surrender,” “A Teenager in Love,” “A Mess of Blues,” for about a decade he was a hit machine. And he was also a fat guy, and one with a disability at that; he contracted polio at age 7, in 1932, and got around on crutches (and later, after he became financially successful, in a wheelchair) after that.
But that’s not why I’m writing about Pomus here — the most remarkable thing about his life isn’t necessarily the aspect of “OMG he was fat and had a disability and wrote all those great songs!”, even though I absolutely love the story about how he wrote the lyric to the Drifters’ “Save the Last Dance for Me” while watching his wife dance with other men at their wedding, knowing he would never be able to dance with her himself. (Reportedly Drifters lead singer Ben E. King was told about the origins of the song right before recording his vocal, and had to fight back tears the entire time he was live on the mike.)
No, having read Alex Halberstadt’s 2007 biography of Pomus, Lonely Avenue: The Unlikely Life and Times of Doc Pomus, what’s most fascinating to me about Pomus’s story is what came before he was a successful songwriter, when he spent over a decade as a singer in blues clubs all over the “rough” (i.e. predominantly black and poor) parts of Brooklyn and New Jersey where nice Jewish boys like Pomus (nee Jerome Felder; his younger brother is celebrity divorce attorney Raoul Felder) were warned never to set foot. In the 1940s and early 1950s, Pomus was something almost entirely unprecedented: a white blues shouter who found unconditional acceptance and respect among the black audiences he sang for, far more so than in the “integrated” (i.e. predominantly white and bohemian) jazz and blues clubs across the river in Manhattan where he also plied his trade from time to time. Read the rest of this entry »