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Doing It His Way

Since his teen-idol days in the 1950s, Paul Anka has been setting—and defying—the musical trends.
Joe Rhodes
From the Print Edition:
Arnold Schwarzenegger, Summer 96

(continued from page 3)

"Bruno really introduced me to that joie de vivre. He took me under his wing and I remember every fine restaurant he would take me to, every vineyard, every wine bottle that he sent back because he didn't like the taste. He was the one who introduced me to cigars, a Montecristo after every meal. He was my idol, this cat. He just loved life. And we all loved him."

Because he was so focused on his career, afraid to do anything that might damage his throat, Anka neither smoked nor drank before he met Coquatrix. "But he taught me that cigars are pure, not like cigarettes at all. Once you realize the process of what goes into a cigar, you realize it's not going to hurt you. And with the best wine, you'll never get a headache."

Consequently, Anka will not compromise when it comes to wines or cigars. "I'll do a Jamaican or a Dominican now and then," he says, "but I've been into the Cuban thing for years and I pretty much stay with that. I'm used to the taste and there's no reason to jump all over the place, unless you're experimenting.

"After lunch, with coffee, I may smoke a Partagas. And at night a Cohiba. I used to smoke Montecristos a lot, and I still like them. But I jumped over to Cohibas. I love smoking when I'm in the studio," he says. "When I'm in the studio this week [working on the Spanish-language duet album], I'll pass cigars out to everybody. Most of these guys have never had a Cuban cigar in their life and there's a calmness that comes over everything when everyone lights up. The cigar really becomes like a friend, especially when I'm creating.

"It's definitely a bond, especially with people who are not used to smoking them. You're giving them a special kind of treat and it's a confirmation that, in a sense, we're all on the same level. I don't do it all the time, but when I do it's a special moment.

"Last week we were working in Miami, and I took everybody to a place called Diego's. I ordered a $300 bottle of Lafite Rothschild and gave out cigars at the end of the meal. And it was amazing when we went back to work that night, the reinstillment of energy."

Anka takes a long draw on his Cohiba, taking a moment to appreciate his success. He is proud of his home, his paintings, his terrace with the white grand piano. He is especially proud of his wine collection, hundreds of rare and exotic vintages--everything from a 1918 Château Haut-Brion Bordeaux to a 1934 Lafite Rothschild to large caches of Pétrus and Château Montrose.

"We're a young country," he says, pleased that the pleasures he's enjoyed for so many years in Europe are finally taking hold in North America. "When we discover certain aspects of other places, we run with it. And it's great. It's time. We're becoming more sophisticated and more discerning.

"If somebody gives me a cigar that I don't like, that's been bruised up or isn't soft enough, I turn it down. Same with the wine. I've always said, if you're going to drink, drink the best; and if you're going to smoke, smoke the best. People should enjoy good things."

During one of his visits to France, in 1968, Anka heard a French rock song on the radio called "Come d' Habitude." "The lyrics were very French in nature," he says, "you know, 'I get up in the morning, I drink the coffee, your armpit smells, but I love you,' something like that. But there was something in the tune that I liked. I had a pretty successful music publishing operation in France and I asked my partner about this song, told him I wanted to buy it. He said, 'You want it, take it.' As simple as that. I mean, we weren't buying the pyramids here."

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