The Great and Pained Life of a Polio-Striken R&B Hitmaker in A.K.A. Doc Pomus


The thrilling story of Brooklyn’s most beloved polio-stricken white boy r&b genius, Peter Miller and Will Hechter’s A.K.A. Doc Pomus bops along with the simple, sturdy power of a good Doc Pomus song: It’s constructed with techniques familiar to anyone with a passing awareness of its genre—but also with such wit and insight and serious longing that it moves as much as it grooves. Pomus, a warm and Falstaffian fellow seen here in old interview footage, wrote blues-steeped pop hits as eternal as “Save the Last Dance for Me,” “Lonely Avenue,” “This Magic Moment,” and several of Elvis’s very best—”Viva Las Vegas,” “Little Sister,” and that soulful masterpiece “A Mess of Blues”—but he started as an r&b shouter himself, swapping his birth name, Jerome Felder, for his made-up one. Despite some early success, a disillusioned Pomus quit performing when it became clear the major labels weren’t going to invest in a rotund 31-year-old Jew who couldn’t take the stage without crutches. But he could write. As usual, talking heads and archival clips tell the story, but the reminiscing is rich in anecdote, and the images affecting—see Pomus at his own wedding, watching his new bride dance with other men because he can’t. Under all of this runs the music, still great and pained and joyous all at once, much like the life of its creator, which culminates here in a 1991 funeral so soulful that Little Jimmy Scott got a record deal out of it. Even if you know this history already, A.K.A. Doc Pomus is vital and endearing, a celebration of a great artist, a great character, and the universality of great pop.