Back in the Clubs with Doc

Book: Lonely Avenue: The Unlikely Life & Times of Doc Pomus — Jerome Felder, aka Doc Pomus, is best known for writing such indelible songs as “Save The Last Dance For Me,” “This Magic Moment,” “Little Sister,” and “Suspicion.” “Viva Las Vegas” was the 1958 hit for Ray Charles’ “Lonely Avenue,” which is the title of this column.

Pomus wrote quite a few more, many of them with his collaborator Mort Shuman. I was privileged to have met him during my years in New York City and attended one of his legendary birthday parties (where I met R&B legend Big Joe Turner, a big moment for me).

But one of my true regrets was not getting to know him further, as I often saw Doc out at music clubs, sitting in his wheelchair enjoying the sounds. Especially after reading this superior biography, one of the best musical artist bios ever written. Author Alex Halberstadt writes with evocative grace, style and eloquence about a man who was stricken with polio as a child yet overcame it to, first, become the rarity of a white crippled Jew who forged a credible career in the New York area as an R&B singer in Black nightclubs and later became one of the finest songwriting talents in popular music.

With his raw, gravelly voice, unstinting directness, piercing gaze and ursine build, Pomus was a true Damon Runyon character whose life was lived in everywhere from the colorful New York underworld to the top of the pops. He was the sort of character and creative genius one simply doesn’t find anymore.

His life is as compelling and engaging a story as I’ve encountered.

Book: Scorsese on Scorsese — I’d have to rate Martin Scorsese as my favorite movie director, and I also refer to him as my film teacher due to what I’ve learned from his movies, articles about him and other sources regarding the art and craft of cinema. Hence this collection of essays about his career and films he made and others he has seen and loved is essential reading for any film buff. My only complaint is that it ends with Good Fellas, and can only hope that someday another volume follows it.

Film: Casino – After reading the above book, I spotted this Scorsese movie on my cable On Demand service and immediately went to watch it yet again (I also own a copy). A friend agreed that it might be one of his most underrated films.

I watched it this time through to just note and enjoy his masterful camera work, already knowing the story, reveling in how he frames shots and uses tracking and other techniques to stunning effect.

But what also struck me was how he wonderfully utilizes music as an adjunct to the story, scenes and characters as well and interwove narration by its two main characters to tell the tale.

One of the rewards of knowing films well after multiple viewings is how the best directors use the elements of filmmaking to create a movie experience, and this one, like all of Scorsese’s works, is like a master class in the possibilities of cinema.

Rob Patterson is an entertainment and political writer in Austin, Texas. Email orca@prismnet.com.

From The Progressive Populist, October 15, 2011


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