Lonely Avenue: The Unlikely Life and Times of Doc Pomus


One of the most original, influential, and commercially successful American songwriters, Doc Pomus (1927-1991) was a role model for several generations of composers, renowned for his mastery of virtually every popular style, and for the numerous hits he wrote during rock ’n’ roll’s first decade. But despite his successes, few knew that this writer of jukebox hits led one of the most dramatic lives of his time. Spanning the extremes between extravagant wealth and desperate poverty, suburban family life and the ...
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Lonely Avenue: The Unlikely Life and Times of Doc Pomus

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One of the most original, influential, and commercially successful American songwriters, Doc Pomus (1927-1991) was a role model for several generations of composers, renowned for his mastery of virtually every popular style, and for the numerous hits he wrote during rock ’n’ roll’s first decade. But despite his successes, few knew that this writer of jukebox hits led one of the most dramatic lives of his time. Spanning the extremes between extravagant wealth and desperate poverty, suburban family life and the depths of New York’s underworld, enduring love and persistent loneliness, and touching on more than a half-century of American popular music, Lonely Avenue reveals with novelistic flair the whole of Doc’s experience-one of the great untold American stories.
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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

Boston Globe, 10/26/14

“How one great artist converts feelings—love, jealousy, worry, willfulness—into a great song, resonates through Alex Halberstadt’s Lonely Avenue.”

New York Times Book Review
Vividly links the melancholy and yearning in [Pomus's] songs with Pomus's own personal and professional frustrations while never overplaying.
Cleveland Scene
This comprehensive bio . . . probes Pomus' personal life-which wasn't exactly an open songbook.
New York Sun
[Halberstadt] weaves . . . a seamless narrative that reads more like fiction than musical biography.
Alan Light
Halberstadt, a freelance writer, never met Pomus, but he vividly links the melancholy and yearning in these songs with Pomus’s own personal and professional frustrations while never overplaying his hand.
— The New York Times
Boston Phoenix
Anything but depressing. Halberstadt's re-creation of period detail is rich.
Gives us the name, the face and the life of a singular talent, one whose magic moment endures.
Publishers Weekly

One of America's most popular songwriters was Jerome Felder, better known as "Doc Pomus." For decades he wrote big hits ("Save the Last Dance for Me," "This Magic Moment," "A Teenager in Love") for such artists as Dion, Fabian, the Drifters, Elvis and Dr. John. Pomus (1925–1991) himself was more of a blues story than anything he could have written. Halberstadt, who writes on music and pop culture, can be awkward writing about Pomus's intimate life, although he definitely knows his music history. The son in a New York working-class Jewish family, Pomus contracted polio when he was seven and lost the use of his legs. From then on, his life was all about music; he started bands, wrote music and promoted artists until the day he died. Halberstadt's understanding of how Jewish and African-American "hipster" subcultures fit together in the music world is particularly sharp. He takes readers to 1940s nightclubs where Pomus was the only white man around; hotel lobbies where Pomus spent afternoons listening for "the random brilliance of overheard speech"; and Pomus's hotel room when Bob Dylan came calling. This strangely affecting biography follows a straight chronology, including wonderful excerpts from Pomus's own diaries and a great selection of rarely seen photos. (Mar.)

Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
This riveting biography of American songwriter Doc Pomus (1927-91), who penned such hits as "Save the Last Dance for Me" and "Viva Las Vegas," is also a rich portrayal of a bygone era in popular music. Halberstadt, whose byline has appeared in the New York Times and the Washington Post, traces Pomus from his youth as a white blues singer through his successful songwriting career in the emerging rock'n'roll scene. With the cooperation of his subject's family and friends and full access to his journals and archives, Halberstadt chronicles Pomus's struggles in the topsy-turvy world of song and recording deals, the breakup of his marriage to Broadway's Wilma Burke, his songwriting relationship with Mort Shuman, the lifelong repercussions of his childhood polio, and the wide swings between poverty and affluence that led to an interlude in the shady world of professional poker. The famous names in Pomus's life are deftly woven into the narrative and include everyone from Phil Spector to Bette Midler. Halberstadt does a masterful job of portraying Pomus as the intriguing, talented, sometimes outrageous, and always unforgettable man he was. Enthusiastically recommended for larger performing arts collections. Carol J. Binkowski, Bloomfield, NJ Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Chang traces the life of the visionary scientist Tsien Hsue- shen, born in China in 1911 and educated at the best US universities, who pioneered the US space program until accused of communism and deported to China. There he revolutionized the missile program that eventually produced the Silkworm, the Chinese missile now sold to countries in conflict with the US, and which menaced US forces during the war against Iraq. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
Kirkus Reviews
The colorful career of a songwriting master gets woeful treatment. The saga of Brill Building-era songsmith Doc Pomus received a superior short-form recounting in Ken Emerson's 2005 book Always Magic in the Air; this tome, which appears to owe a great deal to Emerson's research, presents Pomus' story in full-length, infuriatingly "novelistic" style. Born in Brooklyn's Williamsburg neighborhood, Jerome Felder was crippled by polio at the age of six; as a teen, he immersed himself in black New York's R&B and jazz nightlife, and, under the pseudonym Doc Pomus, he forged a career as a Big Joe Turner-styled blues shouter. He went on to pen hits for Turner and Ray Charles; in partnership with young collaborator Mort Shuman, he authored huge successes for talents as diverse as the Drifters, Dion, Elvis Presley and Andy Williams. Halberstadt's narrative bogs down in the mid-'60s, when Pomus' career collapsed after a divorce, his split with Shuman and the demise of Tin Pan Alley's publishing empire following the arrival of Bob Dylan and other singer-songwriters. The story doesn't regain momentum until its latter stages, when Pomus, after a hard-knocks decade as a professional gambler, returned to eminence co-writing with Dr. John. (Pomus died in 1991.) Halberstadt slathers on the color and presumes to know his subject's interior life, but the work feels under-reported and emotionally untrue, and he evinces precious little understanding of what made the music tick. Worse, the book is clotted with factual and chronological errors: For instance, Pomus is depicted listening to Billie Holiday's album Lady in Satin in 1957, a year before its release. And one hopes the publisher corrects the frequentmisspellings of songwriting giant Jerry Leiber's name. Most annoyingly, Pomus' own voice is largely absent; known as a hipster's hipster and a Rabelaisian storyteller, he is heard only in a few fascinating journal excerpts. The real Pomus takes a back seat to Halberstadt's lugubrious, wannabe-hip prose and bogus interior monologizing. Doc Pomus will always be cool; this book is a drag.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780306815645
  • Publisher: Da Capo Press
  • Publication date: 2/25/2008
  • Pages: 272
  • Sales rank: 734,102
  • Product dimensions: 5.30 (w) x 8.10 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Alex Halberstadt’s writing has appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post, GQ, Los Angeles Times, Salon, the Oxford American, and elsewhere. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.
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Table of Contents

Introductory Note   Peter Guralnick     xiii
George's, 1943     1
A Teenager in Love     5
Young Blood     33
Save the Last Dance for Me     57
This Magic Moment     99
The Real Me     163
Afterword     227
Discographical Note     229
A Note on Sources and Acknowledgments     231
Credits     235
Index     239
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