The Disco Demolition Riot – July 1979
As an Englishman I find the attractions of baseball mystifying. It is a glorified game of rounders that is tedious in the extreme, punctuated only by the cheesy seventh innings stretch. And because of the American fetish with finding a winner – draws are not in their national psyche – if there isn’t a victor at the end of nine innings, it goes on interminably until someone has an advantage. I may have been unlucky with the baseball games I have seen live but this seems a regular occurrence. And they say cricket is boring!
As far as music went, the 1970s was a mix of the very good and the downright awful. Firmly in the latter camp was disco music, something that drove me to distraction and dissipated all of my natural bonhomie. It seemed that there were many at the time who shared my views. So what could possibly go wrong if you mixed a deadly dull game like baseball with a marmite-like genre such as disco music? The events at Comiskey Park in Chicago on July 12th 1979, that’s what.
For the double header between the local team, the White Sox, and Detroit Tigers the promoters offered entry at a bargain price of $0.98 if you brought and handed in a disco record. At the interval between the games, local DJ, Steve Dahl, an arch-critic of disco music who had recently been fired from WDAI-FM when it switched to become an all disco station, would blow up the records using fireworks. The promotion for the so-called Disco Demolition night worked well with an official attendance of 59,000 and a further 15,000 milling around outside the stadium. According to some reports, the air was heavy with the sweet smell of marijuana.
The White Sox lost the first game 4-1 and with due ceremony a crate full of the offending disco records was wheeled into view. Dahl blew them up to smithereens, creating a small crater in the outfield. The playing area was not guarded and a large section of the crowd – some estimates put the numbers at between five and seven thousand – ran on to the grass, forcing the White Sox team, limbering up for the second game to fell to the relative safety of the clubhouse. The ground was trashed, the batting cage overturned, base poles stolen and vinyl records were thrown like Frisbees or burnt. A large bonfire was lit on the centre of the pitch.
Appeals for calm went unheeded and at 9.08 pm the Chicago cops in full riot gear appeared on the scene. The rioters quickly dispersed, although 39 not quickly enough as they had their collars felt and charged with disorderly conduct. The ground was so badly damaged – the field resembled “a grassy moonscape” – that the second game was abandoned and awarded 9-0 to the Tigers.
And the aftermath? The owner of the White Sox, Bill Veek, sold them the following year and his son, Mike, was unable to get a job in baseball for some time, claiming he had been blackballed because of the incident. Disco music soon waned in popularity shortly after the riot, with record companies rebadging the stuff as dance music. Dahl claimed in an interview some time later that the Disco demolition Night “hastened its demise”. For Dahl, this was the end of his anti-disco rallies but it shot him to national fame, becoming a radio superstar in the windy city.
It would never have happened at Lord’s!