THE GRAN VARONES — on july 12, 1979, with the support of chicago’s...

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on july 12, 1979, with the support of chicago’s own baseball team, the white sox, inspired thousands of white people, predominantly other musky looking white cis-heterosexual men, to participate in a manufactured riot against disco music. this event...

on july 12, 1979, with the support of chicago’s own baseball team, the white sox, inspired thousands of white people, predominantly other musky looking white cis-heterosexual men, to participate in a manufactured riot against disco music. this event was called “disco demolition night.” the event is often regarded as the night disco died. while i am always hesitant about giving mediocre white men any kind of credit, july 12, 1979 did prove that when white cis-heterosexual men whine about things that make them feel alienated and unseen - they are often provided a platform. this is nothing new to us and it certainly was nothing new 39 years ago. 

 steve dahl, a musky looking white cis-heterosexual man was a dj on chicago-based classic rock radio station. this dude loathed disco music so much that he vowed to end it by starting “the disco sucks!” campaign. when asked why he hated disco, dahl replied, “it’s not so much the music that i hate, its the culture.” he then added, “its quiet intimidating to our audience, myself, to most rock and rollers because you have to look perfect and your hair has to be beautiful.” i think it is safe to assume that dahl assumed that his listeners and rock & roll fans were just like him - straight white men. what is scary about he assumptions is that because he doesn’t see himself in the culture - it must be destroyed. 

 by the summer of 1979, disco was so huge that radio stations switched to an all-disco format. this was also the summer that donna summer reigned supreme. donna was not only the queen of disco but she was undoubtedly the queen of pop having scored three top 5 pop hits, including a pair of number ones by that summer. the prior year, the motion picture “saturday night fever” and it’s accompanying soundtrack (which i love. drag me.), brought disco into the mainstream. this was of course because the movie gentrified the culture of disco, which was black, brown and gay AF, by centering the storyline around a white cis-hetero male who just wanted to dance -awkwardly. for many, especially rock fans, this was the last straw. disco aka “fag” culture was now seeping into the spaces where it should never be - in the mainstream. 

dahl’s “disco sucks!” crusade garnered national exposure and it was this “notoriety” that attracted the white sox to invite him as the “entertainment” during their double-header game at comiske part on this fateful night. the entertainment? well that was to literally explode and burn a pile of disco records. as part of the promotion of this event, entry for just about $.98 was given to anyone who brought a disco record to add to pile to burn. because disco was a predominantly black and brown genre, many of the records burned were by black and brown artists. i should note that comiskey park was in an area of chicago where black, brown and gay folks were NOT welcomed. ya know, kinda how the climate of this country is now and always has been but i digress. 

 when the first game ended, dahl was brought out on to the field where he was allowed to literally explode and burn disco records to a cheering crowd of white drunk rock and roll fans. this dude burned art and people cheered! in an attempt to get the crowd even more riled up, this dude yelled over a mic, “what about that donna summer?” and the crowd booed! the optics of white people booing the reigning queen of pop, who was a black woman beloved by black, brown and queer folks, as they burned her albums speaks for itself. after burning disco records, steve dahl took a victory lap around the baseball field. it wasn’t long before the drunken crowd rushed to the field began rioting and yelling “long live rock and roll!” they were also yelling the racist and homophobic shit like the “n” word and “faggot.” white sox had to forfeit their second game. dahl and many rock lovers have and continue to frame “demolition night” as a war against disco - nothing more, nothing less. but history and context tells us otherwise. disco was black and queer AF! 

“disco sucks” was coded language and it attracted those who understood it, agreed with it and ignited their racism & homophobia. dahl and his followers were not at war against disco - they were at war against black, brown and queer people living and dancing to a beat that rockers could not keep up with. “the disco demolition” night was an attempt to purge the culture of disco aka gay, black and latino culture. this was an act to remind those on the margins who was really in “control.” sadly, this action would prove to be successful in ending and/or interrupting disco’s reign. the blacklash (against disco and not the white dude burning black art) was immediate, radio began to eliminate disco from their playlists. while a few disco records still managed to crossover, donna summer even scored a #1 pop hit with “no more tears” (a duet with barbra streisand), in late 1979, the genre was declared “dead. 

many attribute the rapid demise of disco to demolition night. by 1980, stations had switched back over to rock or adult contemporary. people had become so comfortable with the anti-disco movement that they literally chased gays back into the closet. disco was associated with black artists that many struggled to maintain the success they had prior to disco demolition night. hell, lionel richie, who was once the lead vocalist of the funk band the commodore basically just sang ballads. chyle, MTV, which launched on august 1, 1981, was so committed to providing terrible rock music a platform that the music channel didn’t even play videos by black artists for the few years. of course disco never really died. hell, the sugar hill gang’s “rapper’s delight”, the first rap record to break into the pop 40 in 1980 sampled the disco hit "good times." 

disco would later morph into freestyle music in the mid 80’s and then eventually into house music in the late 80’s. what is probably the most ironic about this story is that is 80’s rock featured bands who’s hair was pressed, curled and styled high to white gawds! chyle! in 2018, rock is dead. the disco sound is can still be found in damn near every genre of music. steve dahl is still alive. he is still musky. rock is dead and disco still lives on despite the racist and homophobic attempt to end it. this is proof that god is a black womxn. 

 - louie a. ortiz-fonseca

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