Sunday, October 29, 2006

Music hath charms

Music is many things, including, sometimes, a glue holding various sub-groupings of society together. The Bay Area Reporter site published an article by Ernie Alderete called “Pop music that's gay, gay, gay!” Toward the end he says:
Disco is the only predominantly gay, lesbian and transgender music genre, which is probably why it gets so little mainstream respect. When, in 1984, homophobic hard-rockers cried "Disco sucks," and burned mountains of long-playing disco albums in that all-American icon of heterosexual masculinity, a football stadium, it was a sexual put-down, a collective gay-bashing, that disco never recovered from.
I don’t know what 1984 incident he’s talking about, but on July 12, 1979 my hometown of Chicago was host to the infamous “Disco Demolition” in which an anti-disco stunt turned into a riot. That event was held at Comiskey Park, home to the Chicago White Sox, in between games of a double-header between the Sox and Detroit Tigers.

The background is this: Radio DJ Steve Dahl lost his job at Chicago radio station WDAI when the station converted to an all disco format. Dahl was hired at rock station WLUP (called “The Loop”) and hatched what amounted to the ultimate revenge: Disco Demolition Night.

When Dahl blew up a pile of disco LPs, many of the 50,000 fans who crammed into the park for the event streamed onto the field. The explosion itself left a hole in the outfield and that, combined with “fan” damage, led to the Sox forfeiting the second game to the Tigers. Later home games were postponed and there were complaints about the condition of the field for the rest of the season.

Whether Dahl was just playing to the yobbos and boofheads who listened to him on WLUP, or if he simply wanted to get back at an employer who fired him, is something only he can answer. But the stunt, along with ever-present “Disco Sucks” black t-shirts worn by his fans, created an extremely hostile environment for disco, particularly in the suburban shopping malls where I bought my music at the time.

There was a sinister undercurrent to all this, with homophobia and racism bubbling away. Disco was popular in clubs for gay people and African Americans, and hating disco gave the mainly white, mainly young male WLUP listeners a socially acceptable way to also hate gay people and black people.

It’s now more than a quarter century since that infamous night, but to this day there are people who are proud to have been part of it, and who, apparently, feel the same as they did back then. Google “Disco Demolition” and you’re likely to get more that 27,000 hits, many of them for sites that speak lovingly of that night.

Times change, people and society move on, but even now if music is considered “too disco” it’s still often dismissed, partly because it’s still usually associated with gay people. The dominant heterosexual culture may think it can dismiss and marginalise gay people as easily as it does disco, but it’s not for nothing that the virtual gay national anthem is a disco song: Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive”.

No comments: