Disco Demolition Night Rocks Chicago
The Night Disco Died?
Disco Demolition Night - who woulda thunk it? One of the greatest nights in the history of rock ‘n' roll happened on July 12, 1979 at Old Comiskey Park in Chicago. As part of a baseball promotion, thousands of people brought their disco records so they could be blown to smithereens on the outfield grass. I didn't agree with this promotional concept because I think disco is some of the greatest dance music ever. (Remember Sister Sledge's "We Are Family"? What a fabulous tune!) Nevertheless, I enjoyed the spirit of the event because it gave rock fans the chance to have some good old-fashioned hell-raising fun. (Fortunately, no one was seriously hurt.) In these days of post 9/11 paranoia, putting on such an event would be impossible. Too bad, darn it!
The following is a short story I wrote regarding the event. Don't worry, it's not very long and has a point of view I think you'll find amusing. The events are chronicled as accurately as I can write them without actually being present on that wonderful night so many years ago during my decadent, party-hardy, smart-alecky youth. Please read DISCO DYNAMITE:
Upon the sidewalk, a plastic John Travolta doll spit flames and smoke, as Jim and Betty stepped by, looking curiously at the burning toy and also at the jeering people around it. Hand in hand, Jim and Betty looked at each other and grinned. "What's that about?" Jim said.
"The doll looks familiar," Betty said.
Jim frowned with puzzlement. "I couldn't say."
Then Jim pointed excitedly at the imposing building up the street. "There's Comiskey Park," he said, while pointing toward the drab, brownish-red façade of the venerable old ball park that first opened in 1910.
Betty nodded, sunshine glinting off her freckled cheeks. "Never seen such a place," she said. "It's really big, like a steel factory or something."
"Sure is," Jim agreed. "You know, I've never been to a ballgame."
Betty stared at him for a moment. "Don't they play ballgames in Kankakee?"
"Not Major League ballgames. The Chicago White Sox play here; they're in the American League. Babe Ruth used to play here."
"Oh," Betty said, looking mystified, "never heard of him."
Jim threw up his arms. "You've never heard of Babe Ruth? He was like the president or something."
Betty hiked her shoulders and said, "I've never been to Chicago either."
Jim nodded in a serious, knowing fashion, as if he'd been around the block a time or two or three. "I've been to Chicago, just once, years ago," he said. "My daddy brought me here, and we drove around for awhile, seeing the sights. We saw the home of the Chicago Bears, Soldier Field, where they have these tall pillars, kind of like that old Greek stuff, ya know." Jim glanced at all the people milling about, many of whom smiling with joyous anticipation. "There sure are lots of folks," he added. "Thousands, I figure."
"Yeah," Betty said, "people are everywhere. I guess Thursday night games in July draw lots of people."
"Well," Jim said, winking at her, "tonight is a little different. We're going to what they call a twilight double-header - two games for the price of one."
"Good deal!" Betty exclaimed. "Now we know why there are so many people."
Jim and Betty walked toward the front gate, where Jim proudly whipped out two tickets. "Sure glad my uncle gave us these," Jim said, handing the tickets to the attendant. "Thank you, sir," Jim said.
Betty noticed that many people carried vinyl records, and some of these same people carried the records to the ticket stand where they showed them to the ticket clerk, paid the clerk some money, left the records, and then walked away with tickets. Betty promptly shared this observation with Jim, who said, "Guess they're playing some music tonight, between innings or something. Could be request night, what do you think?"
"Hope they play some Patsy Cline," Betty said.
"Me too." Jim leaned over and kissed Betty on the cheek. "We'll have fun tonight either way."
Betty gushed gleefully and snuggled into Jim. Leaning affectionately against each other, they ambled into Comiskey Park, or Sox Park as many locals called it.
Jim stood well over six feet tall and was lean and lanky like the typical basketball player. He had short brown hair parted down the middle. Some fuzz grew on his upper lip, supposedly a moustache. Betty was at least a foot shorter than Jim was. She had long, lustrous auburn hair and plenty of curves in the right places. Jim considered her quite a looker. As a pair, Jim was constantly leaning over Betty, or Betty would tug on Jim, getting him to come closer to her.
When Jim and Betty walked it into the ball park, the collective sound of over 50, 000 people whooshed over them like a shock wave. Neither had ever been around so many people in one place. They stood there, gaping. "Man!" Jim blurted. "What a thing!"
Betty nodded, her blue eyes sparkling with excitement. "What fun!" she cried.
Jim chuckled at her enthusiasm, as he drew her along the aisles.
Their seats were located on the lower deck, a little beyond the left field side of third base and some 15 rows from the field. Most people would be happy to have such seats. They sat down and took another gander, smelling the lawn, watching the umpires gather near home plate and listening to the people around them. "These are really good seats," Jim said, and gave Betty a hearty hug around the shoulders.
"I can see everything," Betty said.
From the upper deck, people shouted down at Jim and Betty, who immediately turned and waved. Jim and Betty couldn't understand what the people were saying, until one of them hollered quite clearly, "Disco sucks!"
"Disco?" Jim said, staring at Betty. "Isn't that dance music?"
"I've heard of it," Betty said.
Then the home team, the Chicago White Sox, sprang onto the field, and the crowd roared its approval. Soon, a player from the opposing team, the Detroit Tigers, stepped up to home plate, ready to swing a bat, and the game commenced.
Jim and Betty had watched some Major League contests on television and both considered the game a little slow, perhaps boring, but watching a game in person was a different experience altogether, like the difference between a peck on the check and a kiss on the mouth. Listening to the baseball fans around them enhanced the experience too, particularly when an umpire made a call that went against the home team, at which point many people erupted with boos and shouted lines such as "Give him some glasses!" or "Kill the umpire!" Fans heckled opposing players as well, bellowing, "He can't hit his weight!" or "Bozo the Clown could have caught that ball!" And, since familiarity breeds contempt, some of the home players got their share of abuse as well.
Jim and Betty noticed that as the game progressed, the people around them, particularly the ones in the upper deck, grew louder and louder and cussed a lot more. Perhaps this was caused by their swilling great quantities of Schlitz beer, Jim suggested, and Betty nodded. Betty heard one young man holler, "Man, I'm Schlitz-faced!" And periodically, Jim and Betty caught the smell of pot smoke wafting in the air.
Jim asked, "They allow that stuff here?"
Betty shrugged and said, "Lots of people do it."
Soon, the boisterous people in the upper deck began flinging vinyl albums and 45's, which sailed through the air like flying saucers. At one point, an LP hit Jim in the back of the head and then clattered to the concrete. Rubbing his head, Jim chuckled, picked up the record and looked at the label: the Bee Gees' Saturday Night Fever. "You want it?" he asked Betty.
Betty wagged her head negatively and then screwed her eyes into a perplexed look. "This is getting crazy - but it's kind of fun too."
Jim turned to an elderly man wearing an ancient, sweat-stained Chicago White Sox cap and asked, "Do they always throw records around?"
"Naw," the man answered, looking annoyed. "Watch the game."
"Yes, sir," Jim said. "It is a good game."
The elderly man lowered his head, shook it dismally and muttered, "It could be a good game."
"Disco sucks! Disco sucks! Disco sucks!" Now many people in the crowd shouted this phrase as if it were the night's mantra. Jim spied a banner on the right field upper deck, which read: WHAT DO LINDA LOVELACE AND DISCO HAVE IN COMMON? Jim had never heard of Linda Lovelace, though her name seemed to indicate she wasn't the kind of woman you brought home to mother.
Taking it all in, Jim swapped dumbfounded looks with Betty, and then they kept watching the close, low-scoring ball game, which the Detroit Tigers eventually won by a score of 4 to 1. At that moment, Jim turned to Betty and declared, "Time for some hotdogs and soda pop."
"Good idea," Betty said. "Put plenty of ketchup on mine."
Jim looked aghast. "Ketchup on a hotdog?"
While Jim was gone, Betty chatted with a young woman who said she had never seen such a large, rowdy crowd; and if people didn't start behaving themselves she was going to leave. Another woman said this crowd was nothing compared to the rough crowds at rock concerts held at Comiskey Park.
About the time Jim returned with the snacks, a long-haired young man wearing army garb and carrying a microphone, walked purposefully onto the playing field, many people cheering him on. This was local disk jockey Steve Dahl. Accompanying Dahl was a young blonde woman named Lorelei from station WLUP. Lorelei was a real beauty, who generated plenty of wolfish whistles from men in the crowd. Microphone in hand, Dahl began yelling "Disco sucks!" Toward the outfield grass Dahl and Lorelei strode, their destination, a crate and dumpster, both of which filled with thousands of records.
Transfixed, Jim and Betty watched the action, while munching on hotdogs and sipping lemon-lime soda pop. "What's going on?" Jim asked.
"Beats me," Betty replied. "Guess they're gonna do something with those containers. Are those records in there?"
"I think so. What the heck?"
A minute or so later, a deafening ka-boom rocked the night, as the crate of records exploded, blowing a crater in the grass and sending a cloud of white smoke billowing into the sky. And then a second blast of dynamite ripped through the dumpster, mounds of debris flying everywhere. Jim and Betty grabbed each other, shock and awe on their faces.
"They blew up the records!" Betty cried.
"That's the craziest thing I've ever seen!" Jim exclaimed.
Suddenly another record, a 45, conked Jim in the head. It was Donna Summer's "Last Dance." Then a firecracker, a big one, maybe an M80, detonated over Jim's head. Jim's ears rang like cascading white water. A second later, a bottle rocket whizzed by Betty and landed on the field with a plop and a fizzle. Golf balls bounced here and there too, just missing them.
Jim turned and peered at the upper deck. "We're being bombarded!"
Betty covered her head with her purse, grinning at Jim, who laughed and pointed at her. "You're smart," he said.
Soon, Dahl, the disc jockey, and Lorelei left in a jeep, and then hundreds of people poured onto the playing field.
"That's a great idea," Jim said, coming to his feet. "We can get away from the flying records and bombs." Jim grabbed Betty by the hand and yanked her toward the playing field.
On the outfield grass, Jim and Betty just stood by themselves, holding hands, as people ran wild. Using posters, banners, paper cups and other debris, people started a bonfire in shallow right-center field. Soon people jumped through the flames, hooting and howling. A fist fight or two erupted, though nothing of a serious nature. Couples made out. People chugged beer and passed joints. Others simply chatted, as if this were a good opportunity to swap gossip. Over the public address system, announcer Haray Caray called out, "Holy cow! People, people, please get off the field!"
Hearing this, Jim said, "Not a chance - it's safer in the outfield, away from all those people throwing stuff."
Jim and Betty hugged each other, and then Betty gazed up into Jim's eyes. "I like this spot just fine," she said.
Jim and Betty embraced and exchanged a very warm, deep kiss.
Before long, some of the people in the stands, perhaps the baseball fans who knew that the second game of the doubleheader couldn't start until the people left the playing field, began singing, "Na Na Na Na . . . Na Na Na Na, hey assholes, sit down!"
Jim and Betty ignored the derisive song. Oblivious, they were too busy hugging, necking and kissing. At one tender moment, Jim asked, "Will you marry me?"
"Yes," Betty replied without hesitation. "I'm so happy!"
Then a young man carrying a handful of outfield turf bumped into the couple. Jim looked down at the lawn and said, "We'll get us a memento." He hunkered and ripped out a patch of grass, and then showed it proudly to Betty, who rubbed the grass with her fingers.
"Feels nice," she said. "We'll replant it somewhere. Maybe at our house, when we have a house."
"Good idea!" Jim beamed. Then something caught his eye. "Look over there," he said, pointing with his right hand, as a phalanx of riot police began gathering ominously. "Think we better get out of here," he went on, his feet shifting nervously.
"Wanna go back to our seats in the stands?" Betty asked.
"I've had enough baseball for tonight," Jim said, a screwball look in his eyes. "Besides, something tells me they won't be playing game two."
"I'll bet you're right."
The two lovers took each other by the hand and then scampered toward the nearest exit to Comiskey Park.
Game two of the doubleheader was not played, because the field had too many holes in it. So the game was forfeited to the visiting team, the Detroit Tigers. Altogether, this may not have been such a good night for the home team, the Chicago White Sox, which lost both games of the doubleheader, but rockers certainly seemed to enjoy the evening.
The Bee Gees called Disco Demolition Night "the death of disco." Harry Wayne Casey, the lead singer of KC and the Sunshine Band, denounced the promotion as a racist, homophobic attack on a positive, multicultural style of music.
At any rate, every time I think of Disco Demolition Night, a smile comes to my face as I recall those halcyon days when people could run amuck in the spirit of good clean fun - well, uh, fun of some kind anyway - without the National Guard showing up with battle tanks.
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© 2008 Kelley Marks