I was not at Comiskey Park 30 years ago today, so I don’t know firsthand how out-of-control the crowd truly got in between games of a scheduled doubleheader between two ball clubs playing their way through dreadful seasons.
I do remember the over-the-top coverage the event warranted that night on the late night newscasts. Every single news program at 10 p.m. told the tale of teenagers running amok due to disco. The images I remember were on Channel 7, which showed footage of fires being lit on the playing field and a shot of people climbing over the wall behind the center field scoreboard to sneak their way into the South Side stadium.
THERE’S NO DOUBT about it.
The people who showed up at Comiskey Park 30 years ago tonight as part of the White Sox’ attempt to leach off of the radio newcomer Steve Dahl’s growing popularity behaved badly. Even the hard-core of Sox fandom will agree.
Anyone who’s ever watched the video footage shot that night will have to agree that one of the most poignant sights was that of Sox fans in the stands cheering on the Chicago Police (while organist Nancy Faust played the chorus to the “Na, Na, Hey, Hey, goodbye” song recorded by Steam) when they took to the playing field to clear it of the teenage buffoons who were a part of Dahl’s war against bad music. The events of 30 years ago tonight wound up overshadowing the White Sox' on-field activity, which is good in the sense that people don't remember a ball club that went 73-87 and finished in 5th place in the American League west division.
This was only 11 years after the 1968 Democratic National Convention and its protests in Chicago that resulted in the sight of Chicago cops misbehaving in Grant Park. I have always wondered if there were any Chicago police officers who could claim to have been in Grant Park in ’68 and Comiskey Park in ’79.
SO WHAT TENDS to make White Sox fans defensive about the night is the idea that all of us ought to be tainted by the acts of a few meatheads who probably haven’t been to a ballgame since. (I’d joke that they’re too stoned to find the stadium, except that drug addiction is about as sad a situation as alcoholism – Dean Martin’s routines set aside).
Disco Demolition Night (as the Steve Dahl stunt was billed) is spewing various written debates these days about how homophobic the event was. It’s defenders are responding that the real victim are the lower classes (since only “rich” people theoretically could afford to get into the whole disco music scene that was the musical fad of 1977 and was pretty much dying out by 1979).
I have no problem thinking of the people who got all worked up over disco music as being buffoons. I remember being surrounded by many of them back in the day.
Back three decades ago, I was making the transition from junior to senior high school. I can remember a time when the standard “uniform” of the day was jeans and some sort of rock ‘n’ roll t-shirt.
REO SPEEDWAGON. LED Zeppelin. Aerosmith. Those were some of the bands whose logos on t-shirts were the most popular. But another popular shirt were those black with white letters depicting the logo of WLUP. “The Loop. FM 98” (actually, it was 97.9). I can remember being surrounded by the people who thought Steve Dahl was a genius, even before Disco Demolition.
So I know firsthand that the people who want to lambaste the whole anti-disco movement as somehow anti-gay or bigoted aren’t totally absurd. It wasn’t a tolerant crowd that used to enjoy this scene that thought bands such as Styx were somehow musically immortal.
It was one that would criticize anything it disapproved of as being “gay” (because, after all, what could be more insulting than that?).
But there also was the sense that disco became popular (instead of just something played in gay bars) when white people took it on. And in that context, it became something that was used as a way to further isolate those who weren’t a part of their clique.
IT’S TOO BAD that the “have-nots” of this issue took on raucous heavy metal music as the symbol of their cause, in part because it was the anti-disco of a musical beat.
So, if I remember much of the disco “debate” as being between differing cliques of white people, rather than Anglos versus “other” people, then so be it.
So do I remember the people who stormed the field at Comiskey Park as being a batch of lunkheads? Yes.
But they were probably no more pathetic than those people who went out to see the film “Saturday Night Fever,” and became so enamored with the image of “Tony Manero” that they went out and blew all their money on a white suit that they haven’t been able to wear in decades and probably shudder whenever they see the old pictures of themselves while wearing it.
BESIDES, THERE’S ALSO the fact that disco music was purely a dance beat. It had no other purpose. It couldn’t be listened to for pleasure, nor was it something that musicians of any true talent would devote years of their lives to perfecting their skills. And when it comes to dance music, there are many other forms that are preferable.
So when it comes to the eternal question, “Does Disco Suck?,” I’d have to say, “Yes, but no more so than Cheap Trick.”
EDITOR’S NOTES: Thanks to YouTube, one can watch bootleg video of the Chicago newscasts (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MpQfCcsqQ0E) from 30 years ago tonight.
It has been five years (http://www.discodemolition.com/) since the release of a documentary that tried to put Disco Demolition into its proper perspective.