Keep Our Indy Pre-Race Ceremonies Sacred
Even if you weren’t fortunate enough to catch her live, by now most have seen the less than stellar performance of the National Anthem by Christina Aguilera at Super Bowl XLV. Don’t worry, I won’t subject you to temptation by posting a YouTube link to it. If you really want to see it, feel free to Google it.
While everyone talks about how she flubbed the lines, which she did; what got me the most was the fact that even if she had gotten all of the words right – it still would have been a horrible rendition. Words like murder, butcher and mutilate quickly come to mind.
It brought to mind another horrifying National Anthem performance that race fans were subjected to – Steven Tyler’s version prior to the 2001 Indianapolis 500. OK, if you haven’t seen that one in a while, I’ll post it here. In between his mega-hit “Dream On” from 1976 and his latest gig on American Idol, Tyler gave what I considered the worst rendition I had ever heard…until Sunday night.
I understand why events try to get a (semi) big name to sing “The Star-Spangled Banner” before an event kicks off. It gives the casual viewer or attendee the impression that this is a big time event. What I don’t understand is why performers feel the need to jazz it up and make it their own. This is not the National Pop-Song. This is an anthem. It is to be treated as such.
I heard many military veterans this week, both nationally and locally, saying they were offended by what they heard Sunday. I won’t go so far as to say Ms. Aguilera offended my sense of patriotism. She just offended my sense of hearing.
I believe it was the year after Tyler trampled on the National Anthem at Indy, that the Speedway decided that a military chorus may have been more appropriate. It was. Within the last few years, I recall Jessica Simpson and Julianne Hough giving their atrocious versions prior to the race; but for the last few years, the Speedway has reverted to the military chorus, more times than not. It makes sense, given the military and patriotic theme of Memorial Day.
Probably the best rendition I have heard recently, was before the two home playoff games of the Chicago Bears. Jim Cornelison’s version actually made hair stand up on my arms. It’s worth posting a link as well. Although he was on loan from the Blackhawks, the Bears should make him a staple of their pre-game festivities. If the Speedway wanted to import him from the Windy City every May, I would have no problem with it.
After the ear-splitting screaming I heard before kickoff on Sunday night, we got the futuristic performance by the Black Eyed Peas at halftime. So, Fergie and will.i.am are what Bridegstone-Firestone are considering spending their marketing dollars on, rather than providing tires for the IZOD IndyCar Series. Hmmm. Anyway, after watching these performances, I was really thankful for the sacred pre-race traditions we get to witness every May. Even though this will be the fifth race since Tom Carnegie retired (is that possible?), we still get the enjoyment of hearing his booming voice over the PA system, if only for a far too quick hello to the fans. (Update: Sadly – since writing this, Tom Carnegie passed away this morning. I had considered taking this part out, but thought it may actually be appropriate to leave it in. He will be missed.)
There is the solemn moment of the playing of Taps, which always amazes me how that simple tune has the power to silence 250,000 drunken fans, if only for a moment. The balloons fly just before the firing of the engines. Mari Hulman George gives the command to fire those engines. Then there is my personal favorite, Jim Nabors singing “Back Home Again in Indiana”. Each year I cherish that moment as if it is the last time I’ll ever hear it live. That’s because it’s entirely possible that will be the case. Nabors will turn 81, just two weeks after this year’s race. At some point he will turn that microphone over to someone else. Unfortunately for whoever gets the honor, it will never be the same.
I cringe at the thought of an Aguilera-like performer getting their hands on that song and that moment. Hopefully, the powers-that-be at 16th & Georgetown will recognize that this is more than the chance for some starlet to promote an upcoming album. This is a singular moment in sports that shouldn’t be taken lightly.
We Indy 500 fans take our traditions seriously. We get offended when someone doesn’t. Leave the glitz and glamour to the Super Bowl and the NFL. When it comes to our Race Day ritual every May, we prefer to play it straight.