By Bill Arceneaux
If you were to ask me to list some of my favorite writers, I’d do so with no problem at all. Off the top of my head, William Burroughs, Philip K. Dick, Dante Alighieri, Alan Moore, and David Mamet all come to mind.
If you were to ask me to list some of my favorite songwriters, well…it’s wonderful that I’ve spent much time studying cinema, but I often feel inadequate when it comes to music history. Every time I hop into a car to drive, I tune in to WWOZ, and consider it my lesson for the day. With Spotify, I often shuffle songs around, hoping to discover something new. But, at the end of the day, the medium of film is what I know best, and it is there that I should be schooled.
AKA Doc Pomus chronicles the existence of one Jerome Felder, a polio stricken heavyweight Jewish kid from New York. Handicapped early in his development – having to use crutches to make it around town – Jerome knew exactly what the blues was and, more importantly, how the blues felt, and identified heavily with the genre. After slyly making his way on stage at clubs many times, he came to be known for his soulful lyrics, and soon would write some of the most iconic songs of all time.
This documentary sums up his life in the first few minutes. I wouldn’t normally call foul here – after all, essays and articles typically start with the thesis – but rarely does the movie attempt to dive deeper into his life. He knew misery, but wrote romance. The end. It’s mostly a presentation of songs he wrote and which artists played them. Depressed by the staleness, I now know the blues.
Maybe that was too harsh. Aside from archival footage of the man himself, highlighting what a charming and personable human being he was despite his disability, I identified with one other moment. His first wife is interviewed, and in one of the most heartbreaking things I’ve seen in a while, she describes her relationship with, from beginning to end, with his songs: They started with “Save the Last Dance for Me” and ended at “Can’t Get Used to Losing You.”
This connection of a life lived to music made is what I wanted most from AKA Doc Pomus; the contrast of the two, the fuel he had to write what he did, the impact the words had on others. Music, just as much as film, is a universal language. It can do so much more than just pop and play. Why not explore it some more?
Despite a lackluster approach to telling an intriguing life, the film did teach me that I ought to research songwriters much more. Writing can be difficult, and even more so when writing a song limited to two or so minutes. To pack it with such catchiness and emotion is a thing of genius. And Doc Pomus was a genius. Right up there with Burroughs and Alighieri.
“AKA Doc Pomus” played at The Manship this past weekend. Check out their schedule for upcoming films at ManshipTheatre.org