Shoes Too Big To Fill
When Coach Bear Bryant retired from Alabama in 1982; there was no way that his successor, Ray Perkins, was going to gain immediate acceptance from Crimson Tide fans. Perkins went 32-15 in his four seasons as coach, but he jumped ship for the lowly Tampa Bay Bucs of the NFL, rather than live under the enormous shadow cast by The Bear. Hoosiers basketball fans are probably too familiar with Mike Davis, who succeeded legendary coach Bobby Knight at Indiana. Davis lasted six years but made the fatal mistake of only one NCAA appearance in his last three seasons.
The point is, it’s an overwhelmingly impossible task to follow a legend. Such will be the case for whoever gets the unenviable assignment to be the immediate successor to Jim Nabors singing (Back Home Again in) Indiana just prior to the 99th Running of the Indianapolis 500 next May. He/she/they will have huge shoes to fill. It’s a daunting task. Quite honestly, I feel sorry for whoever steps up to that microphone next May. No matter how well they do it, they will be crucified because it was different from the way Jim Nabors did it.
But somebody has to do it. Some poor soul(s) will be thrown to the wolves to satisfy the job being done. If I were Doug Boles and had to decide who would be the immediate successor to Nabors, I would choose someone with the idea that they would be one and done. If I were a performer and wanted that gig on an annual basis; I think I would want to be about the third or fourth person to follow Jim Nabors. Right or wrong, the pressure will be too great on the first person and they are not likely to gain any acceptance at all.
With all that being said, did you see this article last week on IndyStar.com? It lists ten possibilities that might get a shot at it next year. The article examines each name and gives pros and cons for each one. This probably won’t surprise you, but few names on the list would get my nod.
Keep in mind, I’m an old goat. Even when I was in my twenties, I didn’t usually follow the very latest pop-act to come along. It’s also probably no surprise that I was always about a decade behind in my listening habits. In the eighties, I listened to seventies music. In the nineties, I started listening to the eighties and so forth. However, as I’ve gotten older – I don’t even follow that pattern anymore. We’re almost halfway through the second decade of the “new” millennium, and I’m still stuck in the nineties. There is not a whole lot of music on my iPhone that was produced in the 2000’s. Imagine that!
I point that out to explain that I have not even heard of about a third of the list that The Star put out, but based on their pictures – I shudder at the thought of them standing in Jim Nabors’ spot and singing those sacred notes. Others on the list I’m familiar with, but strongly oppose the idea of them getting that honor. Axl Rose? Are you serious? I saw a quote by one of my friends on Facebook, Lynn Weinberg, that summed up that suggestion perfectly by saying “I don’t know if I want to live in a world where Axl Rose is on the short list of people being considered to replace Gomer Pyle singing "Back Home In Indiana" at the Indy 500.” Thanks Lynn; I don’t think anything else needs to be said on that.
There were other less offensive names on the list that I would still have a problem with. Janet Jackson might be great in concert, but I’m not sure she has the persona to pull off that assignment. I also have a problem picturing David Lee Roth in anything other than shirtless suspenders. John Mellencamp would want to make the moment all about him, because…well, that’s what he does.
I’ve heard a lot of people clamoring for Straight No Chaser, including some good friends of mine. Their a cappella style may be great for an indoor Christmas concert, but I’m not sure it would work at a race track – a very big one at that. I keep thinking back to Seal singing the National Anthem a few years ago. Something about that performance seemed very odd and out of place.
Come to think of it, there were only two names on the list that I could live with. I’m not sure about the idea of the Indiana Children’s Choir. It’s harder to criticize kids – especially when there are so many of them. But like Straight No Chaser, I’m just not sure how it would play out in that venue. I’m not really sold on the children’s choir idea, but I don’t hate it either.
So, that really only leaves one name out of these ten that I really liked – Sandi Patty. She is a native Hoosier and has a booming voice. She sang the National Anthem at the “500” many times in the late eighties and early nineties, and then again in 2013 after a twenty-one year absence. She is fifty-eight now, but her voice has lost nothing. She still has her pipes.
Like many, I think she is better suited for the National Anthem. But of these ten listed, she’s the one I’d pick. However, I don’t think the eventual pick is on this list. One common denominator is that they are either all Hoosiers or have distinct ties to Indiana. Is that now the criteria? It shouldn’t be. Jim Nabors was not a Hoosier. He is a native of Alabama and lives in Hawaii. As best I can tell, the last time a native Hoosier performed the traditional song was in 1981, when Phil Harris sang it. Remember him? Me neither.
I was present the first time Jim Nabors sang it in 1972. I also remember the previous year, but for the wrong reasons. The 1925 winner, Peter De Paulo, performed the song before the 1971 race. Quite honestly, it was terrible. It was beyond bad. In those days before Nabors made it an annual tradition – it was a revolving door of performers. The sixties featured forgettable names like C. David Cochard, Brian Sullivan, Russell J. Wunderlich, Richard O. Plothow and Mack Shultz, to name just a few.
I’m thinking that the best bet is to go the revolving door route again for a few years before settling on a new tradition. I would get bigger names than those of the sixties, but for such an iconic position in the hearts of racing fans – I would play it safe. I wouldn’t go the Steven Tyler, Axl Rose or David Lee Roth route. I’d go with some of the more subtle choices that I’ve heard mentioned over the last few months – Hoosier or not.