July 12, 2019

IT WAS 40 YEARS AGO TONIGHT: Disco Demolition at 40: Two views of an explosive promotion that caught fire at Chicago’s Comiskey Park in 1979.

Harry Caray and the owner, Bill Veeck, got on the public address system and tried to coax us to go back to our seats, and I seem to recall them trying to get everyone to sing “Take Me Out to the Ball Game.” But nothing was going to work.

It wasn’t the kind of crowd that would take orders from Harry Caray.

It was actually starting to die out when all of a sudden dozens of cops came in on horseback, making a gauntlet and marching out toward the outfield. I was well aware of the ’68 convention riot, so that’s when I decided to get off the field.

I did grab a chunk of turf before I left. I’ve apologized profusely to Roger Bossard, the Sodfather, for that ever since. We completely tore apart his field, which caused the forfeiture of the second game.

Rosenthal: Looking back, I definitely wish my friend and I had skipped our softball game and gone straight to the ballpark.

Disco Demolition has become a cultural touchstone and a part of baseball lore.

Although controversial in some circles, it’s more fondly recalled than the Indians’ 10-Cent Beer Night in 1974 and the Dodgers’ Ball Night in 1995, both of which also famously ended badly.

Sox announcer Jimmy Piersall may have called it “one of the saddest sights I’ve ever seen at a ballpark in my life,” but how many things at Comiskey Park from 1979 are we still talking about?

Sullivan: Agreed. And the only time anyone mentions disco these days is when they’re talking about Disco Demolition, so it outlasted the genre. Congrats, Steve Dahl.

As I wrote in a 2014 post on a documentary called The Secret Disco Revolution:

Naturally the film mentions “the infamous Disco Demolition Night of 1979, when disco-hating rockers blew up a bunch of dance records in a baseball stadium,” dubbing it and other anti-disco rhetoric from the period an attack on disco’s “mass liberation of gays, blacks, and women from the clutches of a conservative, rock-dominated world.”

Because, racism. And homophobia. And fear of white polyester suits as well, I guess.

But in reality, 1979 was a unique quiet highpoint for rock. MTV was two years away, and dinosaurs still thundered the earth: all four Beatles were still alive and recording, Led Zeppelin was still around and released their underrated last album as an intact band, In Through the Out Door, Pink Floyd released The Wall, and Bill Wyman was the only member of the Rolling Stones over 40. While Keith Moon had recently gone off to The Great Practice Hall In The Sky, The Who were more visible than ever, with multiple albums, movies, tours, and the debut of Pete Townshend’s solo career.

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However, as I said last year when I wrote a lengthy review titled, “Turn the Beat Around: A Reformed Disco Hater Looks Back at Whit Stillman’s The Last Days of Disco,” had I known what was coming for black music – the non-melodic dead-end of rap music – I would never been as dismissive about disco.

But then arguably, rock would exhaust itself by the end of the 1980s. You could probably make a case that both genres ended on similar notes: Disco was the last gasp of the pop-oriented R&B professionalism of Motown; the hair metal of the following decade was the last gasp of the genre of hard rock invented by Cream, Jimi Hendrix, the Yardbirds, and Led Zeppelin. Rap would replace disco, death metal would replace its more melodic predecessor, and both would quickly hit brick walls.

Today, as Mark Steyn recently noted, “A performance of the Village People’s disco classic “YMCA” by the Bennett Elementary School First Grade class has been canceled because …oh, go on, guess.”

“Wrong, it’s racist,” Mark added. A class of Fargo first graders can’t perform the song, not because of its camp gay single entendres, but because one of the kids’ mothers “said asking her daughter and her classmates to dress up like an Indian is offensive.”

And we certainly can’t have that in our music, disco or otherwise.

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