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Could there be anyone that leads a more charmed life than Paul Anka? Imagine waking up one morning and discovering that you're a few million dollars richer because an obscure song you wrote 25 years has been chosen by the estate of Michael Jackson to be the first 'new' song released since the singer's death three months ago.
The song, "This is It," which was released earlier this month to promote a documentary the Jackson family is making about Michael, was a collaboration between Anka and Jackson in 1983 for an album of duets that never materialized. Originally titled "I Never Heard," the song appeared on an early 1990s record by a singer named Sa-Fire with a co-authored credit for Anka and Jackson.
When the string-drenched ballad was released on Jackson's Web site and sent to radio stations, there was no credit given to Anka, the performer of '50s hits like "Diana" and "You Are My Destiny" and the writer of dozens of numbers, including "My Way" and the "Theme to the Tonight Show." However, once representatives of the 68-year-old pop music legend contacted Jackson's estate, they acknowledged Anka's work in a prepared statement and announced that as a co-writer, he would receive 50% of the song's proceeds.
"They did the right thing," Anka told reporters following the announcement. "I don't think that anybody tried to do the wrong thing. It was an honest mistake."
Although he could afford to be so conciliatory given the potential payday as a result of the fortunate mistake, the tone and philosophy offered by Anka may reflect his own long-standing outlook on life of sincerity and straightforwardness. Unaware of the hoopla that was going to take place, a serene Anka spoke to The Jerusalem Post from his Los Angeles office only a day before the song was released and he was inadvertently thrust back into the once-familiar pop spotlight where he once resided, but has only sporadically visited in recent years.
A pop star at 16 who was past his prime by age 23, Anka has proven to be a survivor in a business that tends to chew up stars and spit them out. Diversification and dedication have been the keys to his ongoing success, which has included a slew of hits in the 1970s, such as "She's a Lady" for Tom Jones and his own Top 10 hit "Having My Baby," a permanent second home on Las Vegas stages. More recently, he has mentored crooner Michael Buble and reinterpreted modern rock tracks on his recent album Rock Swings. He's also continued to tour regularly, packing in audiences around the world, an aspect to his career that he deems most important.
"My flag isn't in the mountain yet; I still have creative juices flowing. You never stop having to prove things to yourself," he said. "Today it's all about performances, the whole record aspect of music is a dying thing. You really need to put asses in the seats, and to do that you need to continually get out there and perform, and get a sense of your relationship with the audience."
ANKA'S RELATIONSHIP with Israel is presumably solid, having forever won a warm spot in the hearts of Israelis after two of his early songs - "You Are My Destiny" and "Crazy Love" were featured in the iconic Lemon Popsicle film series. But it's only now, on November 19 at Tel Aviv's Nokia Arena, that Anka will finally give his first concert in Israel.
"I've known about the Lemon Popsicle series and how that created a fan base for me in Israel years ago," said Anka, explaining that there hasn't been any particular obstacle that kept him from making his first trip here earlier.
"I'm good friends with [film mogul] Haim Saban and [businessman] Yitzhak Yehoshua," he said. "They've certainly kept me aware of what's going on in the country. But it's always been something; logistical obstacles, or tax levies, or scheduling difficulties - of not being able to fit it in. I'm very loyal to the people who work for me - there's 26 of them - and it's a necessity to have things done a certain way when we travel, or we don't do it. Now that everything is a go, and it's finally my first time to be coming to Israel, I'm very excited."
Excitement has gone hand in hand with Anka since he took off from his home in Ottawa, Canada in 1957 for New York City, intent on making it as a singer. However, the son of Lebanese immigrants first tapped potential talent in the field of journalism.
When I was a teenager, I started working at a local newspaper, the Ottawa Citizen. And I realized I had a talent for writing, especially short stories. I wasn't a great student, though, and got thrown out of my shorthand class at school because I hated it," said Anka.
But fifth period at Anka's school was music, and there he excelled, writing his first song, "I Confess," at 14. Within two years, he was in New York auditioning before ABC Records, performing an upbeat love song called "Diana" that he had written for an older girl at his church whom he hardly knew.
"I was just inspired to write about her, and at that point something clicked and the passion and fire started inside me," said Anka. "Pop music was just in its infancy, and not as sophisticated and driven like it is today in the technological age. There was no Myspace or Itunes, and I realized I had to go to New York to have my music heard. I just got lucky."
Anka quickly emerged a teen pop idol along with other G-rated pompadoured crooners like Rick Nelson, Frankie Lymon, Bobby Darin and Bobby Rydell. For the teenage singer, it was a heady time that tested his moral compass.
"Your life changes drastically, so you need to go back to what's the foundation of your life, what's important to most people. For me, it was the great upbringing I had from my parents," he said, adding that taking on manager Irving Feld was the smartest move he ever made.
Only two years earlier, Feld had kicked Anka out of a rock & roll revue show in Ottowa featuring Fats Domino and Chuck Berry, when the youngster had attempted to get backstage for autographs.
"I lived with Irving and he was my guardian and mentor. He looked after me and kept me on the straight and narrow. I was around the whole scene like with Frankie Lymon [the troubled singer who died of a heroin overdose at 25 in 1968] and the drug dealers and all that crap. You make a decision and come to a realization that every action has a consequence," said Anka.
"Then later, when you wind up being exposed to the Mafia and the Rat Pack, and you quickly learn what to do and what no to do - it taught me to keep my nose clean," he added, referring to his friendship with Frank Sinatra and the rest of the Hollywood rabble rousers known as the Rat Pack.
WITH ANKA riding high on a giant wave in the early 1960s, it seemed like nothing could knock him off his perch. Then the tidal wave called The Beatles hit, and suddenly, the clean-cut pop idol was a relic of the past.
"I knew that first time I heard The Beatles that things were going to change. Until then, we were in an industry of cycles. It's about every generation having their own thing. But, with The Beatles, it was a totally new blueprint," said Anka.
"I was happy it happened. Pop music wasn't accepted by everyone until then. The Beatles opened the window much broader. It was good for all of us. I began diversifying, writing for other people."
Of course, some of those songs ended up becoming bigger than anything Anka released under his own name - including the theme for The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson (reworked from a song Anka wrote earlier called "Toot Sweet." which had been rewritten with lyrics and recorded by Annette Funicello in 1959 as "It's Really Love") and "My Way," a little-known French song for which Anka penned a set of heart-felt lyrics aimed at Frank Sinatra.
He chuckled when asked if he was nervous when presenting the song to the 'Chairman of the Board.'
"Sinatra made me nervous years before I brought him 'My Way.' He was an intimidating guy, and he hated pop music. He was so steeped in that traditional thing," said Anka, recalling the origins of the song.
"I had dinner with him at the Fountainbleau in Miami Beach in the late '60s and he said, 'Kid, I'm quitting; the Rat Pack is over; the FBI is after me; I need a rest.' I couldn't imagine life without Sinatra. I went home and wrote the lyrics for "My Way." I told him I have something special for him, it was a song I wouldn't have ever kept for myself. No, I wasn't afraid to play it for him."
The song became Sinatra's signature tune and reestablished Anka as a top-rate songwriter that with the release of the posthumous Michael Jackson song, only keeps adding new chapters.
According to Anka, there's nothing like paying dues and learning your craft, elements that he finds missing in today's form over substance reality talent show culture.
"Society is creating the wrong kind of careers. People want to be famous but they don't know what they want to do or who they are. That's what I taught Michael Buble. The Beatles didn't become what they are overnight - it took years of devotion.
"What I told Michael is find out who you are first, and don't get caught up in being the new Sinatra," he said.
"You can't fall out of an American Idol program and sustain a career. Success has made a failure out of a lot of people."
UNDER ANY definition, Anka's career has been an unbridled success - to the point that he can laugh at himself and his Las Vegas crooner image. He's appeared on episodes of The Simpsons, That '70s Show, and The Gilmore Girls, where Lorelai's dog is named Paul Anka.
"I have no problem poking fun at myself. It all has to do with having a little humility and being grateful that you survived. Maybe 80% of my contemporaries haven't survived, so for me, it's great to still be here and go with the flow.