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Rear View Mirror: Steve Miller's "Pompatus" of Love
By
Alex Redekop

Published

July 4, 2016

Genre

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Each week on Rear-view Mirror, Rich Terfry and the Radio 2 team look back at a great song from the good ol’ days. Today, Talia Schlanger steps in for a story about Steve Miller Band's "The Joker".

For most people, love is a great mystery. For anyone who has listened to Steve Miller's "The Joker," the real mystery is - what is a pompatus of love...

Talia Schlanger
Rear View Mirror: Steve Miller's "The Joker"

Talia Schlanger gives you the story behind the fake word "pompatus".

Audio

When Steve Miller first released "The Joker" in 1973, you could practically hear the needle scratch on records across North America - what did Steve Miller just say?

The propethus of love… the impetus of love… the pompadour of love? Nope. He said "pompatus." And it's not the first time Miller used that non-word word in a song. The year before, in 1972, his record Recall the Beginning… A Journey From Eden featured the tune "Enter Maurice," with 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 pompatus of love."

Yep, definitely saying pompatus. But what does it mean?! The word mystified millions. It sparked heated debated in dive bars. It sparked articles in music magazines. It even sparked a movie - 1995’s The Pompatus of Love, where for a full hour and 39 minutes, four dudes sit around drinking beer and talking, trying to figure out the meaning of the Steve Miller lyric "the pompatus of love"... and really - the meaning of love itself.

The Pompatus of Love - a film about the mystery of the pompatus. A mystery that the film’s writer and star Jon Cryer only started to crack once his movie was in the can.

Cryer was listening to an old 50s doo-wop record by the band the Medallions, when he heard this lyric: "Oh my darling, let me whisper sweet words of pizmotality and discuss the puppetutes of love."

Cryer thought to himself - wait a minute… That sounds an awful lot like "pompatus of love." Cryer mentioned the coincidence during a big TV interview and said the song had been written by the Medallions' Vernon Green. Well, wouldn't you know, that day Cryer's phone rang. It was Vernon Green. He saw Cryer on TV that day. He had never heard of "The Joker" by Steve Miller, but he did offer up an explanation on what he meant by the pupettutes of love.

Green had polio when he was a kid. And he would fantasize about his dream woman. She wouldn’t care that he needed to walk with a cane. She was a paper doll fantasy - a puppet. The puppetute of his love. Now, it's no secret that Steve Miller listened to a lot of 50s doo-wop. But did he borrow the "pupettutes of love" from the Medallions and turn it into the "pompatus of love"? Vernon Green and Jon Cryer say absolutely. Miller's publicist says you can chalk it up to coincidence or artistic license. Steve Miller himself would never say.

Here's "The Joker," on Rear View Mirror.

More Editions of Rear View Mirror:

Ian & Sylvia - "Four Strong Winds"

Darrell Banks - "Open the Door to Your Heart"