It Takes a Tough Man To Make Tender Music


Back when my tribute to Paul Anka's "The Guys Get Shirts" tirade sparked a pile-on of Anka bashers—who, it's worth noting, never made it to the top of the charts with a song about their babysitter, did not compose the Tonight Show theme or write the English lyrics to "My Way," never came up with an immortal jingle (and another Top 10 hit*) for Kodak, have not toured with both Buddy Holly and Frank Sinatra, and did not write and record ten gold records—I felt compelled to defend the Lebanese-Canadian hitmaker (down in the comments) in the name of hardass bandleaders and managers of lazy slobs everywhere. Now, in an interview with Terry Gross, Anka shows he needs no defending. Gross, always searching for her next Gene Simmons moment, needles the man who topped the international charts in three decades about the audio clip, and Anka, who claims "I love it; it's great," gives a completely persuasive explanation:

Anka: That was recorded 15 years ago by a real snake that we fired. We had a nice big moment on Howard Stern, where he played the tape and he absolutely agreed with it. He said "I've done that. I do that." And everybody does. I think any guy running a company gets the whole point of that tape. I'm a real stickler for detail, and I have a real strong responsibility to my audience. When I'm up on that stage, anything I do has to be as perfect as possible for the consumer and for whomever. I don't just go to work and take the check and run. What happened there was there were a lot of mistakes in the band, in the sense that we'd rehearsed it one way, and we'd have a cutoff, where everybody has to end together. The other thing was that we'd spent a lot of money getting guys dressed so there was uniformity. And the guys just dropped the ball. You know, a lot of musicians—some of them are drinkers, some of them are doing dope and what have you, and you learn that, you know, later in the gig. It's like hiring people—the résumés are one thing, and everybody's on their best behavior, but until you get somewhere into the voyage and you realize you've got some bad apples in there, that's when you have to deal with it. It's a funny tape; that's me; I'm that way. People don't toe the line, they're out.

Gross: You really lay into the band on this. You say things like, "When I f'in' move I slice like a f'in' hammer." What's it like to really bawl out your band and then be in front of them in a performance? Because when you're performing you want the band to be really sympathetic, and play in a moving way.

Anka: Oh, they do. They know how to take it. We're having dinner together on Saturday night. It's totally meaningless because they're used to that environment. They've done it with Buddy Rich, they've heard it with Sinatra. These are seasoned guys. When you show them the mistakes, and you bawl them out any way you want, they know the personality on the other side. I mean, I've heard Tommy LaSorda—there's like thousands of these tapes, from Orson Welles to Tommy Lasorda—and I think we're all indoctrinated, we all get it. So a band, when you're giving them work—and most of these guys are still with me today—they know the personality, they know when they're wrong, they know how to decipher and edit. And it really doesn't come into play. When you've been doing this for 47 years and you're successful on that stage, every entity is working and all the energies are working. And the other side of the coin is you're the guy who's getting them money, and you're doing it for their families, you're bringing them here. So you've got to look at the full mosaic. This is a small pebble on the whole infrastructure of business. I know how to motivate people and I know how to treat them, and I have absolutely no regrets for anything on that tape whatsoever.

Buy Paul Anka's Rock Swings LP here. In fact, what are you doing reading this blog when you're supposed to be fucking working? You're on notice! You're all on notice!

* Thanks to reader SP for noting that "The Times of Your Life" only made it to Number 7 on Billboard's Hot 100. It'll always be Number 1 in my book!