“Back Home Again In Indiana”
It was about ten o’clock on Tuesday night when I first saw it on Twitter. Jim Nabors was ill and would not be coming to Indianapolis for his traditional singing of Back Home Again In Indiana. What is so ironic about that was that on that very day, I was explaining to a co-worker how he flies from his home in Hawaii to Indianapolis every year to perform what is my personal favorite part of the month of May.
Different people have different favorites from the Indianapolis 500. To my father, it was hearing Tony Hulman say “Gentlemen, Start Your Engines”. It became a family joke to look over at him as soon as those words were uttered, and see tears streaming down his cheeks. Many look forward to watching the release of thousands of colored balloons just prior to the start. For others, that moment comes with the somber playing of Taps, in honor of Memorial Day.
For me, it is hearing Jim Nabors sing that traditional song that so strongly symbolizes the month of May to me. Perhaps it was because he was there singing it when I was still a kid. As someone pointed out here yesterday, his voice is the last audio link to the past. With the passing of Tony Hulman, Sid Collins and Tom Carnegie; the voice of Jim Nabors bellowing across the PA at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway was the last sound resonating from my childhood.
We were all put on notice in 2007, when Nabors was too ill to attend, that the day would come that someone else would be put in the awkward position of filling those shoes. Fortunately, he returned to perform with the same passion we had all grown accustomed to for the next four years.
He can’t come this year because he is having a heart valve replaced later this month. Nabors will turn eighty-two in June. Even if he is completely healthy at this time next year, no one could blame him if he decided to step away for good. He has had a good run. Selfishly, I want to see and hear him perform that annual tradition for about another thirty years. Assuming that probably won’t happen, the Speedway needs to start thinking about a permanent successor – just in case 2011 was his last year to sing for us.
It’s hard to replace a legend. Ray Perkins had a hard time succeeding Bear Bryant at Alabama. Bill Guthridge didn’t do so well following Dean Smith at North Carolina. Hopefully, Denver Bronco fans will be happy with their latest quarterback to try and fill the shoes of John Elway. IMS PA announcer is one of the few that have successfully followed someone with the status of legendary Tom Carnegie. Probably about the only reason he was able to pull it off was that he and Carnegie worked together on the microphone for several years. There has been no apprentice for Jim Nabors.
I’m not a fan of what the Speedway has in the works for this year’s performance. When Jim Nabors missed the race five years ago, IMS decided it would be fitting to play a recorded version of Jim’s famous rendition and have the crowd sing along as sort of a salute to Nabors. It sounded great in theory, but was very awkward in practice. It was confusing as what the crowd was supposed to do and the result was something that left me feeling very empty and cheated from my favorite pre-race moment.
So with twenty-five days to prepare for Plan B, they’ve decided to fly a crew out to Hawaii to film Nabors singing the song and playing it on the video boards on race day. Hmmm…
Am I the only one who felt that was a very unsatisfactory solution in 2007? I know race officials are reluctant to turn that sacred moment over to an outsider, but it’s not like Jim Nabors is the only one that ever sang it. It used to rotate around as often as the National Anthem does now. I can remember Robert Goulet singing it in the 1960’s. Dinah Shore sang it many times in the fifties.
Actually, I think that there’s nothing wrong with turning the honor over to someone to perform it live for just one year. If Nabors is healthy enough to return in 2013, then great. If not – it’s time to pass the baton. It’s a harsh reality that that time is coming at some point. Why compromise a special moment by making it a confusing and awkward moment.
I saw on Twitter the other night where someone suggested that Hoosier John Mellencamp should be tabbed to sing the song. Please. That causes visions of Steven Tyler to dance in my head. This sacred honor should not go to a washed-up rocker, no matter where he’s from. This should go to someone with a classic, booming voice. Quite honestly, I think to avoid unfair comparisons to Jim Nabors – a woman should be chosen. If the chosen one needs to be one with Hoosier ties, how about Sandi Patti? She belted out the National Anthem at the 500 several times in the nineties and very nicely, I might add. I think she would fill that role very well for one year.
Whatever is done, the important thing is that our friend Jim Nabors gets well very soon. As Tom Carnegie would say; “His voice has become an institution”. We obviously wish him a fast and speedy recovery and we hope that he can return to fulfill that moment for us for years to come.