If he had done what he wanted, Jerome Felder would have become a professional athlete, but when the 6-year-old was struck down by polio, that career path was closed off. Not long after, he heard the mammoth voice of Big Joe Turner shaking his radio, and a new love was born. Felder became fascinated by blues and R&B music and, when he was 18, he managed to talk himself onto a stage where trumpeter Frankie Newton was leading the band, and suddenly, the short, pudgy Jewish kid on crutches was shouting the blues like a pro. Another door had opened and the result was the rebirth of that kid as Doc Pomus (so that his mother wouldn’t see his name on the marquees when he played clubs).
“AKA Doc Pomus,” directed by Peter Miller and Will Hechter and produced by Pomus’ daughter Sharyn Felder, is a delightful recounting of the yo-yo trajectory of his career. It moves from his initial success writing for the likes of Turner and Ray Charles to his lengthy stint at the Brill Building with co-writer author Mort Shuman, writing for Elvis, the Drifters, Dion and the Belmonts and countless others. And it deals with Pomus’ depression after Shuman moved to France and the numerous other up- and downturns of his life, including marriages and divorces and the gradual deterioration of his physical health. Pomus worked with nearly everybody of significance in pop music between the late ’40s and his death in 1991, and the survivors are all here, with longtime friend Lou Reed offering voiceovers from Pomus’ brutally frank journals. At 99 minutes, the film feels a bit attenuated towards the end, but overall it’s the proverbial rockin’ good time, with Pomus himself an endlessly fascinating and powerfully honest protagonist. (And the soundtrack album, if there is one, will be a killer.)
The film makes a spirited companion piece to one of the best movies of the summer, “Twenty Feet from Stardom.” Like that lively profile of three generations of great black women back-up singers, “AKA Doc Pomus” puts an all-but-forgotten talent back in the spotlight and makes you appreciate the artistry that went into those three-minute slices of pure joy and genius.
“AKA Doc Pomus opens Oct. 4 at Village East Cinema (12th Street and Second Avenue).