Doing It His Way
Since his teen-idol days in the 1950s, Paul Anka has been setting—and defying—the musical trends.
From the Print Edition:
Arnold Schwarzenegger, Summer 96
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If he'd been the best-looking kid in school, the tallest or the most popular, Anka acknowledges that he might not have been as driven to succeed, that he might not have been capable of writing the lost-soul love songs like "Lonely Boy" and "Diana" that touched so many teenage hearts, songs that spoke to all those other kids who would never look good in tight pants, who would never get the girl of their dreams.
"Listen, when you don't have all those other things, you have no choice but to be sure of yourself. I mean, I wasn't selling glamour,'' Anka says. " So I took the weaknesses and made them work for me. Some people take their shortcomings and they make them their strengths. And when it all happened for me at 16, it just gave me more confidence. It let me know that I was right, that I'd been right all along. So everything else didn't matter.
"I believe in luck and I believe in timing. When a kid gets up there and sings, 'I'm Just A Lonely Boy,' do you know how many lonely boys are out there, sitting in their bedrooms at night, thinking about the girl who would not go to the prom with them? So I was the guy they identified with. And the honesty of those records just breaks through."
He had five Top-20 hits before he turned 18. One of them--"Puppy Love"--was written for Funicello. They were, for a while, America's perfect teen couple. He also wrote a song for her called "It's Really Love" that, years later and stripped of its lyrics, became the "Tonight Show" theme. Funicello, always a reluctant pop icon, wanted nothing more than to marry Anka and start a family. But he was not ready to give up the road. There were, as he says, "too many mountains to climb."
But in the early '60s, the pop culture tidal wave caused by The Beatles changed the face of pop music forever. Suddenly, everyone wanted British accents, long hair, groups. The pompadoured crooners of the '50s were no longer fashionable. Some of them panicked and tried to jump on a bandwagon they didn't understand. Most them disappeared. But not Anka.
"You always have to have the hunger," he says, explaining why he survived when so many others did not. "When the Beatles invasion came, I went on to something else. I wrote the theme for The Longest Day [the 1962 war epic, for which he received an Academy Award nomination]. And I started working the nightclub circuit, because that was all there was. I had faith in myself, and if you stay true to yourself, you'll always do all right. But if you panic, you've lost it."
He was one of the first pop singers to play Las Vegas showrooms--years before Elvis. He focused on songwriting and spent more time in Europe and Asia, places where his appeal never waned. "So what if I wasn't in the Top 10 anymore?" he says. "I was working Las Vegas for three weeks at a time, hanging out with Frank Sinatra, earning more money than when I had hit records. My voice was getting better, I was headlining in all these countries and I realized, if I keep focused, this is just going to get better. I'm a better singer and I know I can write better songs."
He lived in Italy for a few years and spent extensive time in France and England, a citizen of the world. In 1963, he married Parisian model Anne de Zogheb in a lavish ceremony at Paris' Orly Airport. They have five daughters--Amelia, Anthea, Alicia, Amanda and Alexandra, ranging in age from 19 to 29--and a relationship that has lasted almost as long as Anka's career, something he does not take for granted.
"You know, my grandmother used to say, 'While I'm down here planning, God's up there laughing,' " Anka says, unsure if he can explain why his career and marriage have enjoyed such longevity. "I guess the thing with most things that are worthwhile is that you can't give up easily. You've got to hang in."
It was during his time in Europe that Anka developed an appreciation for wine, cigars and long, luxurious meals. Bruno Coquatrix, who owned the Olympia theatre in Paris, introduced him to all three. "I was 18, 19 years old and Bruno was one of those great Damon Runyon-like figures of France. He knew the best of everything and he always had a cigar in his mouth.
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