In 2006, songwriter Paul Vance joined an elite club that includes Paul McCartney, Pope John Paul II and Mark Twain: He lived to read his own obituary. The mistaken death was reported by the News-Times of Danbury, Conn., after an Ormond Beach man who claimed to be Vance succumbed to lung cancer. The Associated Press ran with the story, and Vance recalls falling asleep after a long September day only to be startled by Bill O’Reilly reporting the news.
“My phone started to ring from my grandchildren, and each one says, ‘Oh grandpa, you’re alive!’” Vance says. “It felt horrible. I told the Associated Press that if they didn’t give me a retraction, I would sue their balls off.”
This was one of the Vance’s tamer quotes during a recent interview with Boca Raton. A Boca resident for the past three years, Vance is the co-writer of more than 300 songs, including the No. 1 hit “Itsy Bitsy Teeny Weeny Yellow Polka Dot Bikini.” His songs have been recorded by Tony Bennett, Perry Como, Frank Sinatra and others, and he boasts more than 25 gold records, including “Catch a Falling Star”—the first record to be certified gold by the RIAA.
For someone who wrote such innocent oldies, Vance curses like a sailor, having grown up amid mobs and gangs in the mean streets of New York. A lover and a fighter, Vance is a young 82 who has just written a book, Catch a Falling Star, about his life experiences.
He shared some of them, along with his thoughts on music today, with Boca Raton.
• I was born in Brooklyn. The next day, I was on the front page of theNew York Daily Mirror: Largest baby born in Brooklyn, at 13 and 3/4 pounds. So the minute I opened my eyes, I was in the newspapers.
• I had a reputation at school. I was always flirting with girls. I never, ever did my homework, but I would never fail my classes; I would just barely pass with a 65 or something. I cheated. I would write the answers on my hand—I did that before Palin did it.
• Even at 11, I knew how to make money. I was a great stickball player. I was playing with 15- and 16-year-old kids, and I was the youngest. I found that everybody wanted me to play with them. One kid said, “I’ll give you $5 if you play with us.” I said, “If everybody on this team gives me $5, I’ll play with you.” The guys on Union Street said, “OK, here’s $25.” I got that in my hand, and I bet $20 on my team with the bookies, who bet stickball like it was the last thing in the world. Usually, we’d win three out of four games, so I’d make at least $40 over a weekend. This is when guys were working for $30 a week.
• How’d it change me life to have a No. 1 hit? I had the world by the balls back then, even without having “Itsy Bitsy.” I’m a basic man. So instead of shooting craps and playing for $20, I’d shoot craps and play for $500 a shot. That’s all it did.
• I never drank, and I never smoked a joint. It was all around me with all these musicians. I said, “Don’t smoke it near me; I don’t want it to go into my nose and into my lungs.”
• Pop music today sucks.
• Some of rap music, actually, is well-written. If you listen to the love angle—without the murder and killing and all of that bullshit—I’m impressed.