The Only Photographer at the Dawn of ‘Disco Sucks’

The Only Photographer at the Dawn of ‘Disco Sucks’

With a single roll of film, photographer Diane Alexander White documented the young faces in the stands at the notorious Disco Demolition Night at Chicago’s Comiskey Park in 1979. She shares some of the images and her memories of the evening.

Disco Sucks
Diane Alexander White

Leading up to it, there was a lot of talk about this very event taking place via the Loop—which was a radio station, WLUP, but the went by Loop, because the Loop is the El Train that circles the downtown area.

And Steve Dahl, he was kind of a big deal here in Chicago, and he was a shock jock of his era, and he was talking a lot about this event that had happened at Comiskey Park, which is where the White Socks played. It was this disco night, but pro-disco.

Bill Veeck, who was the owner of the White Sox, always had these crazy gimmicky ways to try to get people into the ballpark. They had midget baseball. They would just do insane things. So, they set up a big stage in the middle of the ballpark and had people go disco dance. And Steve Dahl was infuriated. He was so mad because his format was all rock n’ roll. And he hated disco so much, he created this anti-disco fever in Chicago. He got a hold of the ballpark and said can we do an anti-disco night, a disco demolition? And they seemed to think it was a good idea to bring in some young people.

Disco Sucks
Diane Alexander WhiteDiane Alexander White

The way you got in was you brought a disco record and you paid 98 cents, because the call letters were 97.9. So the next thing you know, it’s on the radio. People are talking about it. I had graduated from school in 1976 in photography and graphic design, and I was taking my camera all over the place. So if I thought there was an interesting event, I would always grab a couple of rolls.

So a girlfriend and I took the train down, got to the ballpark, and it was packed. They all had their records, and if you look at the photos I took, you see the kids with the Farrah Fawcett hair and holding a disco record, Donna Summers or whatever else. What normally was just a ballpark filled with cigar chomping, beer drinking old guys was filled with teenagers. There were people there that were 12, 13, 14 years old. They were listeners.

Diane Alexander, Disco Demolition
Diane Alexander

It was a hot, sticky, muggy night. And as the evening wore on, you saw kids trying to climb through the catwalk, which was this chain-link fenced area near the scoreboard. I don’t know how people climbed up the exterior wall. The next thing you know, there were They were literally pouring in from every crevice even though it was sold out, the gates were closed, etc.

They do the seventh inning stretch. Everybody stands up to sing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.” Out comes Steve Dahl in this jeep, wearing a demolition helmet, ROTC jacket and a Hawaiian shirt. That was kind of his uniform and there were other people in the audience wearing this stuff. He makes the announcement that they’re gonna blow up the records. And he had a dumpster. You know, like when you’re clearing out drywall and construction material, out in front of your house: they had one of those things filled with disco records.

Diane Alexander White
Diane Alexander White

They used dynamite and they blew up the records. And the next thing I know, there’s shrapnel flying through the air. How people weren’t losing limbs with all this vinyl flying, you couldn’t believe it! Smoke everywhere. Fires on the field. Next thing that happens: kids are rushing the field. And they’re going nuts, jumping around, fanning the flames with their shirts.

And all the ballpark officials are just freaking out. The announcers were trying to get everyone back to their seats. That was not gonna happen. They’re ripping the bases up, they’re jumping around like crazy. That’s when I decided I had to get out of there. My girlfriend and I were like, this is fucking crazy! There are way too many drunk insane people. It’s hot as hell. It’s gonna start raining any second. Let’s get the hell out of here.

So, we exit. We’re in the colonnade area. And now they’re bringing in cops on horseback. The cops are barely able to stay on these horses because there’s so much beer on the ground. It’s a marble floor, and the horses are slipping and sliding. The kids are pouring beer onto the cops from above.

Disco Demolition, July 12, 1979 98 cents and a disco record was the ticket price to the ballpark for Disco Demolition!
Diane Alexander WhiteDisco Demolition, July 12, 1979<br />98 cents and a disco record was the ticket price to the ballpark for Disco Demolition!

Somehow we managed to make it outside, and it was just a crush of people. And at that point it’s really late. My girlfriend and I are standing outside, like okay, now what the hell are we gonna do? We managed to get a ride with a couple of guys who took us back to the North Side, where we lived.

And so I had this single roll of film. One roll. That single roll documented the kids in the bleachers. Apparently I was the only person taking photos in the bleachers.

Disco Demolition Bleachers
Diane Alexander WhiteDiane Alexander White