A new Bee Gees documentary highlights the time thousands of white people gathered in a stadium to blow up records by Black and gay artists -- and then rioted.
Oh gosh, so many feels....
That thing in Chicago was an excessively big (and destructive) deal in my life. I was in high school in suburban Detroit, so Chicago was the nearest other big city. I was a scared, effeminate kid who had been bullied all through elementary and jr high school. I identified as gay (because I didn't have the luxury of hiding my effeminacy) but was still hiding my transness. Disco made me deliriously happy. It was magic I could count on in a scary world. I attended teen dances, created a private dance club in my parent’s basement, and roped in as many others as I could. For the first time, I felt like I had "a thing".
When the Disco Sucks movement started getting louder the haters became more and more vicious. I was already keeping so much in the closet. Disco was another thing of which I was supposed to be deeply ashamed. That event in Chicago was proof that disco was yet one more thing about me that made me "other", an outcast. It was hard enough liking disco in the Metro Detroit area. It was seen as an embarrassment among most of my idiotic peers. And the Chicago thing was all the proof they needed.
Watching it play out again in the Bee Gees doc was uncomfortable. But feeling fully realized at 57 years old seems like good revenge for the meek person I was back then.
It's nice that history remembers THOSE people as the assholes!
I loved the disco era - although I did quite a few stupid things during my clubbing days. I was a teenager growing up in middle-class suburbia when Saturday Night Fever came out and the only Black girl in my highschool. Being young and naive I thought it was so cool that my “friends” were into some of the same music I was, including a few who liked 70’s R&B.
When I reached the legal drinking age and went clubbing with my “friends”, I didn’t understand why no guys would ask me to dance. There they were dancing, with their Jersey shore tans, macho polyester clothing and permed hair to resemble afros to music born in the Black and/or LGBTQ community, sung by artists from those same communities looking at ME as if I didn’t belong.
I still can’t unsee Trump “dancing” to YMCA at that rally. Racist white persons didn’t start the theft of music from the Black community with disco. They did it with the blues, jazz and still do currently with rap and hip-hop.
White grievance, bigotry, exploitation and misappropriation will not end until the white community itself makes a concerted effort to recognize and change. Standing back and only saying/thinking how horrible racism and bigotry is does nothing.
I was in my early teens at the time in a small mountain town in Colorado, and I remember a school dance where the DJ's offered the teens the choice of "Disco or Rock?", the teens pretty much shouted in unison, "Rock, Disco Sucks!" They then played rock, and Disco was never heard there again. It's also around that time that 'Disco Sucks' started appearing on bumper stickers and radio stations stopped playing disco.
You dared not play Donna Summer or Village People. Much safer to be fans of AC/DC, Led Zeppelin, and Van Halen, even though the latter had a hit called "Running With The Devil." I had no idea what was driving all that at the time. Good to finally have answers 40+ years on.
Great article Mike. As I watched the documentary this week, I couldn't help but compare the crowd of at Cominskey Park to MAGA rallies. You just confirmed my observation. Bigotry and fear by white males who perceive their "way of life " slipping away.
What a sad sight.
Long live the BeeGees!
In the mid 70s because I owned and purchased so many records, I became the junior high school DJ. The only trouble I got was from 6-7 boys in the grade above who wanted KISS songs (and only KISS songs - it killed them that I Was Made For Loving You was their biggest hit). Disco Sucks was their gig but no one else would say it for fear of being associated with pot, day drinking and body odor so small victories. They would walk by in leather jacketed groups of two or three and bump the record player table "by accident"; their mental growth was shifting from whispering "Faggot" to saying it out loud in the hallways or shouting it anonymously at school pep rallies. Then they realized they could shout 'Disco Sucks' but as loud and hard as they wanted to scream 'Faggot' at people in public. They weren't above snapping a record "by accident". Luckily, I had a few 12" singles by rock acts like the Rolling Stones and I was able to point to the long version of Miss You and explain why the grooves were farther apart for more bass (as I was shoving my expensive Disconet/Hot Tracks dance singles below the table).
Growing up, the hatred for different or gay was its own subculture. I was tree'd a few times, spat on and body slammed in gym class, made to feel like I shouldn't stand out or be noticed because that meant beatings or damage to my car. They didn't need Disco Sucks because they were immersed in their 'Stupid Faggot' culture. The adults heard them and my resentment was they did nothing, not even school counselors. Adults only minded if someone was shouting. I only realize how damaging it all was now, in therapy and in my 50s, looking back. WAS Nebraska such a good place to grow up in? Maybe not that little town, and I wanted so much to like it and be liked.
It all began with the Columbia Record & Tape Club for me. Their promotional deal of getting 12 albums for a penny (plus shipping and handling) was too good to resist for me as a 12-year-old fixated on FM radio. It was actually through progressive rock/new wave college radio—Brown University’s WBRU 95.5 FM—that I became a lifelong fan of all kinds of black music. Everything from the indomitable Patti Smith to the digitally experimental Kraftwerk and Gary Numan played every day on my boom box and AM/FM click radio. And then all day into the night every Sunday, WBRU broadcast an amazingly diverse program of R&B, funk, soul, disco and old school tunes called the "360 Degree Black Experience in Sound." It was my heaven every week. There was also Boston’s own Kiss 108 FM, which blasted the best funk and R&B music—evuh. When I first discovered and fan-boyed over early, snarling Madonna such as “Lucky Star” and “Borderline,” I thought she was black.
I was never one of those either/or types of music fans. I was more multiple-personality in my tastes. I liked my Led Zeppelin, Lynyrd Skynyrd and Bad Company as well as my Parliament-Funkadelic, Afrika Bambaataa, and The Whispers. But I did go through certain stages of music-inspired dressing—curated according to which school I was attending or what year it was. I had my “guido” stage around 1979, when I blow-dried out—and slightly feathered as best I could—my hair every morning before school. I was definitely more adventurous with my clothes than most suburban white boys I went to school with; deep inside I wanted to be one of—and subconsciously wanted—the hot guidos, too. There were a few pairs of much-loved SWEATS Bi Ebe elastic-waist-banded athletic cotton pants with drawstring and thin piping running down the sides, in all kinds of two-color combos. I felt like gold when I wore my blue Members Only jacket with a black T-shirt with Kiss 108 lips logo scrawled in hot pink silkscreen. I also literally wore 14 karat gold in the form of a thin serpentine chain necklace. There were always my snug Jordache, Sergio Valente, and much-coveted Calvin Klein jeans to pry myself into. Daily dousings of men’s fragrances became a habit hard to break. I epitomized suburban-chic guido realness but also had my many years of Levi’s cords paired with a 3/4-sleeve-baseball-jersey-shirt, with my rock band du jour silkscreened on it. Jean jackets were huge, and later on in the 80s distressed leather bomber jackets were also a “rock” or “burnout” thing to which I connected. I remember the “disco sucks” phenomenon and I might have goofily played into it a bit by getting the trendy phrase custom-printed on a T-shirt in holographic iron-on vinyl lettering in an even goofier typeface. But I was probably just trying to avoid being made fun of or called a “fag” or having my ass kicked for liking it. An ironic defense mechanism at best. I remember standing up for solid and serious “funk” as opposed to the more superficial “disco” music—as if they hadn’t sprung from the same well. I don’t recall any explicitly racist sentiment from anyone espousing the disco-sucks mentality, though.
Very interesting observation of a time that I remember well, including when we ran into each other in a club in Syracuse with ML! <G> As a gay man, I couldn't really understand why people hated disco, but I can see the undertone of hatred which arose, even though if you listen to the Trammps song "That's where the happy people go" I don't see how someone couldn't smile. Great memories of youth for me! My favorite song was "There but for the grace of God go I" by Machine...fantastic lyrics! Thanks for the nostalgia sorry to think about the negative aspect of these cultural things for sure.
I remember watching an ESPN documentary about this event, and the players were none too pleased about it. One of the Tigers players said they went to a disco club that same night, and Sparky Anderson snatched a bottle of whiskey from a bunch of teenagers who broke into the visiting team locker room and told them to get the hell out. Of course the White Sox team was pissed because they had to forfeit the game.
Funny how some in the anti-disco homophobic crowd at Comiskey were probably die-hard fans of their hometown band Styx. I bet they feel like a bunch of assholes for acting like that when they found out bassist Chuck Panozzo came out as gay 19 years ago.
that "disco sucks" riot in Chi-town was probably the saddest moment in that doc for me...
I watched the first half hour with my mom . It was great . I loved The Bee Gees and the disco movement. You raise great points Michael . My cousin took my nana to see Saturday night fever in the movie house in queens called the elm wood . She loved John from tv and she walked out on the film because of.the dirty parts . I was about 8 years old but I fondly remember her coming home that night
What are you? 20 something? 30 something? You don’t know what you are talking about. Obviously you are opining some mindless dribble you consumed thanks to some psychopathic spawn of psycho social losers. The disco sucks phenomenon was quite simple. Rock and rollers didn’t like it. That’s it. You should continue your meds and try to avoid committing your delusions to paper.
Excellent piece Michaelangelo. This Mark Jeffrey person is a myopic troll who refuses to connect dots. The Mark Jeffreys of the world are why we are where we are.
A bunch of crap. Most people rebelling against disco was because of the music. It had no musicianship. It was incredibly boring. It had no dynamics. The lyrics were awful. It was repetitive. The 70’s generation believed music was a whole meal, and not something ala carte. Music is not something you dance to, or exercise to, or make love to. It’s not an accessory. Music for that purpose is just a prop. Don’t take one promotion from a rock station and try to make it something else. The music was crap. That’s the whole story.
This is fascinating, I knew about a "disco sucks" thing but it was completely different than this.
At the time, I lived in downtown NYC, in Little Italy, and from the perspective downtown the whole "disco sucks" thing was a funny war between gay men. On the West Side the men loved disco, danced with poppers at The Saint, went to Fire Island, wore colored bandanas in the back pockets of their tight blue jeans, were pumped up and bearded, mustachioed, etc. Sort of the precursors to the ubiquitous gay man now, who "takes care of himself." On the Lower East Side and Soho were those who were into punk and new age music, were proud to be skinny and anemic, bleached their hair, had shaved faces, played with pale make up, wore tight black jeans, hung out at the Mudd Club, The Pyramid, or The Bar. There was even a short lived moment where someone put up posters for a group called "Fags Against Facial Hair" on the East Side. Everyone was very serious about the avant garde.
Anyhow the two groups mutually agreed to think the other side had preposterous taste even though we certainly sometimes slept with the enemy.
Like lots of New Yorkers, for me life was exciting and all consuming enough on Manhattan Island, I didn't have a TV, and only read NYC papers, and had little idea of things that went on in Middle America, like this very creepy phenomena. Of course now, pretty much everyone from that time appreciates both the Talking Heads and Donna Summers.
I think, maybe, you are reading a little too much into this.
I am 62 and also knew this period well. From my memory, those of my straight white male friends who thought "Disco sucked," thought so, NOT due to racism or homophobia (which, I admit, was there in them, regardless--but not the motivating factor), but because they just did not know how to dance (or were afraid to dance).
This has now changed with today's young men.
Maybe, give these guys a break on this one. Otherwise, you are almost always on target.