Paul Anka: The Times of His Life
- Ricky Lo () - April 30, 2006 - 12:00am
Good morning, yesterday
You wake up and time has slipped away
And suddenly it’s hard to find
The memories you left behind
Remember, do you remember?
The laughter and the tears
The shadows of misty yesteryears
The good times and the bad you’ve seen
And all the others in between
Remember, do you remember
The times of your life?

Yes, those two stanzas are from the haunting Times of Your Life, one of the hundreds – nay, thousands! – of songs Paul Anka has composed and sung in his checkered career that spans five decades, collected for posterity in 125 albums (including more than 10 in Japanese, German, Spanish, French and Italian).

You don’t have to be a baby boomer to be moved into recollection of "the memories you left behind" when you listen to any of Paul’s songs, say Diana, which tickles the heart today with the same excitement it did way back when, back in the ’60s when life was defined by all the "firsts" – first kiss, first love, first heartbreak.

Paul has done so many songs that you can create a story just by stringing together lines from them, like this:

All of a sudden my heart sings, when I remember little things. Like Diana, you know: They say that I’m so young and you’re so old, this my darling I’ve been told. And they called it puppy love, just because we’re seventeen. I remember when you put your head on my shoulder and you hold me in your arms, baby, and then kiss me oh so tight, show me that you love me, too! But I’m just a lonely boy, lonely and blue, I’m all alone with nothing to do. So I took a little trip to my hometown, I only stop just to look around. And as I walk along the thoroughfare, there was music playing everywhere! No wonder, all of a sudden my heart sings, when I remember little things!

All that from only five of his songs!

Because Paul is coming (again!) for a concert at the Araneta Coliseum on May 14 and 15, we remember some of "the little things" about him, such as:

= He was born on July 30, 1941 in Ottawa, Canada, and his family belonged to the tightly-knit Lebanese community. At 13, he was singing anywhere he had an audience.

= At 15, with his doting parents’ permission, Paul traveled by himself to Los Angeles to visit an uncle. There, he called record companies for auditions. Dame Luck didn’t smile at him.

= At 16, Paul went to New York with a copy of Diana which became his first single for ABC-Paramount, which was released in 1957 and sold more than 10 million copies. More hits followed. He also appeared in TV shows and in movies (one of them the 1962 war drama The Longest Day).

= Some of his songs have been recorded by other artists like Elvis Presley, Barbra Streisand, Linda Ronstadt and Robbie Williams; and he has written more songs for others, including Buddy Holly (It Doesn’t Matter Anymore), Tom Jones (She’s a Lady) and, of course, the Frank Sinatra who made the Paul Anka song My Way his signature song (you know, And now the end is near and so I face the final curtain...).

= He and his wife Anne de Zogheb (a fashion model) have five daughters and three grandchildren ("I love them madly; they bring such joy into my life that it’s unbelievable...").

I recently had a 30-minute Conversation with Paul. Here’s how it went:

Hello. Good morning!

"Oh, good evening from Los Angeles."

I want to let you know that I’m a big fan of yours. I’ve been listening to your songs since I was in high school, Mr. Anka.

"Thank you very much, Ricky. I appreciate that. Just call me Paul."

We’ll go down memory lane together, okay?

"Yes, I like that."

You have a song called Verboten which may not be as popular as, say, Diana or Put Your Head on My Shoulder.

"Oh, that was from the movie. Absolutely! It was originally recorded as the title song to the movie. I recorded it many times, one of my early recordings. The movie was about forbidden love. The movie did quite well and so did the song."

That movie was shown in the Philippines years ago, I guess.

"You know, the Philippines has been supportive of my songs. I first went to the Philippines in the early ’60s, one of the first countries I’ve ever been to."

I made a list of some of your hit songs and I want to ask you what memories each song evokes in you.

"Oh, that’s nice."

Of course, Verboten. What was on your mind when you were writing it?

"I was focused on the movie."

Nothing personal?

"No. It was like The Longest Day (theme song of the movie of the same title). I had to stay close to the theme of the movie."

What about My Way?

"My Way was more personal to Frank Sinatra than to me. That was different."

My Way
was adapted from a French song.

"That’s correct. I heard that song on the radio in 1968 when I visited Paris. The French song is called Come d’ Habitude, written by Claude Francois (with Gillis Thibault and Jacques Revaux). It was the melody that I heard and I changed it a little bit and put new words. I wrote it specially for Sinatra because he was a friend. He told me he was retiring and I wrote it for him. I remember that I wrote it on my electric typewriter in my New York apartment during a thunderstorm. I finished the song at 5 a.m. When Sinatra heard it, he wanted to immediately record it. The track was done in two takes. Then, they called me in New York and played the recording over the speakers. I started crying. It was the turning point of my career."

The song became Sinatra’s anthem. It meant so much to Sinatra, all right. But what does the song mean to you?

"It was a personal change in my career – you know, writing something for someone as important as Sinatra. It was a song about my life and other people who have done things their way. In the ’60s society, it was a very important issue for people to keep the integrity of their lives. So it was a very meaningful moment for me."

I’m not sure if many people are aware that you have a very touching version of Autumn Leaves which is, to me, the best version of that song ever.

"Oh yes. Was that popular in the Philippines? I’m not sure."

I first heard it from a jukebox near school when I was in college and I think you sang it so beautifully.

"I’m going to do Autumn Leaves in my concert in Manila. That was in one of my first albums."

When you listen to Diana now, what comes to your mind?

"What comes to my mind are the very beginnings of a change of life... the very beginnings of a woman who motivated me to write it. She was someone I saw in church and I had a crush on her. So My Way evokes a very big reflection to the beginning of my life and the change in my life in this industry."

What happened to the girl? Was she really named Diana?

"Yeah, Diana was her name. I haven’t been in touch with her for years. I know that she’s somewhere in Canada but I don’t know what happened to her. All I know is that she got married a couple of times."

What about You Are My Destiny?

"Well, that was a very special song. I wrote it for my mother. My mother was a very strong supporter but I knew that she was dying. She died of diabetes when I was 18. You know, I wrote it for her because I studied in school to be a journalist and I worked with the local newspaper. She wanted me to be a singer but she understood her son. I guess she’s happy that I eventually became a singer which was what she really wanted me to be."

It’s Time To Cry.
What is its significance to your life?

"It was written in the period of, you know, adolescence...writing it in terms of having that young love and having (her) leave you. That’s the reminiscence of that song."

And Put Your Head On My Shoulder?

"I used to go to these teenage dances for disc jockeys and I was on the stage by myself, looking at all the boys and girls holding each other while they dance and putting their heads on each other’s shoulders. I kind of lived through those times that’s why I wrote the song."

You mean, you were a mere onlooker and you didn’t have a partner?

"Not really. I was by myself. The kids were screaming and yelling and they put me in the car and took me back to my hotel."

What about Puppy Love?

"That song is special because I wrote it for Annette Funicello (Remember her in the l982 movie The Love Boat? – RFL). We started a serious relationship and I wrote an album for her. We had a love for each other and Walt Disney was very upset and he didn’t want us to be serious. He kept saying to me, ‘You can’t do this. It’s just a puppy love...just a puppy love.’ So I wrote Puppy Love."

Adam and Eve

"I don’t know if there’s any memory attached to it. I was just fascinated by the whole beginning of life as we know it. You know, I read in school about Adam and Eve... Adam and Eve... and it just became something that got me emotionally and creatively interested."

Of course, My Hometown. Do you know that I cry a bit everytime I listen to that song because I miss my own hometown (Las Navas, Northern Samar)?

"You know, it’s a very special song for me because I found at a very young age that I left my hometown and then I would go back. Everytime I would go back, my hometown had a different emotional setting for me. You know, somewhere in there... coming home... the joys that I had... trying to struggle with a new life."

Lonely Boy.
Were you a lonely boy when you were younger?

"I think I was a lonely teenager to a degree because I left all my friends in my hometown in Canada and all of a sudden I was out on the road, in front of thousands of people but invariably I was all alone. And I guess there was a sense of loneliness that I would write about it because in my mind I saw teenagers together at those dances and, you know, I never really had the opportunity to enjoy an ongoing romance like other teenagers did."

There’s also It’s Hard To Say Goodbye which you sang with our very own Regine Velasquez.

"Yes, I know. One of the favorite songs that I’ve written. I love the lyrics. I then did it on Body of Work with Celine Dion in the ’90s. Velasquez was wonderful to work with. That’s another very special song."

Are you going to sing it, probably with Regine, on your Manila concert?

"I might...I might! I might do it."

What about Dance, Dance On, Little Girl?

"That was done during the last period of the record company I was with. I’m not sure if there’s any emotional attachment to that song other than the subject matter I was dealing with."

And your latest album, Rock Swings (released locally by MCA Music). Could you tell me more about it? How has your music evolved since the ’60s?

"Well, it has obviously become very technically-driven. I guess the good thing about Rock Swings from my point of view is that it’s very natural. You know, I just finished producing a young artist named Michael Bublé (his fellow Canadian) into the Philippines and when I finished producing that with David Foster (a great composer), I saw the window on the acceptance of swing music. The record company said, ‘Let’s do a swing album,’ and I said, ‘Yes, but I don’t want to do the same standards that Robbie Williams had done with Michael.’ I wanted something about songs of the ’80s that I feel very passionate about and which could be done in a different way. And that’s how Rock Swings came about."

How’s life now? How do you relax, unwind? What sort of music do you listen to?

"I listen to a lot of music. Right now, I listen to Yoyo Ma and to Enno Morcone who is a friend of mine, who was my producer when I lived in Italy. I listen to Cold Play. I listen to all kinds of singers."

What song is your personal favorite?

"Oh, it’s called I Am Not Anyone, a song I wrote for Sammy Davis Jr. I’m going to sing it on my concert in Manila. That’s a personal favorite of mine."

Which of your songs do you want to be remembered for?

"I guess My Way because I Iived my life my way, with my own integrity in focus. My Way sums up the story of my life."

(Note: I Did It My Way, Paul Anka Live in Manila is a Viva Concerts presentation. Tickets are priced at P6,000, patron; P5,000, lower box; P3,000, upper box A; P1,500, upper box B; and P500, general admission. They are available at SM Ticketnet outlets and at the Araneta Coliseum box office. The concerts are presented by PLDT NDD and Petron Extra Unleaded, together with The Philippine STAR, GMA-7, YES-FM 101.1, Love Radio 90.7, Star-FM 102.7, RJ 100, Joey 92.3, Mellow 94.7, Manila Bulletin and Energyfm 91.5; and also by San Mig Coffee, Magnolia Ice Cream, Holiday Inn and The Peninsula Manila.)

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