Success breeds access.
You think it’s about the money, but really it’s about the power. Get in range of those who control the country and you realize what you want most is a seat at the table.
Paul Anka got a seat at the table.
He sent me a personal note, referenced my back trouble, told me he lived in Vail for a while, hell, he also lived in Sun Valley, one of his daughters was a ski instructor, and when you get a handwritten note from someone who reaches out and is oh-so-personal and intimate face to face, you take action, I read the book.
Now you’ve got to realize, my consciousness began with the Beatles. Not completely. I knew “Puff The Magic Dragon,” my mother purchased “Big Girls Don’t Cry,” I was a huge Four Seasons fan, but I was too young to know much of what happened in the fifties and early sixties. Dion was already an oldies act, Frankie Lymon too, but Paul Anka had had hits and continued to do so.
So he grows up in Canada, Ottawa to be exact, not even Toronto, with immigrant parents, proving you can make it from anywhere, assuming you have the desire. Paul was sneaking out to gigs, lived to go to New York, and his ticket out was…
Anybody can sing. Isn’t that what “Idol” and “The Voice” are about?
But Paul could write. And contrary to the scuttlebutt, the gatekeepers know talent when they see it, Paul immediately got a deal, and went on the road on multi-act bus tours where he was tortured for being a punk adolescent and experienced racism firsthand. You don’t learn everything in books. I’m not telling you to give up reading, I’m just saying to leave the house, follow your passion, interact with the world. That’s one of the flaws of America, no one goes anywhere, or if they do they go somewhere comfortable. Too many Americans don’t have a passport and too many Americans pontificate about the red and blue states when they haven’t been to one or the other. And Paul went all over the world, Europe kept him alive when America did not, and credit goes to Irvin Feld, his manager, yup, the guy from the circus.
You see Feld made Anka mainstream when it looked like pop was fading, like the sun was setting on Anka’s career. He booked him at the Copa, and in Vegas.
Anka is infatuated with Vegas. The old Vegas, run by mobsters and peopled by the Rat Pack, Anka was a junior member.
There’s no one Anka didn’t meet. From Trump to Khashoggi. That’s what fame will get you, but you’ve got to make the most of it. That’s a skill Anka has, he’s not a reticent performer, he’s upbeat and intimate and you feel included, everybody wants to be included.
So, he writes the Carson theme, even writes Buddy Holly’s “It Doesn’t Matter Anymore” before that. People don’t know much about Anka, but he was there at the beginning and he’s still around. Hit with “Diana” back in ’57 and went to number one in with “(You’re) Having My Baby” in ’72. How many of today’s acts will accomplish that feat? Next to none.
And he kept his career alive by singing in Italian, by not stopping thinking about tomorrow, keeping his eyes open and his mouth working.
With the history of classic rock fading in the rearview mirror, the history of what happened before is almost forgotten. That’s the best part of the book, learning about the record business in the fifties. It was smaller, like tech twenty years ago, driven by personalities, from the ground up as opposed to the top down, a deejay in the hinterlands could break a record. And if you had a hit record it was ubiquitous, everybody knew it.
And Anka crossed paths with the Beatles, he seemed to know everybody.
But based on this book what he loved most was hanging with the stars he grew up with. Oh, he tells tales of Chuck Berry and his contemporaries, he likes to talk most about Frank, as in Sinatra, and Dean and Sammy and…
This was a different era. There were no cameras. Neither cellphone nor security. You could do almost anything, other than steal from your host casino, Frank got in trouble for that after ownership changed, after Vegas went corporate.
And Steve Wynn is a good friend and Anka opened a successful club but really, when you read the book, you marvel how Anka was not infatuated with his fame but his experiences. He liked the access, he liked the hanging, he liked to be part of it all. And still does!
Now I won’t say this is the most readable book. There’s a lot of repetition.
But I learned something, that…LIVING WELL IS THE BEST REVENGE!