Read an Excerpt
STEVE DAHL was 24 years old on July 12, 1979, the night of Disco Demolition.
This is his introduction in his own words:
You can’t frame it through today’s perspective. Maybe this isn’t the best example, but it is like saying Christopher Columbus was a heinous slavemaster. At the time, that’s what he did if he wanted to explore the new world. It wasn’t like I was thinking about being racist or homophobic and that has become a big thing. Maybe it’s because of the BBC and some interviews with Nile Rodgers maybe? I’m not sure.
It was really the second generation of rock n’ roll. It’s been around for 50 years now. All of a sudden in the late 1970s, fifteen years after the Rolling Stones come into existence kids are throwing out disco records. There was no guarantee rock was going to continue on the path that it was on. I’m pretty sure that’s when Pete Townsend’s ‘Long Live Rock’ came out (recorded in 1972, released as a single in November, 1979) and songs of that ilk. I often think about how passionate you are about music in your twenties. That was part of it, too. When you are in your twenties and music is moving so far from what you think, you can’t relate to it anymore.
When you have some of the biggest names in rock doing that (Rod Stewart, “Do Ya’ Think I’m Sexy”, Rolling Stones “Miss You”) it is unsettling. I have no clue how that happened. Studio 54 was a big deal and the New York disco scene was happening. But the rock to disco thing was the part that resonated with the kids that listened to the Loop. Maybe not so much consciously for me, but obviously I tapped into something with kids that age. It was an easy target. It was funny.
In 1979 I put out a record parody of Rod Stewart’s “Do Ya’ Think I’m Sexy” called “Do Ya Think I’m Disco.” After many Kafaesque years of trying to defend myself against the racist/homophobe charges it occured to me to let the lyrics of my anti-disco anthem make my point for me:
“I always wear tight pants
I always stuff a sock in
It always makes the ladies start to talking
My shirt is open
I never use the buttons
Though I look hip, I work for E.F. Hutton
Do ya think I’m disco
Cuz I spend so much time
Blow drying my hair
Do ya think I’m disco
Cuz I know the dance steps
Learned them all at Fred Astaire...”
Not a masterpiece, I know. But not exactly a racist/homophobic manifestom either. We were a bunch of disenfranchised 20-something rockers having some laughs at the expense of oler brothers who had the capital and the clothing to hang with the trendy social elite. We were letting off a little steam. Any statement to the contrary is just plain wrong.
I always made fun of the white three-piece suits. The John Travolta guy (from “Saturday Night Fever”) was in my mind. It was my reaction to the white male lifestyle that you don’t want to aspire to in you’re twenties when you’re walking around in a tee shirt and corduroys. It was intimidating and the easiest way to deal with it was to lash out at it. The Village People were obviously gay and dressed like Indians, so it seemed like they were fair game. I don’t recall color being an issue for me. It really all came out of “Saturday Night Fever.” That was the low water mark or the high water mark, whichever you want to see it. I’m doing this book because I want people to understand the context of which it occurred.
I don’t want to be known as a racist and homophobe forever.
Even if I was trying to be racist and homophobic, you could never say that stuff on the air. And if I really thought that I never would have verbalized it. It doesn’t happen too much, I mostly get that from journalists that weren’t alive when it happened. I was told not to talk about it on the air the day after the event but talking about it was a major turning point for me. It was the right thing to do. If that many people responded to this, I owed it to them to talk about it truthfully. My number one responsibility is to the audience. That certainly tested my loyalty. It was made clear to me it would be bad if
I talked about it.
Almost every day someone talks to me about Disco Demolition. No matter where I am. I’m fine with that. I don’t get tired of it. It’s cool that people remember. I’ve always tried to be nice to people because it is way easier than being a prick. Having to apologize takes twice as long. I liked ABBA, I liked ‘Dancing Queen,’ technically maybe it’s not disco. I liked TSOP (The Sound of Philadelphia) I was thinking today maybe I should get credit for inventing house music. I did all my parody songs at CRC (Chicago Recording Company) and the kid I worked with, Tom Hanson, was doing a lot of house music (Engineer J.M. Silk’s “Music is the Key,” Marshall Jefferson’s “Move Your Body,” etc.) I was around some of those guys and I thought that stuff was pretty cool. House music is a step up from disco and kind of leads to rap and hip-hop.
Maybe I should get credit for inventing house music!
I presented my kids’ births on the air, had a live vasectomy, held a star-studded ‘It’s a Wonderful Life” and ‘A Christmas Carol’ (radio) plays and traeled all over with the first satellite remotes. Disco Demolition faded as a defining moment for me. It was a lap on my journey in radio.
DAVE HOEKSTRA PREFACE
During the summer of 1979 I was writing for a suburban Chicago newspaper while exploring the edges of urban music. I loved the reggae-punk sound of the Clash and discovered the electric-funkateer who called himself Prince. I was a huge Faces fan and was repulsed with the Rod Stewart hit “Do Ya’ Think I’m Sexy?”
That’s what led me to Disco Demolition.
I had no issue with the “disco” music of Tavares, the soul of the Ohio Players or even the best orgasmic stuff from Donna Summer. But rock n’ rollers crossing over into disco was wrong. In my later years I came to find out “Do Ya’ Think I’m Sexy” lifted the melody from the compostion “Taj Mahal” by Brazilian artist Jorge Ben Jor. Jor filed a copyright infringment lawsuit against Stewart and the case was settled amicably. In his 2012 autobiography “Rod,” Stewart copped to “unconscious plagirarism” of the Ben Jor tune.
So, what was the Rolling Stones excuse for “Miss You”?
I love baseball more than the Faces and the Stones, so it was easy to fork over 98 cents on July 12, 1979 to catch a double header between the Chicago White Sox and the Detroit Tigers. The ticket price aligined with the frequency of rock radio station WLUP-FM (97.9) which sponsored the event, which at the beginning was simply called “Teen Night.”
Teen Night was hosted by WLUP morning man Steve Dahl and his sidekick Garry Meier. Dahl and Meier were heroes to many of us who maybe didn’t fit the norms.
I was living in an apartment a block east of Wrigley Field and dating a fun woman we called Miller. She was from the far south side neighborhood of Beverly and had eight sisters and one brother. That was a starting line up full of Sox fans. I was a Cubs fan. Miller and I took the El down from the north side and got to the park early. I don’t recall seeing the thousands of people who later gathered on the outskirts of old Comiskey Park. It was a hot, steamy night. We sat in the right field upper deck. I behaved myself likely because I didn’t drink Schlitz or Stroh’s, the Comiskey house beers.
The dimly lit upper cavern at Comiskey invited anarchy even on the most quiet of nights. The upper deck was a good place to make out, guzzle from open bottles of Jack Daniel’s and not pay any attention to the game. I saw all of that in my years of going to Comiskey. My father, who as a young man worked in the nearby Union Stockyards, took me to my first major league baseball game at Comiskey: White Sox-Yankees, 1965 with Mickey Mantle stumbling around on his last, weary legs. The Mick cut a ‘45 with country singer Teresa Brewer on Buddy Holly’s Coral label. That was in 1956, a very long time ago when rock n’ roll was young.
The Sox had a 40-46 record on July 12, 1979 and were not a very compelling team.
Left fielder Ralph “Roadrunner” Garr had seen his best days with the Atlanta Braves and right fielder Claudell Washington became the punch line of the outfield fans joke “Washington Slept Here” (He must have been ignited by the disco event because on July 14 he hit three home runs in a game). With such a blank canvas, WMAQ-AM radio announcers Harry Caray and former major leaguer Jimmy Piersall became the life of the party.
Owner Bill Veeck was trying anything to bring fans into the park to see his mundane cast of characters. Only a month before Disco Demolition, Veeck presented “Disco Night” with a dance contest before a game against the Seattle Mariners (according to a 1979 White Sox program I saved.) But then June 23 was Lithuanian Day and Aug. 20 was “Beer Case Stacking.” Veeck knew his South Side audience.
The White Sox lost the first game 4-1 on a nifty five-hitter from the Tigers Pat Underwood, a native of Kokomo (not the Beach Boys city) Indiana. Between games Dahl entered the field on a commando jeep. This is because he was the leader of the “Insane Coho Lips,” an anti-disco army. Dahl wore military fatigues and a crooked helmet. It wasn’t exacty Gen. Eisenhower storming Normandy. Yet.
Dahl was assisted by WLUP’s provcotative “Goddess of Fire” Loreli. Dahl and Loreli landed at second base where they led the crowd in chants of “Disco Sucks!” The box of disco records were on the outfield side of second base. Since the box filled up with vinyl, other fans took records to their seats. After the records were blown up all hell broke loose.
About 15 minutes before the second game was to begin fans started storming on the field. I didn’t throw my Rod Stewart record on the field. I had given it to the ticket taker. My clearest memory of that night is the cloud of smoke that hung over the field like a beach blanket on Fire Island. “Beer and baseball go together, they have for years,” said the late Tigers manager Sparky Anderson. “But I think those kids were doing other things than beer.”
Once the riot began, Miller and I departed immediately. There was no pushing or shoving to get out of “The Baseball Palace of the World”
Maybe most of the fans were on the field.
There were no reported injuries and 39 fans were arrested on charges of disorderly conduct. At first the second game was postponed, but on the following day American League president Lee MacPhail ordered a forefit to the Tigers. It was the last forfeit in major league baseball until 1995 when Los Angeles Dodgers fans through souvenir baseballs on the field, resulting in a forfeit to the St. Louis Cardinals.
The announced attendance for the Disco Demolition game was 47,795 people. Bill Veeck guessed that between 50,000 and 55,000 people were in the ballpark. The capacity of Comiskey Park was 44,492. Chicago police were worried that crowds outside would also riot, but that never happened.
Over time Disco Demolition has assumed the fablelike characteristics that are so common to baseball: 70,000 people were in the ballpark. 10,000 people were on the Dan Ryan Expressway in front of the ballpark. It was big, but not that big. In the Friday, July 13 edition of the Chicago Tribune, columnist David Israel wrote, “As far as riots go this one was fairly lovely. I mean, this isn’t going to make anyone forget about Grant Park or the Days of Rage. It was a lot of sliding into second base and ‘Look at me-ma’ jumping around for the benefit of televison cameras.” After all, the Sister Sledge disco tune “We Are Family,” co-written by Nile Rodgers, was one of the hits of the summer of ‘79. It became the theme song for the Pittsburgh Pirates.
After the game, Sox pitcher Richard Wortham told reporters he was a fan of Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson and then added, “This wouldn’t have happened if they had country and western night.”