I have no idea how we all survived the 1970s. Everything about that decade encouraged anarchy. Often times nearly forced it. If I told you that in 1978 there was a “Kill the Person Next to You With Your Bare Hands Night” at a major league ballpark and that everyone thought it would be a good idea at the time, but boy howdy, it just got out of hand somehow, you’d probably believe it because it was so fitting for the time. That’s just how we rolled in Ford and Carter’s America.
Of the disasters that actually did happen, I still think Ten Cent Beer Night was the greatest fiasco. I mean, what did anyone think was going to happen? But Disco Demolition Night is a worthy challenger to that crown. It occurred 34 years ago today.
In a suitable signpost for the end of the absolutely insane 1970s, a Chicago DJ named Steve Dahl achieved infamy during a doubleheader between the White Sox and Tigers. The backlash against disco had reached its apex. Dahl convinced the White Sox to stage a promotion for which people would bring unwanted disco records to the game in exchange for a 98 cent ticket. The records were to be collected and placed in center field where they were to be blown up — actually blown up — during the intermission between the two games. Fun would be had by all, Dahl and the White Sox thought. What actually happened? A riot, of course.
Which, today anyway, we probably could have seen coming. You combine cheap tickets, a promotion which, by its nature, attracted people who were not into simply dancing and having a good time, the promise of actual violence in the form of an explosion and the fact that no one really controlled beer sales in those days, and it makes perfect sense that chaos ensued. Back in 1979, however, people just didn’t think things through like that, God love ’em.
There was not enough room in the collection boxes — Dahl, the organizer, assumed maybe 10,000 people would show up but more than 50,000 did — so many just brought their records into the ballpark and started throwing them on the field. Then the explosion happened. It tore a big chunk out of the outfield grass. Then thousands of fans rushed the field, lighting fires, throwing firecrackers, and making general asses of themselves. The batting cage was pulled down and wrecked, bases were ripped off the infield, and the place was generally torn to shreds before riot police showed up.
Watch some of the local news coverage from the event. And, before wondering how this could all happen, ask yourself the first question that occurred to me: did men simply not wear shirts in the 1970s? Was there some law against it? Because in 100% of the footage I have ever seen from the 1970s, all men were shirtless. Including Nixon’s resignation speech, all episodes of the Michael Douglas Show and the Bicentennial celebrations: