My Way: An Autobiography By Paul Anka with David Dalton St. Martin's Press, 384 pp., $29.99
Currently celebrating his 55th year in show business with this autobiography and the new CD Duets -- which finds him singing with artists like Celine Dion, Dolly Parton, Willie Nelson, and (through the magic of tape) Michael Jackson and Frank Sinatra -- Paul Anka is in the mood to look back.
While still a teenager, Anka had a string of charting records in the late '50s/early '60s, including "Diana," "Puppy Love," "Put Your Head on My Shoulder," "Lonely Boy," "You Are My Destiny." But what set the teen idol apart from the various Frankies, Bobbys and Fabians was that he wrote much of his own material.
It's a skill that would serve him well when the hits and the pompadour hair gel dried up after the British Invasion and when crooners went out of style.
Only Bobby Darin -- who had a similar skill at songwriting and appreciation for more adult singers -- similarly survived. And it is funny that Anka mentions how many people get him confused with Neil Sedaka still to this day.
And though he continued to have a robust career - especially overseas and in Vegas - he scored some major hits writing for others: "She's a Lady" for Tom Jones, "This Is It" with Michael Jackson, the theme from The Tonight Show and -- of course -- the lyrics to Frank Sinatra's signature song, "My Way."
Anka would also score one bizarre No. 1 hit performing a duet with Odia Coates in 1974, "[You're] Having My Baby," which did him no favors with feminists at the time.
However, My Way seems to be not only the story of Anka's life and career, but a couple of other books as well -- and not always good ones. Those could be titled My God, I Idolize Frank Sinatra and the Rat Pack So Much and Gee, Vegas Sure Was Better When the Mob Ran it in the '60s and '70s.
Anka's early life and, well, his moxie in getting a career off the ground makes for great reading. And his tales of being on those early rock and roll package tours with the likes of Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly, Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis, the Drifters, Fats Domino, and the Everly Brothers are alternately funny, enlightening, and frightening. The last of which comes in the form of the harassment the multiracial bill got during Jim Crow times while on tour.
It also turns out that this short-of-stature Lebanese Christian from Canada could score with the ladies -- which he often recounts in a self-deprecating way ("Did I have an affair with Mamie Van Doren? Can you call two and a half minutes an affair? I think I came before I walked in the door.")
We also read how he banged head Mousekeeter Annette Funicello, who really just wanted to get married. Uncle Walt would not have approved.
But way, way too many pages are devoted to his hagiographic worshipping of Frank, Dino, Sammy, and the various Men of Respect who controlled Vegas back in the days of Godfather II and Casino and the stories he tells about them -- many of which he was not even around for. It's all a bit too much "I'm cool by association." And it gets a bit tedious, Frank-ly.
Though readers do discover that Sammy Davis, Jr. was a bit of a kinkster later in life fascinated with porn and bisexuality and had a threesome with Deep Throat star Linda Lovelace and her husband. The Candy Man makes everything he bakes satisfying and delicious, indeed.
My Way could have benefited from some judicious editing and a bit more emphasis on Anka's heyday as a performer. So, yeah, it does sound insanely fun to have hung out and partied hard -- sometimes for days -- with the Chairman of the Board in his prime. Even if he could be an asshole. And Frank did like his hookers.
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