Disco Demolition Night


Disco Demolition Night

Disco Demolition Night was a promotional event that took place on Thursday, July 12, 1979, at Comiskey Park in Chicago, Illinois, during which a crate filled with disco records was blown up on the field. It was held during the twi-night doubleheader baseball game between the Chicago White Sox and the Detroit Tigers. During the climax of the event, rowdy fans surged onto the field, and a near riot ensued. It would ultimately prove to be one of the most notable promotional ideas and one of the most infamous since "Ten Cent Beer Night" in Cleveland in 1974.[1] The event has been characterized as the "emblematic moment" of the anti-disco "crusade".[2] The event has been described as "the night disco died"[3][4] [5] and "a mass exercise in racism and homophobia, reminiscent of Nazi book-burnings."[6]

Contents

Prelude

Popular Chicago disc jockey Steve Dahl had been fired from local radio station WDAI when its programming shifted from album-oriented rock to an all-disco format. Dahl was subsequently hired by rival album-rock station WLUP, "The Loop". Sensing an incipient anti-disco backlash[7] and playing off the publicity surrounding his firing, Dahl created a mock organization called "The Insane Coho Lips Anti-Disco Army" to oppose disco. Dahl and broadcast partner Garry Meier regularly mocked and heaped scorn on disco records on the air. Dahl also recorded his own parody, Do You Think I'm Disco? (a satire of Rod Stewart's "Da Ya Think I'm Sexy?").[8][9]

Meanwhile, on May 2, the Detroit Tigers-Chicago White Sox game at Comiskey Park was rained out. American League rules called for the game to be made up at the teams' next meeting in Chicago. Thursday, July 12 was to have featured a single night game, to kick off a four-game weekend series, the last series before the All-Star Break. The single game date was switched to a doubleheader.

Dahl and Meier, in conjunction with Mike Veeck (son of then-White Sox owner Bill Veeck), Dave Logan, WLUP Promotion Director, and Jeff Schwartz, WLUP Sales Manager, devised a promotion that involved people bringing unwanted disco music records to the game in exchange for an admission fee of 98¢ (the fee representing the station's location on the FM dial, 97.9). The records would be collected, placed in a large crate in center field, and blown up by Dahl.

Event

The turnout for this promotion far exceeded all expectations. White Sox management was hoping for a crowd of 12,000, about double the average for a Thursday night game that year. But an estimated 90,000 turned up at the 52,000-seat stadium. Thousands of people climbed walls and fences attempting to enter Comiskey Park, while others were denied admission. Off-ramps to the stadium from the Dan Ryan Expressway were closed when the stadium was filled to capacity and beyond.[10]

White Sox TV announcers Harry Caray and Jimmy Piersall, who were broadcasting the game for WSNS-TV, commented freely on the "strange people" wandering aimlessly in the stands. Mike Veeck recalled that the pregame air was heavy with the scent of marijuana.[11] When the crate on the field was filled with records, staff stopped collecting them from spectators, who soon realized that long-playing (LP) records were shaped like frisbees. Some began to throw their records from the stands during the game, often striking other fans. The fans also threw beer and even firecrackers from the stands.

After the first game (which Detroit won 4-1), Dahl, dressed in army fatigues and helmet, along with Lorelei Shark, WLUP's first "Rock Girl",[12] and bodyguards, emerged and proceeded to center field. The large box containing the collected records was rigged with explosives. Dahl led the crowd in chants of "disco sucks" and a countdown prior to triggering the explosives. When detonated, the explosives tore a hole in the outfield grass surface and a small fire began burning. Dahl, Shark, and the bodyguards hopped into a jeep which circled the warning track before leaving the field through the right-centerfield exit and the televised broadcast cut to a commercial break.[13] While the players were warming up,[13][14] thousands of fans immediately rushed the field[14] as soon as the broadcast came back on the air.[13] Some lit more fires and started small-scale riots. The batting cage was pulled down and wrecked,[15] and the bases were stolen, along with chunks of the field itself. The crowd, once on the field, mostly wandered around aimlessly,[16] though a number of participants burned banners, sat on the grass or ran from security and police. In the announcers booth, Piersall, who was in the midst of doing a pregame interview with local sports columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times Bill Gleason,[13] was commenting on the event and ranted against the rioters and Steve Dahl;[14][13] Gleason, however, remained cool and described the rioters as "happy kids showing off."[13][14]

Veeck and Caray used the public address system to implore the fans to leave the field immediately, but to no avail. The scoreboard simply flashed, "PLEASE RETURN TO YOUR SEATS." After a short while, most of the fans left the field.[13] Eventually, the field was cleared by the Chicago Police in riot gear. Six people reported minor injuries and thirty-nine were arrested for disorderly conduct.[10] The field was so badly torn up that the umpires decided the second game couldn't be played, though Tigers manager Sparky Anderson let it be known that his players would not take the field in any case due to safety concerns. The next day, American League president Lee MacPhail forfeited the second game to the Tigers, on the grounds that the White Sox had failed to provide acceptable playing conditions. The remaining games in the series were played, but for the rest of the season fielders and managers complained about the poor condition of the field.

For White Sox outfielder Rusty Torres, Disco Demolition Night was actually the third time in his career he had personally seen a forfeit-inducing riot. He had played for the New York Yankees at the last Senators game in Washington in 1971 and the Cleveland Indians at the infamous Ten Cent Beer Night in Cleveland in 1974. The event was deemed newsworthy worldwide.[7]

According to the 1986 book Rock of Ages: The Rolling Stone history of Rock and Roll, "the following year disco had peaked as a commercial blockbuster".[2] Steve Dahl said in a 2004 interview with Keith Olbermann that disco was a fad "probably on its way out. But I think it hastened its demise".[17]

Nile Rodgers, producer and guitarist for the popular disco-era group Chic said "It felt to us like Nazi book-burning. This is America, the home of jazz and rock and people were now afraid even to say the word 'disco'."[7]

According to the book A Change Is Gonna Come, "The Anti-disco movement represented an unholy alliance of funkateers and feminists, progressives and puritans, rockers and reactionaries. The attacks on disco gave respectable voice to the ugliest kinds of unacknowledged racism, sexism and homophobia."[18] Dahl, however, rejects the notion that this was his motivation. "The worst thing is people calling Disco Demolition homophobic or racist. It just wasn't...We weren't thinking like that."[10]

Aftermath

Although Bill Veeck took much of the public heat for the fiasco, it was known among baseball people that his son Mike was the actual front-office "brains" behind it. As a result, Mike was blacklisted from Major League Baseball for a long time after his father retired. As Mike related, "The second that first guy shimmied down the outfield wall, I knew my life was over!"[11]

To this day, the second game of this doubleheader is still the last game forfeited in the American League. The last game to end in this manner in the National League was on August 10, 1995, when a baseball giveaway promotion went awry and resulted in the Los Angeles Dodgers forfeiture.

Much later, on July 12, 2001, Mike Veeck apologized to Harry Wayne Casey, the lead singer for KC and the Sunshine Band, a leading disco act.[19]

Notable participants

Actor Michael Clarke Duncan, a Chicago native and 21 at the time, attended the event. He was among the first 100 people to run onto the field and he slid into third base. He also had a silver belt buckle stolen during the ensuing riot[20] and stole a bat from the dugout.[21]

See also

References

  1. ^ staff (7-12-2009). "The miracle of Disco Demolition night". Daily Herald. 
  2. ^ a b Ward, Ed; Stokes, Geoffrey; Tucker, Ken (1986). Rock of Ages: The Rolling Stone History of Rock and Roll (1st ed.). Simon & Schuster. p. 532. ISBN 978-0671630683. 
  3. ^ Campion (2009), p. 82–84.
  4. ^ http://www.chicagoreader.com/chicago/postcards-from-disco-demolition-night/Content?oid=1148642
  5. ^ http://www.southsidesox.com/2009/7/12/946430/the-night-disco-died-july-12-1979
  6. ^ Mandich, Steve, Roctober (Winter 2003)
  7. ^ a b c "Disco inferno". The Independent. December 11, 2004. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/disco-inferno-680390.html. 
  8. ^ Beaton, Rod (July 12, 2004). "No anniversary party for disco debacle". USA Today. p. C.03. 
  9. ^ "WLUP Chicago Reminisces". Billboard 101 (16): 10. April 22, 1989. 
  10. ^ a b c Behrens, Andy (July 12, 2009). "Disco demolition: Bell-bottoms be gone!". ESPNChicago.com. ESPN.com. http://sports.espn.go.com/espn/page3/story?page=behrens/040809. 
  11. ^ a b Karlen, Neal (2000). Slouching Toward Fargo: A Two-Year Saga Of Sinners And St. Paul Saints At The Bottom Of The Bush Leagues With Bill Murray, Darryl Strawberry, Dakota Sadie And Me. Harper Paperbacks. ISBN 038079215X. 
  12. ^ Rosenthal, Phil (October 9, 2005). "Johnny B. Set to Be Back in The Loop". Chicago Tribune (redorbit.com). http://www.redorbit.com/modules/news/tools.php?tool=print&id=265550. Retrieved 2008-11-20. 
  13. ^ a b c d e f g http://www.quora.com/Riots/What-was-it-like-to-be-in-Comiskey-Park-for-Disco-Demolition-Night
  14. ^ a b c d http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o98PcPvS-54&feature=related
  15. ^ http://www.outernetweb.com/focal/disco/photos/ddpic23.jpg
  16. ^ Disco Demolition Night - The Photos... Page 2
  17. ^ "'Countdown with Keith Olbermann' Complete Transcript for July 12, 2004". MSNBC.com. July 12, 2004. http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/5429592/ns/msnbc_tv-about_msnbc_tv/. 
  18. ^ Werner, Craig (January 9, 2006). A Change Is Gonna Come: Music, Race & the Soul of America. University of Michigan Press. ISBN 0472031473. 
  19. ^ "Disco demolition promoter apologizes". Associated Press. Lawrence Journal-World. July 13, 2001. http://www2.ljworld.com/news/2001/jul/13/disco_demolition_promoter/?print. 
  20. ^ Zwecker, Bill (September 28, 2006). "Love may have bloomed again on set for 'Garden State' star". Chicago Sun-Times. 
  21. ^ Caldarelli, Adam (May 20, 2006). "From the Cubicle". Chicago Tribune. http://www.chicagotribune.com/sports/cs-060520cubicle,0,7421730,print.column. 

Further reading

External links


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