An all-around entertainer

Iconic singer-songwriter Paul Anka continues to perform 'because of the love and the passion.'

Paul Anka with microphone 311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Paul Anka with microphone 311
(photo credit: Courtesy)
If Frank Sinatra is the “chairman of the board,” then Paul Anka must at least serve as its chief adviser.We’re talking about the board of class and suave swagger, of course, the corporation that the 70-year-old legendary entertainer has been gainfully employed at ever since apprenticing as a 1950s teen idol.
Not many performers have the shelf life to put out a sequel five decades after the initial release, but Anka sounds up to the task as he takes a break in his California home from preparations for an upcoming Christmas album.
“Yeah,” he laughed on the phone with The Jerusalem Post, “I put out a Christmas album 53 years ago. It’s about time for an update.”
Updating old standards is less important to Anka, however, than upholding the high standards he’s placed on himself throughout his illustrious career – a career that has included everything from performing teen classics like “Diana” and “You Are My Destiny” to writing standards like Sinatra’s “My Way” and the “Theme to the Tonight Show” to adapting to 1970s pop trends with hits like “She’s a Lady” (for Tom Jones) and “Having My Baby” (for himself).
Along the way, he’s become a Las Vegas tradition, someone that used to be called “an all-round entertainer.” And he shows no signs of stopping any time soon, returning to Israel on November 12 at the Nokia Arena for his fourth show here in the last two years.
“I continue to perform because of the love and the passion but also because I’m not one to sit back and do nothing,” said Anka. “I think it’s important that anyone who has passion for something to get out and do it – it keeps your mind and body active and keeps you young in spirit,” he said.
“I’m more selective in the last 10 years or so about how often and where I perform. It’s a unique occupation to be in. I call it that categorically because I don’t consider it work,” he added with the deliberateness in his phrasing and tone of someone who’s comfortable in his own shoes.
Besides taking time to enjoy his eight grandchildren, Anka devotes many hours to keeping himself in shape, a lifestyle decision that has enabled him to carry on far longer than many of his contemporary performers.
“I take pride in taking care of myself. There are certain things I’ve done all my life that are no secret. I don’t smoke, I don’t do a lot of things. I live and I enjoy life, but I know what it takes to keep me in shape, and from a young age I didn’t let myself get into bad habits.”
The same couldn’t be said for one of Anka’s fellow Las Vegas regulars and RCA Victor label mate Elvis Presley.
“I met him in the 1960s, and we used to meet up in Vegas. I’d see him each trip get progressively more out of shape,” said Anka. “I would say to him, ‘What’s going on here? Come on, let’s go out and talk.’ But the guys around him were flunkies and they wouldn’t intervene in his behavior. It was very sad to see; I couldn’t get through to him.”
Anka’s self-discipline and foresight have enabled him to continue breaking new ground in his career such as breaking into new markets like Israel so far into the game. He’s always been popular here, due in part to two his songs – “You Are My Destiny” and “Crazy Love” – having been featured in the iconic Lemon Popsicle film series. But it wasn’t until 2009 that he came here to perform for the first time.
“It’s been a long time coming, this relationship with Israel, and now that we’re entrenched here, it’s a relationship that I cherish and one that I hope to nurture as best I can,” said Anka.
He’s also forged a friendship with businessman Yitzhak Tshuva, even flying to the country last year on the private plane of another Israeli friend, media mogul Haim Saban, to attend and perform at the wedding of Tshuva’s son in the Ben-Shemen Forest.
All those visits in a relatively short time have shown Anka that Israel is far from what is portrayed in the US media.
“I don’t think the average American knows much about what’s going on outside of the country. Only three to four percent of the population even have passports,” he said. “I don’t think you can get an idea of what Israel is like until you get here. People don’t realize what a great place it is.”
Mindful of the fact that fans are coming to see him perform his long list of hits with his 12-piece band but also that many of them have heard the songs at his previous shows, Anka said he’s trying to walk a tightrope to please everyone.
“The audience comes to the show for a reason, to relive those moments, whatever they are, through the music,” said Anka. “So what I do for myself – and it also works for the crowd in a subliminal way – is to change the arrangements slightly. It keeps me interested and affects the audience because there’s a subtlety to it in hearing the songs slightly differently,” he explained.
“I remember going to see Sinatra, who I grew up with and hung out with, and he was always doing the same songs, but in a different order. I’ve toyed with the idea of medleys or dropping certain songs, but the feedback might be catastrophic, so I rejected it.”
That’s Paul Anka, doing it his way.
Paul Anka will perform at the Nokia Arena in Tel Aviv on November 12.