Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Lonely Avenue: The Unlikely Life And Times Of Doc Pomus

Alex Halberstadt
Jonathan Cape

I'm no way exactly sure why, maybe it's the Elvis connection or the previous lack of illumination on their lives, but when considering songwriting duos Pomus and Shuman and maybe Leiber and Stoller it's hard to conceive of a story such as this. Though read in conjunction with, or remembering, the songs brings on home the harrowing trauma wrapped up as sweet sorrow in almost throw away songs like Elvis' (Marie's The Name) His Latest Flame or Save The Last Dance For Me(indeed, being a writer of such jukebox classics would tragically plague Pomus' sense of worth). Writ more as a fable with Doc born lowly Jerome Felder, before being hit lower by polio at a young age, and struggling through fallow years as a singer on his way to seeing the American Dream open before him like the yawning chasm of the Grand Canyon as a songwriter, with a huge house in the 'burbs, model wife and almost more money than needed to block out the Manhattan skyline, it all soon crumbles as he loses his fractious partner Mort Shuman, his wife and home, so wallows in desperate poverty for a couple of decades surrounded by mobsters, crooks and junkies, running gambling rackets and vaguely trying to get back into the songwriting game, in the face of dwindling royalty cheques. With a happy ending, of sorts (of course) this colossal book, constructed on Doc's own journals and approved by friends and family, is one awesomely essential music book that belies as well as lives up to its title, presenting a seriously flawed, as ever, but, much rarer, a sympathetic and identifiable-with character that emerges with pride and respect, and also provides glimpses into the stories behind those songs that'll scar perspectives and pierce hearts, scarcer even still in music biographies.

- Stu Gibson

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