Thirty-eight years ago this evening, a doubleheader at Chicago’s Comiskey Park devolved into a fiery riot when crazed fans stormed the field as part of anti-disco promotional event dubbed Disco Demolition Night. The whole thing was the brainchild of disc jockey Steve Dahl, who dressed up like the general of an anti-disco army and called his followers “The Insane Coho Lips.”
“I hate the taste of pina coladas,” he told newscaster Greg Gumbel on the fateful evening shortly before smashing a disco record against his head. “I’m allergic to gold jewelry, so there’s nothing there for me. You have to spend so much time blowdrying your hair. It’s a waste of energy.”
At the time of that interview, Dahl thought the demonstration would consist of simply blowing up some disco records on the field between games. It was a scheme cooked up between the radio personality and White Sox owner Bill Veeck, who was desperate to increase attendance at the ballpark in the middle of a lackluster season.
The game sold out, but thousands of additional ticketless fans showed up to voice their hatred of an entire genre. Many stormed the gates and filled the ballpark way beyond capacity, setting up a dangerous situation when Dahl blew up the disco records. Fans threw firecrackers and bottles onto the field, eventually storming onto it, starting fires and battling with police. The second game was eventually called off amidst the madness.
For many fans of traditional rock that had little love for disco, the incident was nothing more than a bunch of drunks having harmless fun on a summer evening. Disco had dominated the charts for the past few years, stealing the spotlight from their heroes or causing them to actually record disco music themselves, and this felt justified.
But for minority groups, the incident had highly disturbing undertones given many of the perpetrators were white men and the genre was incredibly popular amongst homosexuals, blacks and women. “It felt to us like Nazi book-burning,” Chic’s Nile Rodgers once said. “This is America, the home of jazz and rock and people were now afraid even to say the word ‘disco.'”
Check out this amazing local news broadcast from the night of the episode where the newscasters try to make sense of the insanity in real time. “Perhaps some arrests, it’s hard to tell,” says one as images of absolute madness fill the screen. “We don’t know the exact nature of everything that’s going on out there.”