Music and politics share one commonality — people who like a style different from yours are nuts.
The Indiana Legislature performed a miracle a century ago. Those lawmakers agreed upon a state song, “On the Banks of the Wabash (Far Away),” by Terre Haute native Paul Dresser, on March 14, 1913.
Think about that. Politicians chose one piece of music to forever represent their homeland.
It wasn’t easy back then, but reaching such consensus would be impossible today. No matter the genre of the state song candidates — classical, rock, country, rhythm and blues, folk, rap, hip-hop, blues, bluegrass, techno, Americana, alt-rock, alt-country, alt-alt — sparks would fly. Lyrics would be analyzed, word for word. Fringe special-interest groups would express outrage over a link between the composer and a subversive element, like an old photo with the president or an “I Love Lucy” Fan Club membership. Attack ads would be created. Robo calls would be issued. Pundits would be brutal. CDs would be smashed.
And all of that would happen before lawmakers could even cast a vote.
The state would teeter on the Melodic Cliff.
That reality shows the true genius of Dresser’s work. The tune of “On the Banks of the Wabash” would fit in Paul McCartney’s songbook. The youthful nostalgia of the lyrics would please Bruce Springsteen, if he’d grown up in the Midwest in the 1860s instead of New Jersey in the 1960s. Just weeks before members of the 1913 General Assembly acted to adopt the state song, the Indianapolis Star called it “Dresser’s masterpiece.”
Those legislators’ political descendants did something truly classy last week. To mark the centennial of the state song’s enactment, the state House and Senate passed resolutions honoring Dresser for the gem he wrote in 1897. Terre Haute representatives Bob Heaton (a Republican) and Clyde Kersey (a Democrat) recited the history behind Dresser and the song, and Tim Skinner did the same in the Senate. The local trio reminded their colleagues that “On the Banks of the Wabash” is the state song, and not “(Back Home Again in) Indiana” — a now-more-popular knockoff of Dresser’s original song.
Nine out of 10 Hoosiers, including many right here in Terre Haute, presume that “Back Home Again” is the state song for one reason. (Before last Thursday’s resolution was read, a few House members confessed they didn’t know the true state song.)
“They think it’s what Jim Nabors sings at the 500,” Heaton said of the general public. The “Gomer Pyle” actor has sung it year after year since the 1970s, cementing the misconception. The folks at the Speedway would make a historic, fitting gesture by having another singer perform a chorus of “On the Banks” right before Nabors belts out “Back Home Again,” especially on the 100th anniversary of the state song’s adoption.
Some people would gripe, but complaints happened in 1913, too.
The state song bill was authored by George Curtis, a senator from Posey County, located at the southernmost tip of the Wabash River. Curtis was an Indiana University grad and a Democrat. (Half of those reading now oppose his idea, albeit a century later.) Known as a brilliant orator, Curtis quickly climbed the political ladder to become Senate president pro tempore after just two years in the Legislature, and was just 35 years old in 1913. (Some folks may be drawing unflattering comparisons with a modern-day office holder.)
Curtis told the Star his inspiration for the state song bill came from an incident involving a fellow Posey Countian, Charles Greathouse. In 1900, Greathouse was on the brink of losing the nomination for state superintendent of public instruction, when a band at a political event he was attending struck up a rendition of “On the Banks of the Wabash.” For some unexplained reason, Greathouse’s fortunes suddenly turned and he won the nomination.
Thirteen years later, Curtis was the young, top man in the Senate and wanted Indiana to make “On the Banks” its state song.
That doesn’t seem like a hard sell in 1913. Granted, Dresser had died seven years earlier, and his greatest song’s million-seller heyday happened more than a decade past, but average Hoosiers still knew the tune by heart. Nonetheless, Curtis’ state song push wasn’t universally praised. The same Indianapolis Star column that called “On the Banks” a masterpiece also reprinted the song’s chorus and added the following jab to the senator:
“When some horny-handed archaeologist from Saturn comes across the above lines in the ruins of the Indiana Capitol a few centuries from now, he will adjust his brass-rimmed spectacles, clear his throat with a deep, rasping sound and write a sixteen-volume thesis on the strange laws enacted in the year of our Lord, 1913.”
Cable TV talking heads would be proud of that diatribe, unearthed last week by kind researchers at the Indiana Historical Society in Indianapolis.
The Rushville Daily Republican suggested the song be renamed, “On the Banks of the Flatrock,” referring to the waterway near that small Hoosier town.
When the Senate finally acted on Curtis’ proposal, it was unanimously approved. Curtis and a colleague had promised to sing the song, but another lawmaker talked them out of it, saying their good reputations might suffer, according to a 1913 Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette story. The House passed Curtis’ bill, too, but less resoundingly, 62-6. Four opponents hailed from cities near rival rivers (if there are such things) — Rockport, Warsaw, Cambridge City and Milton. One lived near the Wabash in Bunker Hill (and must not have been impressed), and another called Kokomo home.
Unlike their Senate counterparts, the House reps broke into song, crooning the refrain of “On the Banks.”
It might be interesting to see that happen as a daily tradition in the Statehouse. A Legislature that sings together stays together …
On second thought, replaying a recording of Dresser’s song might be more realistic.
Mark Bennett can be reached at 812-231-4377 or email@example.com.
Music and politics share one commonality — people who like a style different from yours are nuts.
EDITORIAL: Cleaning up voter rolls
It’s not a lot of money in the big scheme of things, but the $2 million designated in the recent session of the General Assembly will begin the messy but necessary process of cleaning up Indiana’s voter registration rolls.
READERS' FORUM: May 22, 2013
Rich history all along the river
Great work by Duke employees
RONN MOTT: Rabid Republicans
The so-called news people at Fox News can hardly sit still long enough to report on the latest gossip or untruth about our sitting President. They can hardly contain themselves.
READERS’ FORUM: May 21, 2013
• Great response to annual golf outing
• Doing your part on climate change
LIZ CIANCONE: Smell of fresh air gave way to dryers
Remember when clean clothes smelled like fresh air and sunshine rather than fabric softener and dryer sheets?
READERS' FORUM: May 20, 2013
The dangers of a little knowledge
Students enjoyed Rose study trip
Mark Bennett: High-profile mural connects historical dots from city to river
At 96 feet wide and 2 stories tall, the power, impact and value of the Wabash will be evident.
EDITORIAL: Waging the ‘readiness’ campaign
Almost every Hoosier who starts college intends to finish. Unfortunately, those who arrive on campus unprepared in key academic areas are far less likely to fulfill that aspiration.
READERS' FORUM: May 19, 2013
• Flawed reasoning on gun checks
• A hint of things yet to come?
• Are the ‘makers’ doing the ‘taking’?
• The ‘Obamination’ is finally revealed
• Pondering effects of Obamacare
• Fantasizing on the ‘Apocalypse’
• Another view of Hinduism
• Great experience for HCMS students
FLASHPOINT: A legislative session of missed opportunities
Given the nature of politicians, grand claims of accomplishments and overblown rhetoric about “historic” efforts are to be expected at the close of any legislative session.
RONN MOTT: Mushrooms = Hoosier happiness
Someone wrote or said a few years ago a statement that would define the word “Hoosier.” According to this urban legend, a Hoosier is somebody dribbling a basketball around the Indy 500 while eating a fried, morel mushroom. It did not define me, at the time.
EDITORIAL: Insult to an independent press
Distrust of government secrecy has been elevated to an exceptional level with the disclosure the Justice Department covertly examined two months of Associated Press phone records to determine who leaked details to the AP about a foiled terrorist plot.
READERS' FORUM: May 17, 2013
Hinduism doesn’t deserve ridicule — Shefali Purohit, Terre Haute
RONN MOTT: Israel’s Air Force
Recently the Israeli Air Force bombed and rocketed a convoy leaving Syria going to Lebanon with rockets that were going to be used to attack Israel. It did not get there. It was destroyed.
EDITORIAL: Noteworthy in the news: Dashing finish for the Sycamores
It’s always thrilling to see Indiana State University’s athletic teams do well in high-level competition, and two specific teams rose to impressive heights last weekend in the Missouri Valley Conference outdoor track and field championships.
Readers' Forum: May 16, 2013
Moving Deming folks sounds ‘nuts’
Readers' Forum: May 15, 2013
Participants rise to the challenge: I would like to write a letter congratulating all the Wabash Valley Roadrunners that competed in the One America Indianapolis Mini Marathon.
RONN MOTT: Media merry-go-round
Round and round it goes, where it stops nobody knows. That isn’t a unique phrase to this writer or to this era in time. But, when it comes to the musical chairs of broadcasting, it certainly applies.
LIZ CIANCONE: Courts see a different appearance than cops
Have you ever noticed the transformation between the arrest of an accused lawbreaker and the first appearance in court?
READERS' FORUM: May 14, 2013
ISTEP failure exposes flaws
Community hasn’t changed its spirit
Egregious threat to nation’s defense
READERS' FORUM: May 13, 2013
• Women’s group criticizes Bucshon
• Let’s hope this doesn’t come true
• Many get thanks for fest success
MARK BENNETT: Life at face value: Mom’s simple advice still presents a valuable daily challenge
Most moms don’t base their advice on scientific research.
(Unless, of course, your mother is a scientific researcher. If so, carry a No. 2 pencil and take good notes.)
EDITORIAL: Better monitoring needed to prevent local environmental messes
The nasty, hazardous messes lurking in the community raise a bottom-line, red-flag question. Could these environmental problems have been monitored and, thus, prevented?
GUEST COLUMN: Nursing more than medicine and bandages
Being a nurse … Like most nurses, I chose this profession because I had a strong desire to help others and no other career would allow me the opportunity to touch lives the way I have been able to through nursing.
READERS' FORUM: May 12, 2013
Vigo Youth Football, entering 45th year, seeks new support
Media ignoring important case on abortions
Proud to be old-fashioned
Guns in school? What’s next?
Promoting hate not a ‘brave’ act
FLASHPOINT: Again in 2013 General Assembly, middle class generally ignored
Last year, the people of Indiana entrusted the Republican Party with some of their most precious possessions.
RONN MOTT: ‘Raccoons II’
In the Algonquin Indian language, raccoon means “working with hands.” They are really cute little fellows until they injure a child, or a pet, or leave feces around where you certainly do not want it.
Readers’ Forum: May 11, 2013
I just wanted to express my disappointment at the lack of response shown by President Obama after the Boston Marathon bombings.
Readers' Forum: May 10, 2013
CANDLES event plants new seed: On April 26, CANDLES Holocaust Museum and Education Center hosted an event called “Sowing Seeds of Peace: A Celebration of Spring” at the Apple House. Our purpose was to introduce people to our concept of forgiveness as a seed for peace.
RONN MOTT: ‘NRA Convention’
At the recent NRA Convention in Houston, Texas, where the right-wing political hot air almost lifted the convention's building off its foundation, the NRA trotted out the forever yours political dame of the right wing, Sarah Palin. Sarah did not disappoint.
- More Opinion Headlines
- EDITORIAL: Cleaning up voter rolls