Monday, July 13, 2009

Disco Demolition Night

We missed a pretty significant anniversary yesterday, Company. And that was the 30th Anniversary of the infamous Disco Demolition Night. So let's talk about that.
The Chicago White Sox, all throughout the 1970s and 1980s were known for their unique, off-the-wall and often times shameless promotions. On the night of July 12, 1979 the Sox held one such promotion in conjunction with local radio station WLUP "The Loop" and its anti-disco crusading DJ Steve Dahl. The promotion was simple: If you brought a disco record to Chicago's Comiskey Park, then you would only have to pay 98¢ for admission to the park. Between the two games of a double header between the White Sox and the Detroit Tigers Dahl would blow your record, along with everyone else's into infinity.
It seemed like a good idea to the White Sox, because they thought it would put a few extra butts in a few extra seats. And it seemed like a good idea to Dahl because it was one more publicity stunt in a line of publicity stunts that was working out very well for him. In an interview with Jeremy Shaap for Outside the Lines, he notes that he was nervous that only a couple of thousand people would show up and the place would be cavernously empty for his little stunt. He couldn't have been more wrong. Roughly 90,000 showed up. The stadium only sat 52,000 or so. People were sneaking in. There is footage in the Outside the Lines piece (seriously, just go watch that video, it's fantastic) of people being hoisted through decorative holes in the wall of the stadium beyond the left field bleachers. That is roughly 15 times more people than would normally show for a Tuesday night double header and the White Sox, and Steve Dahl I sort of think, were totally unprepared.
It started before the first game was over. The funny thing about records is that they fly through the air much like Frisbees, and that was why they were flying onto the field from the stands, missing players by mere inches. Once the first game was over, a 4-1 Tigers win by the way, Dahl appeared on the field with his posse dressed in an Army uniform and riding in an Army jeep. Things would only go downhill from there. First of all, when he detonated the box, to much applause, it ripped a giant hole in center field, as would be expected. There must be something about the smell of several dozen thousand Bee Gees records smoldering in the steamy Chicago night that makes people go a little nutso, or maybe everyone just loves a good explosion, or maybe they just REALLY didn't want to have to sit through another White Sox monstrosity, but as Dahl and his retinue exited the stadium stage right, and the White Sox starting pitcher for Game 2, Ken Kravec entered stage left, several hundred fans tumbled down onto the field I guess what would be called stage middle, then followed by several hundred more entering stage all around, as in over the outfield wall, from above the dugout, from behind the plate, just about everywhere. Michael Clarke Duncan, the wonderful actor, was among those first hundred people who poured onto the field. He slid into third base and stole a bat from one of the dugouts.
Other people stole the bases, literally. Some people tore down the batting cage. People were climbing the foul poles. Soon there was a bonfire alight in center field. Just about anything that could be thrown was raining down on the field. People were grabbing handfuls of sod, as if that was going to do them any good to steal. About 20,000 disco haters took to the field and had themselves a big party despite Harry Caray (yes, he was the announcer for the White Sox in 1979) and White Sox owner Bill Veeck asking over the loudspeaker for everyone to return to their seats and the baseball fans remaining in the stands chanting the same thing, WITH THE ORGANIST'S ACCOMPANIMENT!
You know, however, what will make 20,000 drunk (yes they were drunk, it was a baseball game and it was in Chicago) and high (yes, there was the unmistakable smell of pot wafting over the ball park that night) disco-hating teenagers and twenty-somethings clear a baseball field in no time flat? Cops. Especially cops on horseback and cops in riot gear, both of which showed up and managed to clear the place out, with no injuries and thirty-some arrests. Then it was up to the White Sox ground crew, who did a pretty outstanding job of basically rebuilding the playing surface in about twenty minutes. In the end though, it was futile. There is only so much that one can do with a giant hole and burned area in center field. And with bits of infield missing. And no bases.
So of course the game was forfeited to the Tigers. And every visiting club said the field didn't play right anymore. It got Mike Veeck, the owner's son and the one responsible for the promotion, blackballed from Major League Baseball. But it did make an event that was noticed and broadcast and commented on all around the world. So happy anniversary Disco Demolition Night. You rocked. And you have been given credit for killing disco. Thank God.

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