Paul Anka rejuvenates Jerusalem

Anka is no longer so young, but his still melodious voice, fluid movement and loving relationship with the audience transport older audience members back to younger years.

 PAUL ANKA performs in Caesarea on Monday night.  (photo credit: LIOR KETER)
PAUL ANKA performs in Caesarea on Monday night.
(photo credit: LIOR KETER)

Paul Anka at the Sultan's Pool in Jerusalem on July 19 

‘I’m so young and you’re so old, this, my darling, I’ve been told.”

So begins Paul Anka’s most popular song “Diana” with which he opens his concerts, appearing suddenly in the audience, making his way to the stage – no easy task in Jerusalem’s Sultan’s Pool. Black silk jacket, rosy cheeks and giant smile.

The audience is standing and singing with him, grooving, dancing in place, waving cell phones.

Anka is no longer so young – he’s turning 81 this month – but his still melodious voice, fluid movement and loving relationship with the audience not only belie his age but magically make the not so young members of the audience disremember their own ages, too.

 PAUL ANKA (credit: MARK WEISS) PAUL ANKA (credit: MARK WEISS)

Like the night before, at his sold-out show in Caesarea, most of the men and women who traversed the steps of the archeological site turned concert venue, on July 19, were teens or younger, besotted baby boomer bobby soxers, like my sister Charlotte and me, when we fell in love with Anka’s songs, and the blossoming genre rock and roll. Now grandmas and grandpas, the mostly Hebrew-speaking women and men know all the words, as the oldies and still goodies are knocked into the bleachers by Anka and his dazzling band.

Anka is glad to be back

He repeatedly expresses his joy at being back in Israel, and performed many of his evergreen hits, among them “Put Your Head on My Shoulder,” “You Are My Destiny,” “Lonely Boy,” and “Puppy Love.” When he sings the lines from “Adam and Eve,” “In the Garden of Eden/A long time ago/ There was a story/ I’m sure you all know,” I figured that his Jerusalem audience is better informed about Adam and Eve than most. And in this baby-centric ancient city, he dares to sing his controversial song “Having My Baby,” which in other venues is sometimes criticized as chauvinist.

The 2022 Anka concert is not just rock n’ roll or a juke box of nostalgic reruns, the repertoire by this consummate and ebullient showman includes country music, jazz, bossa nova, plus interludes of virtuosic instrumentals by saxophonist extraordinaire and musical director John Cass. The band, consisting of guitarist, violinist and percussionists are all seasoned professionals and superb musicians. Their enthusiasm matches Anka’s own.

Anka says he used the pandemic lockdown to reinvent classics. Most notably is his sitting down at the piano to play and sing a mash-up of the 1958 hit “Crazy Love” with Prince’s 1984 rock gospel “Purple Rain.” As a veteran performer who has gone through his own life vicissitudes, the remembered crazy love of a teenager is transformed into a mature paeon to life’s journey and the pull between steadfastness and passion. Likewise, his emotional singing of “It Doesn’t Matter Anymore” that he wrote for Buddy Holly shortly before Holly’s death, is even more poignant sung later in life.

The classics and more

Anka also performs songs he’s written for others, among them Michael Jackson, Tom Jones and, most famously, Frank Sinatra with “My Way.”

Anka is often quoted as saying that when he wrote “My Way” at age 28, he was too young to sing it, that you “needed someone of Mr. Sinatra’s vintage to sing that one.”

Anka sings it now, dedicating it to the Jerusalem audience. “My Way” marks the formal end of the show, which – my only complaint – seems over too soon at less than 90 minutes.

But, although the song speaks of “the last curtain turning,” one can only hope and actually expect that the electric, gregarious, emotive Anka will have countless curtain calls in our future.