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the maurice zone
Pompitous - what the hell's "Pompitous" mean?
|"Pompitous" mystified millions when Steve Miller
used it in his 1973 hit "The Joker": "Some people call me the space
cowboy. / Yeah! Some call me the gangster of love. / Some people call me
Maurice, / Cause I speak of the Pompitous of love."
"Space cowboy" and "gangster of love" referred to earlier Miller songs. Maurice was from Miller's 1972 tune "Enter Maurice," which appeared on the album "Recall the Beginning ... A Journey From Eden."
"Enter Maurice" had this lyric: "My Dearest Darling, come closer to Maurice so I can whisper / sweet words of epismetology in your ear and speak to you of / the pompitous of love."
Great, now we have two mystery words to track down... What's more, it appeared even Miller himself was uncertain how pompitous was spelled. It appeared as "pompatus" in at least two books of sheet music but as "pompitous" in the lyrics included with "Recall the Beginning."
Miller has said little about the P-word over the years. In at least one interview, fans say, he claimed, "It doesn't mean anything - it's just jive talk." Not quite what researches show. Some sharp-eared music fan noticed the "Enter Maurice" lyric above bore a marked resemblance to some lines in a rhythm and blues tune called "The Letter" by the Medallions. The song had been a hit in R & B circles in 1954.
If you can hunt down a recording of "The Letter", you'll hear the lines: "Oh my darling, let me whisper sweet words of [something like epismetology] and discuss the [something like pompatus] of love."
Jon Cryer, the actor, co-writer, and co-producer of the 1990s movie Pompatus of Love, stumbled onto the secret of pompatus or pompitous. Speculation about "pompatus" was a recurring motif in the script for The Pompatus of Love. While the movie was in postproduction Cryer heard about "The Letter." Eager to reveal his discovery to the world, he said, while giving a TV interview, that the song had been written and sung by a member of the Medallions named Vernon Green. Green, still very much alive, was dozing in front of the tube when the mention of his own name alerted his attention. He immediately contacted Jon Cryer.
Vernon Green had never heard "The Joker." Cryer says that when he played it for Green, "He laughed his ass off."
"You have to remember, I was a very lonely guy at the time," Green told Cryer. "I was only 14 years old, I had just run away from home, and I walked with crutches." The young man scraped by singing songs on the streets of Watts. One song was "The Letter," Green's attempt to conjure up his dream woman. The mystery words, J.C. ascertained after talking with Green, were "puppetutes" and "pizmotality." (Green wasn't much for writing things down, so the spellings are approximate.)
" 'Pizmotality' described words of such secrecy that they could only be spoken to the one you loved," Green told Cryer. And puppetutes? "A term I coined to mean a secret paper-doll fantasy figure [thus puppet], who would be my everything and bear my children." Not a really liberated concept - but look, it was 1954.
"Puppetutes" is what Steve Miller heard as "pompatus" or "pompitous." In other words, one of the great mystery lyrics of our time was actually a word its author had misunderstood himself. Steve Miller must have loved R & B. Another line from "The Joker" goes "I really love your peaches, wanna shake your tree. / Lovey dovey, lovey dovey, lovey dovey all the time."
A similar line may be found in the Clovers' 1953 hit "Lovey Dovey": "I really love your peaches wanna shake your tree / Lovey dovey, lovey dovey all the time."
Miller's publicist Jim Welch has said little about these remarkable coincidences; he said Miller's comment was "artistic license." Pressed a bit, Welch said Miller acknowledged that he'd been "influenced" by earlier artists. Not perhaps the most forthcoming statement in the world, but at least we now know it didn't come to him in a dream.
Vernon Green and the Medallions (Billy Foster, Jimmy Green and Joe Williams) in front of LA's Orpheum Theatre in 1959
The Medallions were one of many young vocal groups on the now legendary Los Angeles scene during the 50's. And whilst lead vocalist Green may not have had the stunning voice of some of his contemporaries like Arthur Lee Maye, the group's efforts for the local Dootone label have great charm and have withstood the test of time. Best known for "The Letter" and "Buick 59", The Medallions were the first doo-wop group to record for Dootone Records. Their first release, "Buick 69," (based on Todd Rhodes' double-entendre R&B hit "Rocket 69"), backed with a ballad called "The Letter," was a double-sided West Coast hit.
Green, who was partly crippled from polio, formed the group with Randolph Bryant, Andrew Blue and Ira Foley. They were spotted by Dootone owner Dootsie Williams who was drawn to the 16 year-old Green's "bluesy quality".
Shortly after performing at the Doo-Wop Society's "Tribute to Hunter Hancock" show on March 4, 2000, Vernon Green suffered a debilitating stroke and never recovered. He died on Christmas Eve, 2000. His brother Jimmy Green and Billy Foster have continued The Medallions without him. It is hoped that this site will allow his memory to receive the credit he deserves.
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Two formats of The Steve Miller Band performing The Joker for download (if you are not sure which will play, choose the AVI format, which is OK for most computers).
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The Joker (3:30)
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The Joker - Steve Miller (1973)
Some people call me the space cowboy, yeah
"The Joker" album credits:
Gene Hicks: Assistant Engineer, Mixing, Mixing Assistant
John Hoernle: Art Direction
Gerald Johnson: Bass
John King: Drums
Sneaky Pete Kleinow: Pedal Steel
Greg MacCarthy: Engineer
Steve Miller: Guitar, Harmonica, Vocals, Producer
Jay Ranellucci: Engineer, Mixing
Norman Seeff: Design, Photography
Dicky Thompson: Organ, Keyboards, Clavinet
Lonnie Turner: Bass, Guitar
John Van Hamersveld: Design
Larry Walsh: Digital Remastering
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