On any given morning, I roll out of bed after listening to some KQED Radio/NPR Morning Edition. One particular morning, the “fundraising drive” commenced. Yeah, you know the one.
I listened as someone hawked Paul Anka tickets once, and then a few days later, I heard it again. That time I decided we’re going to see Paul Anka. Mollie and I both quite often have the Paul Anka Pandora station on, so I was pretty sure she’d go with me.
The show started with a long set of instrumentals, no Anka on the stage. When he finally emerged, he didn’t come out from behind the stage. No, he came in, escorted by a couple of big body-guards, from the up-front exit doors. He walked in slowly, shaking hands, touching the shoulders of those close to him, and allowing his fans to get up close and personal with him.
“Mom, these old women are really rude.” And she was right – there they were (not us!) swooning, half-drunk or overly medicated – they were everywhere. My sweet daughter was at least 35 years younger than anyone else there. I’m pretty sure she was the only one of her kind. The two of us grinned happily as we we showered by his amazing voice cranking out the tunes.
The San Jose Civic Center was set up in a big band venue, complete with an extraordinary sax player, John Cross, musical director of Anka’s orchestra for many, many years. Indeed, the entire orchestra rocked along with Anka. I don’t know what kind of set-up I expected, but the big-band one was perfect.
Anka was my teenage idol as a youngster, along with Ricky Nelson, and then of course the Beatles and Elvis. But Anka was really the one and I still love his music. He sang hit after hit, his voice clear and strong, amazing range able to hit every note. Wow! He told funny jokes and crazy tales during his time with us. No intermission, a small audience, one that was full of the people who really wanted to be in the same room with Paul Anka.
He never seemed to be in a hurry.
“I got lucky as a kid. I was writing kids’ songs. I was hopefully writing the way every teenager thought, how they all felt in that world.” He smiled when he spoke of Annette, you know, Funicello. He reminisced on American Bandstand. He spoke fondly of the great ones who died much too young.
He laughed as he told us the first time he met Frank Sinatra. “Mr. Sinatra.” Anka was living in New York. He got a phone call one day from ‘a guy’ telling him that Mr. Sinatra wanted to meet with him.
Anka got on a plane, following directions, and he flew out to Las Vegas, where he was met at the hotel by Sinatra’s guy. “Take off your clothes and get into this robe.”
Everyone in the audience laughed, as you can imagine.
His escort led him to the steam room and slowly pulled the door wide open.
“And sitting there was Sammy Davis…and Dean Martin..and Frank Sinatra – all naked looking up at me!”
He spoke about how much he learned about the business during the years he was with the Rat Pack. And then about the time he was 28 years old, he met up with Sinatra in Florida, in Miami Beach.
“Sinatra told me he was quitting show business and he was going to do one more album. And would I write him a song? I was shocked, we were all shocked – quitting the business? And he did leave, but he came back later!”
“I had never written for him. He had asked me, but I was scared to death.”
Some time went by, Anka was living and working in the big apple, and as he says, he kept getting this tune in his head, the song swirled around and then boom! he wrote it in six hours. He hopped a plane out to Vegas and gave it to Frank.
“I was old enough at 28 to write it, but I was too young to sing it. You needed someone of Mr. Sinatra’s vintage to sing that one.”
During the show, he wandered down a few times and those “rude women” would mob him. I tried once, but tried too late and never got close. But we did get this:
He told us his friends often ask him why he keeps doing these show; he doesn’t have to, at 78 years old.
“I love doing this. I don’t have a job, I have something that keeps me alive, along with the love of my family and friends. I take care of myself, I exercise, I eat well, most of the time. I diet! Oh, do I diet! I’ve been on Jenny Craig more times than Mr. Craig!”
I saw Anka twice in my twenties. I was surprised then how short he was – shorter than me! This time, I felt like I was watching a friend on stage. The memories the songs brought to me – the sad and happy times of my life.
My KQED sustaining member contribution is larger now, and so is the happy place in my heart.