Rising to the (physical) challenge

The man who wrote Save the Last Dance for Me spent most of his life on crutches.

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Doc Pomus could not dance. He was stricken with polio as a child and that Drifters hit came about after Pomus watched his wife dance with other men at the wedding of Drifters lead singer Ben E. King.

King heard about the story just prior to laying down his soulful vocal on Save the Last Dance for Me and fought back tears when he stood in front of the studio microphone.

Doc Pomus, real name Jerome Felder, defied the odds as a teen when he hobbled up to the stage at a club in Brooklyn and belted out the blues in the style of Big Joe Turner.

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The audience loved it, and soon Pomus was sharing the stage with jazz and blues legends.

Doc’s story is told in a wonderful biography, “Lonely Avenue,” by Alex Halberstadt. I’m only halfway through it but the book is well worth seeking out.

Esteemed rock critic Dave Marsh called it “possibly the best rock biography ever.”

High praise indeed.

Pomus recorded a few tunes but realized his true calling, songwriting, and found a partner in Mort Shuman.

Pomus’s struggles remind me of what my Dad went through. Joseph O’Mara had a neuromuscular disorder similar to MS, though not as severe. He lived to be 75.  Pomus died at the age of 65.

Mom says that even in the early days of their courtship, Dad walked a bit funny. By the time I was in my early teens, Dad’s awkwardness became more pronounced, to the point where a childhood friend wondered if Dad was drunk.

HIDING THE TRUTH

Sadly, Joe O’Mara never disclosed his disability to his employers and I don’t doubt his co-workers at various insurance companies suspected Joe was having a few drinks at lunch.

Dad only drank wine during holiday meals and restaurant dinners. That was it.

It wasn’t until the last firm cut him loose at the age of 53, a year younger than I am now, that Mom convinced Dad to admit he’d spent decades being treated by a neurologist.

WHAT COULD HAVE BEEN

Dad was able to get the proper benefits as a result of that disclosure (Mom had worked in the benefits department of Canada Permanent…later The Permanent, and eventually bought by Canada Trust).

Had it not been for the illness, I’m sure Dad would have become a manager or even partner in that insurance company, rather than a claims adjuster.

He had the intellect, and would have made a great lawyer.

Jerome Felder/Doc Pomus and Joseph O’Mara overcame their disabilities the best they could.

Thanfully, I have never exhibited any symptoms of Dad’s disease. I can still whack a tennis ball and there’s nothing wrong with my balance or coordination.

But I salute both men for succeeding when they odds were against them, and inspiring me, and all of us.

 

About johnnymaraca

host of Johnny Maraca's Rock & Roll Riot, the rockingest show on the radio. 60 years of rockin' rhythm and blues, from the late '40s pioneers like Louis Jordan to Elvis, Chuck Berry, CCR, Stray Cats, Ramones and tons more. Friday and Saturday nights at 7 on 97.7 the Beach, listen live at http://977thebeach.ca, and WRSG in Middlebourne, West Virginia, Tuesdays 6-8 pm.
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