When I saw this year’s the line-up for the ReelAbilities film festival, there was only one film I really wanted to see. The film was called Aka Doc Pomus—a documentary about a Jewish boy with Polio from Brooklyn who made an indelible mark on music history (writing such timeless classics as “Save the Last Dance for Me,” “This Magic Moment,” “Viva Las Vegas”) and who is largely an invisible legend today. Like me, you might not have seen or heard of him, but you probably have heard him through his popular songs.
I love Doc’s story and this film, not only because it centers on a person with a disability (I, myself, have Cerebral Palsy) or because I love music, but because it is a prime example of what happens when we overcome our circumstances and every expectation (even our own).
It shows that we all have a purpose, that the underdog can overcome all things and make a difference, that anything is, indeed, possible.
When I saw the trailer, I just knew I would love the film and Doc Pomus but had no idea how much I would love his lovely and emotionally generous family (whom I got to meet after the film’s Q&A at ReelAbilities). They were so gracious with all of Doc’s very vocal fans and even drove me home the night we met.
Back at the screening in March, I knew I wanted to share this extraordinary film with Positively Positive but thought: Who better to speak about the film and its complex protagonist than his own daughter, Sharyn Felder?
THE Sharyn Felder kindly sat down to a Q&A with me.
Xian Horn (XH): For those who have not yet seen the film, can you tell us a bit about your dad?
Sharyn Felder (SF): My dad Doc Pomus (born Jerome Solon Felder in Williamsburg, Brooklyn) is best known as a Brill Building era songwriter who is in the Songwriters Hall of Fame and The Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame, who wrote probably over a 1,000 songs—with songs recorded by everyone from Elvis Presley to Bruce Springsteen. A few of his best known songs are “Save the Last Dance for Me,” “Viva Las Vegas,” “This Magic Moment,” and “Teenager in Love,” to name a very few. Something people may not know about him is that he contracted polio at age six, which left his legs completely paralyzed for the entirety of his life.
XH: It’s easy to see that your dad has a powerful story that should be shared. But, for you personally, why was it important to get this film made?
SF: From the time I was a small child, I knew that my father’s life was highly unique on many levels…more so than many fictional characters…you could not invent him. As an adult, especially after he passed away, I was committed to getting his story out there…I felt he could inspire many people who face great challenges. I wanted the world to know about this very talented, one-of-a-kind survivor whom I was lucky enough to call my dad.
XH: How long did it take to make this film? Did you learn anything about your father from the process of film making?
SF: I began making this film in my apartment over ten years ago. The first interviews I shot were with Lou Reed (whom I later asked to read my dad’s journal in the film), the great jazz legend and dear friend Little Jimmy Scott, and my father’s best friend, record producer Joel Dorn. Eventually, I joined forces with a very talented group of people—Will Hechter, Pater Miller, and Amy Linton—and, together, we created this film. I am continually inspired by and still feel connected to my father. The process of making the film and now having the film out there in the world keeps him close to me.
XH: When we first met, you mentioned there was ten hours of footage left out of the film. What are we missing?
SF: There are actually far more than ten hours of footage that we were not able to use…As in most films, so many great scenes and raw footage had to be tossed out in order to make the story work. Hopefully, there will be bonus material in the DVD! Also, I shot an entire concert called “Hal Willners’ Doc Pomus Project” that was part of a Celebrate Brooklyn Concert that I was going to use in my original concept of the movie, but which we did not end up using in our film.
XH: I learned so much about some of my all-time favorite songs and about the remarkable man behind them. What do you hope people learn about your dad?
SF: I hope people see that a highly original individual can survive and thrive in society. Also, that one can overcome adversity, and I also hope that a new generation of people learn and appreciate his catalogue of truly wonderful songs. I also hope people discover lesser-known songs [of his] that are gems as well.
XH: For me, the film was so powerful because it is truly a story about overcoming adversity and making the most of our gifts. What do think this film says to those who are going through trials or may be doubting their place in the world?
SF: This is a great question, Xian. I hope people who are going through difficulties in life, whatever they may be…feel inspired by my dad. He overcame many odds. He wanted to be thought of as the songwriter who happened to be “disabled,” not the “disabled” songwriter. That distinction was very important to him. My father often said it best through his lyrics. One song in particular that deals with overcoming is “There Is Always One More Time” recorded by Ray Charles, Harry Connick Jr., and Johnny Adams, and others. Here are a few lines off the top of my head.
“If your whole life somehow, wasn’t much till now,
And you’ve almost lost your will to live…
No matter what you’ve been through, long as there’s breath in you,
There is always one more time…
Turning corners is only a state of mind…keeping your eyes closed is worse than being blind…”
He also says in the film, “As long as you are out there breathing, there is a place for you…You have to push and shove to find that place…Some mornings, you’re going to wake up, and the world owns you; other mornings, you are going to wake up, and you own the world!”
XH: Despite his success, the film does a really good job of humanizing your father. Do you think he was a role model and in what sense?
SF: I think my dad was a role model for many types of people. He nurtured a cross section of people, from aspiring songwriters, singers, and writers, able-bodied as well as disabled. Robin Lerner (songwriter of “This Kiss”) says in our film that he was “their Buddha, their guru.” He was also very down to earth and accessible. Success never went to his head. He was always accessible to anyone. He always kept his number listed in the telephone book.
XH: Your father means a lot to dreamers, music lovers, and people with disabilities. What do you think your dad would say is his legacy?
SF: My father was a dreamer…He wanted to be the first heavyweight boxing champion on braces and crutches. Many of his dreams became realities…
He would be happy to know that he touched so many people and even played a significant role in their lives because of his songs. I think my dad would have loved to know that he is in the Songwriters Hall of Fame and that he is thought of as one of the great songwriters. He also wanted to be thought of as a man among men and a good father, brother, friend…and he was all of those things!
XH: You’re an amazing woman in your own right! What influence did your father and his music have on you? What advice might you give someone who is trying to stay Positively Positive?
SF: Thank you, Xian, for giving me this opportunity to talk to Positively Positive about my dad. The best advice I can give your readers is the simple, but true, words my father used to say to me in regards to tackling new projects of any kind: “Of course you can do it…get out there in the world, and just do it…” I try to follow that simple but profound advice.
Many thanks to the beautiful Sharyn Felder for sharing her wisdom and heart with Positively Positive.
When I saw this film earlier this year, all I wanted to do was see it again and again and prayed that the world would get to see it, too.
Now, with a theatrical release October 4th in NYC and October 11th in L.A. and numerous other screenings throughout the globe, the world has its chance!
To find screenings near you, visit: http://akadocpomus.com/screenings/
Xian Horn is a joyful half-Asian woman with Cerebral Palsy, serving as writer, mentor, and positivity activist. A member of an international network of extraordinary women, 85 Broads, she was heralded by founder Janet Hanson as an “amazing role model for all women.” With her personal stories and ongoing mentoring work, Xian is invested in contributing positively to self-esteem and the collective self-image, especially for women. To support her True Beauty efforts for people with disabilities, please join her Facebook community and follow her on Twitter.