You can’t mention Chicago and House Music without coming back to Disco Demolition Night, the infamous publicity stunt gone wrong on July 12, 1979 at Comiskey Park in Chicago in which radio disc jockey Steve Dahl poked at the seething underbelly of racism, homophobia and plain bad taste in Chicago and ran his schtick into the ground.
So how strange is it that almost 33 years later to the day, the same Chicago White Sox are hosting a “House Music Night” in which “Chicago-style House DJs” will be prominently featured starting at 4:30 pm tonight at US Cellular Field?
The details of Disco Demolition Night have been the stuff of myth (actually, one of the few occasions in which music industry legend is pretty close to the truth). While Dahl was lionized as a hero by the Foghat loving masses, much of the opprobium for the on-field riot was attributed to Mike Veeck, son of infamous White Sox owner Bill Veeck:
“I’m the one who came up with the idea for Disco Demolition Night, when fans were encouraged to bring disco records to Comiskey Park, and we’d blow ’em up between games of a double-header. Did it work? So well that more than 100,000 people tried to get in, traffic was snarled for miles, and when we did blow up the records, our customers — bless them all — rioted in celebration, forcing us to forfeit the second game.”
Unlike Dahl, whose popularity skyrocketed, Veeck seems to have really paid a price:
“The embarrassment to baseball was so great that soon enough, after Dad sold the club, I was essentially blackballed from Major League Baseball. No one would hire me. I didn’t handle that well. I began drinking heavily, lost custody of my son in a divorce, and landed in Florida, where I hung drywall before drifting to advertising. This lasted almost 10 years — I was completely out of it. Then a minor league club owner named Marv Goldklang, looking for someone with new ideas, decided he wanted “someone like Bill Veeck.” He tracked me down, hired me, let me do my thing, and I’ve never taken myself too seriously since. Second chances do that to you.”
It’s the kind of thing that everyone knows about, happening as it did when a new generation of kids (overwhelmingly black and gay – for the record, just about everyone involved on one side deny racial animus. Why, some of their best friends…) were building something new at 206 S. Jefferson. Hell, Joey Negro just mentioned it off-the-cuff in an interview we did in April 2012. So it’s pretty impossible to separate the context of that night from a night that features House Music at a White Sox game. Is it penance? A cheeky stunt? Does it really matter?
So that’s this evening. In the meantime, here’s a round up of primary documents (largely, recorded newscasts) from the night of July 12, 1979: