I will probably cut this out. Did you know that the number one city for your wrong about listeners is Chicago? No, and I think we should keep this in. I think that'll make Chicagoans feel like. Yeah, another thing we're best at that no one knows about.
Welcome to You're Wrong about where every so often we stop being so depressing and get gay.
And this episode is extremely gay and not depressing. So that was very good.
Welcome to You're Wrong about the episode where whenever we take one fucking break from talking about street culture, things get so much better.
What if I was thinking earlier today that the best thing about this episode is the worst thing that happens to anybody in this episode is somebody breaks a hip.
Oh, good. That's pretty serious.
But yeah, if that's the worst, we're taking a break from all that this week. It's going to be great. Amazing. I am Michael Hub's. I'm a reporter for the Huffington Post. I'm Sarah Marshall.
I'm working on a book about the satanic panic. And as I was just demonstrating to my right before we started recording disco, which is our topic today, is very integral to this show because there is a song that I listen to every single week before we start recording. And Mike, what is that song?
Rasputin Makings of a Love Machine or Something by Boney M.. Yes, and I love it so much. And it's just like it puts me in exactly the right energy. Yes. For when we start recording, which is just like joyful and energetic and like ready for history.
It's a bop. We're going to talk about other pops. I'm going to introduce you to other unknown Bopp's today.
I'm so excited. But yeah, I guess I want to start by saying the kind of steak I have in this topic, which is that we're talking about disco today. And disco is a much maligned form of music.
The Tonya Harding of Music one say, because all it ever did was love us and give us something to dance to and provide freedom and expression for the quote unquote tacky and mainstream American culture responded by being really, really mean or did it or did it.
This is what we're going to talk about today. Oh, it's very complicated.
It's much more complicated than I thought it was when I started looking at it.
Superexcited let's let's do it. So, yes, today we are talking about a specific aspect of disco, namely the disco demolition night of June 12th, 1979. What do you know about this event?
So I know that this happened. Was it at Comiskey Park? Yes. In Chicago. And is that where the White Sox play?
You can neither confirm nor deny that, but it is in Chicago and it is the game of the White Sox. Yes. And so they have and the way that baseball games have like themes, they had disco demolition night, which I and my head is like a bunch of people flung their very disco records on to the turf and they were, I guess, bulldozed or something like that. And I think I like damage damaged the field and it was bad for him.
And I feel like it was like this publicized damage of like the end of disco. And maybe there was a disco sucks banner. Yes, there were many. And I feel like site. It is like the end disco. The way that like Altamont is singing is like beyond the 60s. Yeah. It's like, well obviously any narrative where like some huge social and creative movement ended on one night in a zip code is like right on some level very silly.
And so the question becomes, why did we start telling ourselves that story? Right. I've done this before. I know.
I know. I'm sitting here panicking because you're spoiling all of the good stuff. We're going to get to like him.
I it's like if I'm going into a Disney movie and I'm like, so I'm guessing that that main character wants something and they're going to sing about it like that doesn't mean they don't want to hear the song. I mean, I'm excited to hear that.
I mean, it was going to be a big twist that like disco demolition night did not kill disco, but that also doesn't mean that it didn't matter. Right.
What do you know about the sort of threads underneath disco demolition night?
So disco demolition night? I'm pretty sure I learned about it in some kind of VH one countdown. And I feel like I learned in retrospect that, you know, one of the big threads of, like, anti disco sentiment was that disco was a world where queer culture flourished.
Yes. And also it has not been lost to historians that the vast majority of disco music was made by black people and always had been.
Yeah, and VH one did not talk about that, as I recall. I mean, maybe they did and I missed it because I was eleven.
I mean, one of the main stories that goes around about disco demolition night is that if you came with a record, a disco record to be destroyed, you would get in for ninety eight cents. That was a discount.
Oh, boy. It's a one of the people who was an usher that night who's a black dude noticed that people were coming with like Marvin Gaye records and James Brown Records.
And so he started to think like this doesn't seem like it's people that hate disco.
This is people that hate black music. And this is how it's being understood by the overwhelmingly white crowd who went to the event that night. This is almost to the day. I think it's five. Days off being the 10 year anniversary of Stonewall.
Wow, so you have the image of an extremely white crowd in a ball park that is in the middle of a very black neighborhood who are burning, destroying, chanting against extremely black and extremely gay music as an image.
It's not great.
And then it gets to like masquerade. It gets to like grow this epidermis and then sort of masquerade through history as like disco music is cheesy.
And everyone's like, I agree. Yes. Let's talk about it on VH one.
But so the narrative and the sort of the debate I want to debunk in this episode is that a lot of the other podcasts and articles and stories that get told about this event talk about how the sort of the original understanding of it was that it was just like, well, disco sucks.
There's no deeper anything going on. A cigar is just a cigar, whatever. And then we look back at it in hindsight and we're like, actually, this is really racist and homophobic, like, quite openly. And then what you find whenever you go into the comments section of any like random Chicago Sun-Times article about the 25th anniversary of this event, whatever, the people commenting on it almost universally will say, well, I was there that night and I'm not racist.
I'm not homophobic. And so that creates this debate where it's sort of like, well, were the people there racist and homophobic? Were they not racist and homophobic? It really gets into like the motivations of the people who organized the event. And we will get into those, like we'll get into the evidence for whether or not people who attended that night knew how racist and homophobic it was or not.
But even if we accept the fact that many of the people who went that night honestly did not know that this event was racist and homophobic, they didn't go for those motivations.
They just thought disco sucked the deeper and more like troubling question about this, that if you're a decent person, how did you end up at what was sort of six inches away from a book burning?
It's just worth thinking about. How do a bunch of people who would never participate in an event that was explicitly racist and homophobic, how do they end up at what turned into really like it turned into a riot about halfway through? I mean, this was like a violent event that resulted in arrests and injuries. Like, that's a much harder question than was the guy who organized it homophobic or not.
Right. Well, don't you think that it's I mean, rendering for a second the question of the intent of the guy, like, how much do you tell an audience about what an event is going to be? Yeah, exactly. Because I also feel like if you got like a relatively small number of people with a similar angry take on something, then like that can escalate pretty easily. Oh, yeah.
And that's basically what we're talking about.
OK, and also this event was understood by gay people and black people as an assault on them.
Really? OK, yeah.
That Nile Rodgers, who's in the band Chic, you know, who does the song freak out?
He says he was watching the footage of it and looking at the newspapers the next day.
And he says it felt to us like a Nazi book burning.
And also, it was not a coincidence that they use the term.
Suk's disco sucks that term like it's been completely normalized now and you can say it on TV.
But at the time it was much more of a transitive verb than it is now.
Like people understood it as having a homophobic connotation to say that something sucks in 1979 and even journalists at the time understood the effects of this.
So this is from a Rolling Stone article that comes out less than a month after disco demolition night.
It says White males 18 to 34 are the most likely to see disco as the product of homosexuals, blacks and Latinos. And therefore, they're more likely to respond to appeals to wipe out such threats to their security. Wow. Latin's.
So while I think the intentions of some of the people there were probably fine, I mean, one of the things that is totally banned memory hold about this event was that it was not only disco demolition night, it was also teen night.
So if you were a teenager, you also got in for 98 cents. Yeah.
So there really were a lot of, like, teenagers there who just were like, oh, I want to go to a baseball game for cheap and like literally didn't know that any of this was happening.
And so I just think the central question of this episode is how does such a wide range of people end up participating in an event with undeniably racist and homophobic impacts?
Let's tell it. Can we start with the beginning of disco? Got so little. Yes. OK, you say just a little, but I want to talk about this for like seven hours.
Good. I've got my provisions. I have juice in here.
So the way we're going to do this is I'm going to walk you through the history of disco with a couple of songs. Wow.
I'm so excited. So what's really a. About the early days of disco, and I think this is very difficult for people of our age cohort to understand, is that in early disco, the word disco did not refer to a genre of music because that genre of music did not exist yet, that it refer to a place where you danced.
Yeah, it kind of referred to like a scene. It's associated with certain type of person and it's associated with certain activity, basically underground dance clubs.
One of the most interesting descriptions of this I found was from a guy called Tony Smith, who's one of the really, really, really early disco DJs. He grows up in the projects in lower Manhattan and he's in a band and he starts like playing records in between his band set. So they'll have like a little intermission of, like an hour between performances.
And he'll play records during that time when he's like literally like 14 or 15 and he finds out that he's really good at picking which records to play and that people like his sort of like jazz. That's more than they like his actual performances.
And so what starts happening is people start holding these like informal semi legal dance parties. They would go into parks in lower Manhattan and they would break into the street lamps and they would plug in the speakers like hack into the wiring of the street lamps and plug in speakers to it now and then.
They would just have these like all night dance parties in parks.
And even earlier than that, there's also a lot of these house parties in Philadelphia where people are just like inviting over friends and they'll be like a deejay in the corner who's playing music. It's just like a big party of people dancing in somebody's homes.
And then, like, sometimes it's in like warehouse space or like lofts or like, you know, they start using the sort of like repurposed real estate for it.
But it's all completely underground. Like, there's no sort of record label support, there's no institutional support.
It's not really in nightclubs yet when the record label support ever lead to anything particularly great. Yeah.
Another thing that is really easy to forget about this period in the late 1960s, early 1970s, is that there was just a lot less music than there is now.
Yeah. People that didn't have sound to tweet about it at that time.
And as people are going to more of these dance parties, there's a growing demand for music you can dance to, but there's not all that much supply of music.
So there's not that many songs that are sort of like like what we think of as dance music now to basically all the entire culture of deejaying that we're now so familiar with. Right. Of like mixing records and making these nonstop mixes and continuing the beat going forever. That was something that DJs had to create because there wasn't enough dance music to keep people dancing forever. Right. And songs are structured in these like three minute long bursts. And every song has its own, like sort of little beginning and crescendo and then outro.
And so what DJs started doing was they wanted to make the dancing, the beat perpetual.
And so the only way to do that is you take like little snippets of other songs and you start chopping them together and you can build in your own little crescendos to it. Right.
So rather than just relying on the song, you can be like, no, I'm going to play something really fast and then I'm going to slow it down. And then it's going to reach this crescendo on like a 40 minute long cycle rather than a three minute long cycle.
So they're basically they're making collages out of music that already exists to keep the audience at these dance parties dancing.
I mean, this is what I love so much about it. Tony Smith talks about how there's all these different genres that people are playing at the same time. So this goes oftentimes positioned in opposition to rock.
But he says in his early shows that he would play Led Zeppelin, he would play Rolling Stones, but he would also play like James Brown and he would play Barry White and Isaac Hayes. And it's like all the soul music that was coming out of Philadelphia.
There's one deejay that would play the theme from the movie Carrie, which is like a dark and ominous orchestral track. And then he would mix it with Diana Ross.
Oh, my God, that sounds amazing.
So you're basically getting these, like, really eclectic, really just interesting performances by DJs. And they're stitching together genres from, like all over the place.
I mean, it's overwhelmingly black music. What they're playing, a lot of it is soul. A lot of it is Aunt Bee. A lot of it is Motown.
But it's basically like you can go and see the deejay performances and you'll hear a hundred songs in the course of like 45 minutes.
And so one of Tony Smith's favorite songs from this time is by a band called My F.S.B, which stands for either mother, father, sister, brother or mother fucking son of a bitch, depending on who you ask and when you ask the band.
So we're going to listen to the song together and you can tell that it's like it's just on the border with disco.
OK, three, two, one, go.
I'd like to skate to this. It's just so dreamy, know, it's got a nice beat, it starts off very gentle.
This this also it reminds me of like the morning intro on, like a Chicago talk show.
That's true. That's really that's really insightful, bringing you the news entertainment headlines. Plus game seven.
Gardening is one thing I think is really interesting about this is you can hear how the sort of tempo and the tenor of the song changes throughout that, like the sounds of this that you could dance to. But then it sort of slows down in the crescendo sort of ends.
You can see how deejays would listen to this and be like, oh, I'm going to take that part and loop it.
I think that today this would practically be easy listening. I know, right. And it also instrumental. There were a lot of like this was a time in American music when instrumentals were like the shit. Yeah.
Yeah. You could sell like a million copies. And just like a trumpet solo, it's wild. I can I can imagine doing kind of dramatic like pose to this, like the womp, womp, womp. Yeah. It's still a little poser, right? Yeah, it's really good.
I interview a lot of historians for this because, you know, like how I get but one of the historians I interviewed for this interview at Nyongo, so this is from Tavia and Yungas article about disco called Disco and its discontents, about the way that before this dancing had been something that was sort of implied that you were supposed to be doing with a partner.
You know what I'm picturing the world before disco is like I said, it's because it's the peanut's kids, you know, dancing around their elbows out his weapon, their little shoes around. Yeah.
I mean, of course, people whatever danced by themselves on planet Earth before disco. But this really normalized the idea of going to a club.
And like, you dance as one person and then you sort of turn around and you're dancing with another person and you're dancing with a boy and then you're dancing with a girl and you're not there to dance with your sweetheart. You're there dance with everybody.
You're part of this giant crowd or about like you're you're there to dance to the music and the music will bring you partners. Yes. Yeah. It's interesting. I can also see that perhaps there was some hostility to disco and this like, you know, technophobic way because it was like one of the first interventions of technology and live music. Yeah, right.
I read like four books for this. And one of the things that most of the mention is that sound systems and nightclubs sucked ass for disco, that apparently with live music and recorded music, it was all mono.
So it was just like every speaker played exactly the same thing. And so all of a sudden in the 70s, you had these like hundred thousand dollar sound systems being created and music that was being produced with all these different tracks. And so DJs could also start doing the things that we see now. We're like, you twist a knob and then the music only goes like the tweeter's it's like and then you bring in the bass like thump, thump, thump, thump.
You could start doing that in a way that you like physically, technologically couldn't before this revolution. Sound systems and in recording.
So it's about the kind of technology we can use to experience recorded music also. Yes.
And at this time, the vast majority of people that were in this scene were people of color and gay people like this was the soundtrack to marginalized communities. This was something that like most of like straight mainstream America had no idea what was going on. This is an excerpt from Edmund White's 1973 book, The Joy of Gay Sex.
There's no better proof of the strength of disco than the emergence of gays from their closets.
Gone are the days of sleazy hideaway bars buried in basements. Now hundreds of gays troop into big, spacious, luxurious discos where the dancing, the sounds, the lights and the company are great. In fact, the main problem the gay discos face is how to keep streets from moving in and elbowing out the original gay clientele.
A problem with which I am extremely familiar.
It was that you or was that the bar? That was me. OK, and so, I mean, of course it matters that this is the decade after Stonewall, right? And in 1971, New York lifts a ban on male male dancing.
Really so it becomes legal for men to dance with each other, which is also extremely important. Right.
So the next day, we're going to listen to me and my boyfriend have been doing this thing where when we're on road trips, we'll often look up the Wikipedia entry of like a genre of music, like jazz or house music or whatever.
And it'll list like some of the early tracks. I'll listen to the early tracks, like just to see what they sound like.
Like what is it early how some like what is early. Just something that's really cool is actually really fun on road trips.
I recommend this as a hobby. So like a month ago and I started doing the research for this, we did this with disco and so my boyfriend's like playing the songs in chronological order.
And when he put this one on, I just like immediately started to cry.
Oh, we will talk about why. But let's let's listen to it. This is I swear to God, this is like one of my favorite songs ever. OK, do you know this song? Oh, yeah.
OK, three, two, one, go.
They talk about free trade all the time in. One thing that's interesting in the song is they start with the chorus. That's like a disco thing to start with, like the crescendo of the rally, because if people are dancing, like, that's where you want to get to as fast as possible. Right.
Right. Because it's made for dancing, not listening. I love that. I know what you mean about immediately starting to cry because I can feel my like my like weeping pleasure center being pressed on. Right. Like with the knife. But Catherine Zeta Jones uses to depress the like weight sensor and entrapment. And I yeah. It's just so like nakedly positive.
Yeah. Right. It's just like the most earnest fucking thing you can possibly imagine.
I think that I first heard this song in a chorus commercial. Yeah. Because this is you know, there's like songs that just have good energy and they get sort of unmoored from their context and they end up in ads in the 90s.
Yeah, I want to skate. I know it again.
But, you know, the rest of the show be the sounds of ice skating. Just no more.
Don't you see us at a roller rink like linking hands with everybody there? And just like skating around in a big circle, you're going to make me cry.
I know. I'm sorry. I was so good at it. Does that thing that I remember noticing that music was doing to me when I was in like seventh grade, that feeling of, like, you just feel it in your chest? Oh, totally. Yeah.
And so this song perfectly encapsulates what people love and what people hate about disco. Interesting.
It is like extremely positive.
Like if you're on a dance floor, like, how can you not want to hug and hold every single person around you?
This song made some babies. Yeah. Oh yeah.
It's also there is the sort of the political significance of things like this to write that in the 70s the country is in turmoil. There's this sense of the end of the sixties, as you mentioned before, with like Altamont has happened, Kent State, where student protesters were killed, is seen as the sort of the end of like hippies. You know, Martin Luther King has been assassinated. I mean, there's just a lot of disillusionment. And, you know, we're about to get Watergate.
We're about to get the oil crisis.
We're about to get inflation. I mean, there's just so much turmoil happening.
This is a excerpt from a book called Last Night A DJ Saved My Life. Like the twist craze before it, disco was forged amid a terrible recession and the deep scars of war, this time in Vietnam.
People have always lost themselves in dancing.
When the economy's been bad, the discos now are doing the same thing that the big dance halls with the crystal chandelier did during the Depression.
Everyone's now just been there.
Unemployment check their welfare to lose themselves.
And I do think that's one of the main appeals of like a song like this that I guess makes you feel good.
And and it's very emotional.
It's super emotional. And I mean, people later on will sort of deride disco as like simplistic. It's apolitical. It has no social consciousness. It's just like bumper sticker, like love, everybody. Boring bullshit, which I like. That's not incorrect.
Sometimes the best messages are stupid, though. Yes. And also people at first didn't call it disco, they just called it dance music.
And they meant that literally it's like music that you dance to, which is really quite an indictment of like all previous music. It's like no people doing that.
But if you're making music for a dance floor, which is what early disco like explicitly was designed to do, people don't want, like, complicated thoughts about like Israel Palestine when they're like a dance.
Right. Like, of course it's simplistic.
That would be great, though, if you had like a 17 minute long disco that was explaining the Munich Olympics.
I find it interesting when people get upset about like about other people wanting to feel good. I'm like, how dare people want music to make them feel good? And it's like, what would you have them do? Yes.
And also, I mean, a lot of the people that were complaining about disco later in the 70s, like these same people were listening to, like we all live in a yellow submarine.
There's also a theory which I do not subscribe to, but is an interesting way of looking at this, that things like love train and sort of early seventies, like love, peace, love, togetherness, a lot of that is kind of like the extension of the flower children hippie stuff of the 1960s. I mean, a lot of that stuff is still really around.
Yeah, these things don't suddenly evaporate.
Yeah, but what happened was, is it's all the same people and all the same emotions and messages, but they all switch from LSD to cocaine.
And so I don't think that that's true.
Like let's kids love each other right now. Right now. Yes. So I don't like I don't find that very convincing, but I also. I like thinking of it as sort of the fast forwarding of the same ethos.
Yeah, one of the other things that sort of makes me cry to love train for a different reason now than it did a month ago, is that the early days of disco actually were pretty peace, love and understanding, like they were very integrated by race.
They were very integrated by sex, like some of these values actually got implemented, which is so rare.
Right. I'm sure people were afraid of disco because you start to truly believe something that makes you, you know, so positively imprinted on an idea.
And this is an underground movement. Like you're not getting the sense that, like, the mainstream is watching you and so you can go out and just be yourself, like for the first time in your life, potentially you're a gay person. You can go out and, like, dance with other dudes and it's not illegal.
So disco refers to the world where this happens, basically.
I mean, actually, one of the things that I came across in my Stonewall research that I didn't get to mention in that episode is that Greenwich Village, of course, was like a hangout for gay people and sort of homeless people and sex workers. And it's all these sort of groups that are sort of on the margins of society.
But it was also a place where people in interracial relationships would go to hang out publicly because they didn't feel safe in other parts of New York. And so part of the appeal of these clubs was like, you could dance with people of another race.
You could go there with you can go there with your girlfriends. Yeah. And so this is an excerpt from last night, a DJ in My Life, about an early disco club called Sanctuary. It had an incredible mixture of people, recalls George Lettres, a gay male dancer. There were people dressed in furs and diamonds, and they were the funkiest kids from the East Village. I would say that women made up 25 percent of the crowd from the very beginning.
Probably more people came from all cultural backgrounds and all walks of life, and it was the mixture of people that made the place happen.
And so, like Love Train is inspiring because, like, it kind of happened in the early 70s.
We also get something called The Loft, which is started by a DJ named David Mancuso, which is basically like a literal lot like a former industrial space that he turns into these private parties. This is where sort of DJ mixing becomes a big deal. This is also the invention of the disco ball. Really?
Well, apparently it was invented in the eighteen hundreds I've heard. I've seen different sources late. Eighteen hundreds, early, eighteen hundreds. But like old and it was a big thing in nightclubs in the 1920s and then it disappeared.
And then David Mancuso had one in his loft that he would shine like a light on and that was the only light in the entire club.
And that was like something really special. And so yeah. And then people start iterating on it and they start they opened in 54 and they there's all these like copycat clubs that open. They all just like straight up steal his idea of the disco ball.
Wow. So David Mancuso is as the father of the disco ball. Yes. Wow.
And he also interestingly, he shuts it down at three a.m. because he's like everything that happens after and is bad luck.
It's all going to turn to like people to drunk to high to whatever. Like everybody goes home at 3:00. Yeah, that's fair. This guy sounds smart.
He sounds like a smart person. Yes.
I don't want to go too overboard with this because I think the loft is a really good metaphor for sort of these values and then planting the seeds that become the perversion of those values over time that the loft itself is like it's very racially diverse, it's very gender diverse, it's very open.
But you need an invite to get in. So it's a walled garden. And within the garden, it's very diverse.
But you need to know someone who already is and. Exactly.
And so I like the model of the loft. I think that everybody there had really good intentions. But another one of the historians that I interviewed, a guy named Louis Manuel Garcia, he's written a number of articles about the early days of disco. He does like ethnographies in Berlin about nightclub culture. And there's an excerpt from one of his articles.
Despite these utopian and nostalgic visions of open and egalitarian belonging system to the exclusion were part of a disco scene from the very beginning in the form of members only policies.
These were initially justified as self protected and legally necessary to keep the cops away, but later turned into a form of elitist social curatorship, selecting and excluding people based on beauty, celebrity, glamour and social connections.
This is a stark reminder that while utopias may feel inclusive and egalitarian, they are often created, maintained and shaped through exclusions and hierarchies of coolness.
And so I don't want to, like, cancel David Mancuso, those parties in 1971.
I think that, like, everybody was doing their best.
Well, it's also like if you're having a party in a finite space. Yes. And you don't want people who are going to, like, upset the vibe to show up like, I don't know, a better way to handle that. Exactly.
It doesn't appear at those parties that people were being turned away for, like, sorry, we don't let fat people in. Sorry, we don't let black people in. It doesn't sound like that was the ethos. Right.
But we're already seeing the seeds of the way that that ethos sours over time.
But like the most known thing about Studio 54, which you got apparently going to be, you know, birthed from this. Yes, it's exclusivity. Yes. And the fact that its owner famously said that he would not let himself into his own club. Yeah.
Yeah. So all of. The music that we've heard so far has been like Proteau Disco, like Neander disco. It's not quite there. The disco of the Cave Bear. Yes, but what happens is over the early 70s, radio stations and record labels and musical artists start to realize, like there's these weird songs that are selling like 100000 copies, like famously there's this import called Soul Mukasa by this Cameroonian artist named Manu Dibango.
And it's like very funky and very cool and it sells a shitload of records and radio deejays like we haven't been playing this, it's not unlike a record label.
Why the hell are so many people buying it?
And it's because people have been hearing it in clubs. And so the record industry in the mid 70s starts to wake up to the power of the disco consumer.
And so this song, which fucking slaps it's the first song, I believe, the first disco song that charted wow. It's the first song that I listen to for this that I was like, this is fucking disco. Like, there is no way you can see it as anything else.
I am so excited. So OK, I hear Gloria Gaynor. Right. OK, I'm ready. All right.
Three, two, one, go. I never can say goodbye.
No, no, no, the beats nice and strong and fast.
Yesterday, we got these flourishes, get the high hat, very important high hat. And then we have Gloria Gaynor is very important and he has a beautiful voice. I know. And you know, and I never think of this, but like this is this is the lyrical stylings of a soul song, you know, this could be oh yeah, be totally in place and, you know, with totally different instrumentals.
The fact that a lot of disco artists are like former gospel people, former Motown people.
And Donna Summer was in a German language production of Hair Vassar man. Wow. And so these all of these things seem important that it seems like very like crescendo. Powerful female vocalists.
Yeah, very vocally oriented. Vocally talented. Yeah.
I just love it. It's like it's hard to define what disco is, but it's like this is a like, you know, when you hear it.
Oh yeah. It's like pornography. I mean it's also it's Gloria Gaynor singing like this emotionally plaintive song and her vocals are doing so much work on their own and there's so much emotion in there. And then she has like all of this energy and dance ability provided by the instrumental part. Yeah.
And then one of my other favorite disco songs is Don't Leave Me This Way. Oh, my God. I know. Which is like how can you listen to that song and think that it's emotionally vacant.
Right. Someday, maybe someday we're going to skate together.
Really another really important thing about the song. Check out how long it is. Yeah, six minutes. 18 seconds.
And this is on an album where the first three songs are continuously mixed.
So the first 90 minutes of the album plays out like one song, which also shows how much the sort of the club sensibility is taking over actual recorded music.
People lost their minds when this came out.
What year is this from? This is 1974. Wow.
So that's early. That's earlier than I would have guessed for the sound being so complete.
Yes, Gloria. I know. So good.
And so this is really the period when, like disco goes mainstream between 1974, 1977, partly because this comes from a black gay scene.
The main record labels are really not taking this seriously or like we don't know if we think black people and gay people can make music. That hasn't been proven. History tells us history shows us that white straight people are the best at music.
So and so.
It's like they're really leaving money on the table. And this is booming in the underground. Like clubs are opening up all over first New York and then all over the country. These clubs are popping up everywhere.
The number you come across a lot is it between 1975 and 1977, 12000 discos opened across the U.S..
Wow. Also the only lesbian discos open in 1976. Wow.
So it's actually really hard to find stories of what lesbians were doing this time. It's actually really frustrating if you look through the books and like control F for lesbian stuff, they're actually like barely mentioned.
So all we have is that there were lesbian discos.
I feel like lesbians are like giant squids. They're like this powerful, mysterious creature that like if you look at history and are like, where are the lesbians?
The bucks are like, we don't know. I don't know. Lesbians live deep in the ocean where no one can see them. It's like, I don't think that's true. I think that we can ask the lesbians what they're doing.
So all of a sudden we're getting a real business model and so it's profitable.
So suddenly it becomes worth being interested in.
And so this is the thing.
It's not just profitable, it's wildly profitable because most nightclubs are based around live music and live music is really expensive. And it's a huge hassle to organize. Right. Like you have eight hours of a live band playing, right. You need like three or four bands and you'd have to coordinate their tours and you have to pay them. And you do like soundchecks. Doing this consistently would require a team of like a hundred people to organize this much music.
But so what the disco turn starts to do is it allows nightclubs to just hire one deejay. So Tony Smith talks about when he's I think he's only 17 or maybe 18.
He gets a job in a gay nightclub called Barefoot Boys, and he starts deejaying from nine p.m. to four a.m. every single night, seven nights a week.
How how is school going for him?
It's not clear.
And they're also they're spending the days scouring record stores to get these, like, weird, you know, Jamaican import, buyside, whatever, and start forming clubs where they're like trade records with each other. Like some of them apparently are dicks.
But there's also like the utopian ethos of disco also extends to DJs like not necessarily seeing each other as competitors, but almost like collaborators. Here's five of my records that do really well. Give me five of yours and I'll play them for a week. You play mine for a week and then we'll swap back.
Everyone just wanted everyone else to do well.
It was like Great British Bake Off and clearly this would be so. Attractive from a financial perspective, because you're maximizing your profits at the same time that you're minimizing your overhead.
And Tony Smith talked about this, that like the fire department capacity, you know, over the doors, it's like three hundred and sixty nine people. And he's like, we started turning people away after about a thousand.
So they're just like packing these floors. And, you know, you can sell people drinks for like seven, eight hours a night now and you're only paying one day. And they're not paying the DJs like particularly. Well, one of the reasons that we get like, you know, bootleg like people start selling like bootleg mix tapes, one of the reasons why DJs start doing that is because they're not making enough from performing seven nights a week. So they start recording their shows illegally and selling reel to reel tapes to like club goers for forty dollars.
Oh, wow. It's like 1970s money, but people are so desperate for this. I mean, you can't get this music anywhere.
Yeah, I'm sure it would be kind of a status symbol to own, actually. Hutley So as this is happening, it's all ramping up. Then we get you knew it was coming. Nineteen seventy seven Saturday Night Fever. Yeah. Boom. What do you remember about the actual movie.
So it's basically about John Travolta is a young, disenfranchised guy who feels like his life is going nowhere and he wants somebody to help him, you know, and he is the king of the disco club. And that's kind of he's a big fish in a small pond is how the movie wants us to see him.
Yeah, I mean, I didn't fully under I remember watching this with my my best friend and her stepmom, who is like, we're going to work Saturday Night Fever girls.
It's fun and I truly believe must have misremembered. How incredibly dark.
Oh my God is the cultural place that that movie has is something similar to like Dirty Dancing. Yeah. It's a two hour long movie that resembles fucking mean streets are like Taxi Driver. A lot of those dirty dancing. Yeah. We've taken this like Biji.
It's about disco. Yeah. It's amazing.
The soundtrack is much more fun than the movie. Oh yeah.
And it's still I think the second top selling soundtrack ever. Yeah. So I bet that like a lot of people saw Saturday Night Fever and we're like whether I enjoyed that or not. Yeah. That was a distinct experience and one that can't have again in the near future because the VCR won't be invented for years and won't be popularized by Jane Fonda releases her wonderful workout tape.
But then you buy the record and you listen to the record all the time and you remember the record.
Did you know that it's based on a cover story for New York magazine? I do know that. I also know that that cover story was faked.
You knew that. I didn't know you were researching this.
Yes, because I really am interested in journalistic hoaxes. And so my understanding is that this young British writer had been commissioned to write a story about the disco scene and he was too shy to research it. And so he like basically made all this up.
Yeah. Do you know what actually happened? Why he didn't write it? No. What happened?
The club that they describe in Saturday Night Fever, both the article and in the movie is a real club. It's called Oddisee. It's in Bay Ridge, which apparently is part of Brooklyn.
And I guess he got a cab out there with a friend on some one in the morning on a Saturday night kind of thing. He got there. The cab pulls up. There's a fight outside, like a rough fight. Guys are getting shoved around. He opens the door to get out of the cab.
The guys in the fight, like, get shoved into him or something, and somebody pukes on his shoe.
And so he is just like, oh, fuck this.
He gets back in the cab and he's like, take me back to Manhattan and never go back to the club. He bases his entire story on one guy who he saw sort of like leaning nonchalantly against the wall as this fight is going on.
He's just like me. You're watching this fight.
And he says all of his descriptions of like down and out guy who's like working at the paint store and like dancing at night, all that stuff is based on like 60s model kids that he knew in the north of England.
Fascinating. But I want to read you an excerpt of the actual article, because like you, I am fascinated with journalistic fabrications. And as soon as I found out that it was fake, I was like, I have to read this immediately. Yeah. So this is a scene where the journalist is pretending to be like a fly on the wall at this Odyssey nightclub.
Vinson was already at work on the floor. By now. The dancers had gathered in force his troops and he worked them like a quarterback calling out plays, set the formations, dictated every move. If a pattern grew ragged and disorder threatened, it was he who set things straight under his command.
They unfurled the Odyssey Walk, their own style of masked hustle, for which they form strict ranks sweeping back and forth across the floor in perfect unity. Fifty bodies made one, while Vincent barked out orders crying one and two and one.
And tap and turn and one and tap. They were like so many guardsmen on parade, a small battalion uniform in floral shirts and tight flared pants.
It's like, how do people not know this was fake a guy? He is leading a unified dance of 50 people on a dance floor, and they can hear him like counting time.
Also, I mean, what jumps out at me is that everything you have said to me so far is that what the scene is about? And what makes it appealing is that it's sort of open and queer. And here it's being described as like, no, it's appealing because it is rigid and militaristic. Yes. And because one guy is in charge and he tells all the other guys what to do and they do it and perfect synchronized fashion. And it's like it's not a they're not Rockcastle like that doesn't sound fine.
And the whole idea of sort of a rock star dancer sort of goes against the disco ethos to. Right, because it's very democratic. It's all about like the deejay. It's not really about like this. One guy's an amazing dancer and like, let's all stop dancing to watch this guy.
Yeah, it's a very interesting misreading, isn't it?
I mean, you know, it's the kind of misreading that happens when you do literally no work and make something up out of your brain.
So but, I mean, the the real sort of legacy of Saturday Night Fever is that both the article and the movie strip all of like the blackness and queerness out of the disco scene.
They really do. They go so far out of their way in that movie to make sure, you know that John Travolta is not gay. Yes, there's a scene where him and his friends beat up a gay couple or at least harass a gay couple.
Yeah, that shows that they're not gay. Nothing like harassing gay people, that you're not OK.
You can tell I'm not gay by how I'm really going to gay people.
It's proof. There's also a scene where they're in a burger joint.
And one of John Travolta's friends calls David Bowie a half fag because he's bisexual.
If it manages to be offensive toward gay people, bisexuals and David Bowie all at the same time.
And so and also the New York magazine article is a cover story. So there's this actually beautiful illustration on the cover that goes with the article.
And the illustration is of a bunch of people in a nightclub with like big lapels and everything, and they're 100 percent white.
So the the image that people got from Saturday Night Fever was that discos were white and straight.
Like that was the overwhelming message that people got a safe place for homophobes is what a discotheque is. Really? Yes.
Also, John Travolta did an interview, I think it was in 1980, and he says it like he learned all of his moves from watching Soul Train.
Yeah, he had two different private teachers that taught him how to dance, and they were both like black dudes.
So it's also just this, like, explicit sort of appropriation of like black dancing styles and black music and black fashion trends.
And it was so successful that we you know, that I certainly grew up with no inkling that that had happened. Like disco was so successfully coded, like not just white, but something that like cheesy white people. You.
Yes. And so this basically creates the crescendo of disco that will eventually produce the backlash.
Yeah, that makes sense. Within two years of Saturday Night Fever release, the number of discos across the country triples.
One of the most important things that happens is 200 radio stations across the country switch to disco only formats. Wow. There's a station that plays like Mellow Rock. It then switches about a year after Saturday Night Fever comes out to all disco. And within a year, it's the number one radio station in New York. Wow. So all of these other radio stations around the country are seeing this and are like cash, like, let's do this. Like, if we switch to disco, we're going to get all this money.
So basically, any time something is seen as a proven cash cow, it's going to oversaturate the market by the end of 1979.
It's a four billion dollar a year industry. It actually reminds me of reality TV where like were earlier iterations of it gradually and like the real world existed for a long time. But like there was something about Survivor. Yeah. And what amazing ratings that got that suddenly made everyone, you know, post the first survivor be like, oh, yes. And then we see the backlash because suddenly it is everywhere. Yes. And people are like, wait a minute.
Like I do still like other things.
This gets us to the next song I'm going to play for you. This is a living nightmare. Oh, God. This is emblematic of disco sort of over saturation at this point. OK, I'm sending you an three entitled mystery song.
It's OK. Here it is. All right. All right.
Three, two, one, go. Oh, I love this song. That's all the time. OK. I know this is terrible, but I love it. I listen to this all the time. It's deeply embarrassing, but it's pretty good. I love it. I love this one. I assume has the disco cantina band in it and the little blast or noises. Oh, I don't know, because I've never listen that far. I can only make it like a minute and I love it.
But think about this. Think about you. You've just seen this great new movie called A New Hope, and you're like, oh my God, I love this movie so much.
Then I want to dance to it and like you can.
Yeah. So the point of this interlude, I guess, is that I really love be like crassest, most openly commodified grabs of the disco era.
Cash grabs is a great way to put like this next phase, because what you get is this just huge overinflation of disco output between 1977 and 1979.
So there's disco versions of like Jingle Bells, this album called Sesame Street Fever, which is all of the Sesame Street songs, turned into disco.
I think I have seen that. It's actually pretty good. There's also a Mickey Mouse disco. You know, they start they start doing like disco versions of breakfast cereals, which I don't even know what that means.
How can a cereal become? And this is a great example of like when something that starts off as like underground culture for like marginalized populations, it's kind of like nothing good happens after three a.m. nothing happens after it's a cereal. Yeah.
I mean, basically the two things that really pissed people off, existing bands start making disco songs. Kiss infamously comes up with a disco song. Stewart comes out the disco song Blondie Heart of Glass, which everyone loves and is now like the iconic song.
But like at the time, it's like, oh, they're selling out and doing disco, right? Because they're like New York punk rockers, right?
Yes. And the second thing that really drives people crazy is because there's so much fucking disco coming out all the time. The quality just like completely tanks. Yeah.
This is like slasher movies in the 80s, right? Yeah. Anything that starts off as something that is like made cheaply and lovingly by people that are invested, like once it generates a certain amount of money, it's going to be very hard to wade through all of the sort of cynical cash grabs. And then the genre will come to be seen by a lot of people as a cynical cash grab genre, which is really especially heartbreaking considering how it started.
Another one of the historians that I interviewed, a guy named Jilian Frank, who wrote a great article about the anti-gay elements of the backlash and who also has a podcast, which is very good. He said that what explains a lot of this period is that finally the big record labels got involved, but they were all convinced from day one that this was a fad.
They thought it couldn't last. It wasn't a legitimate form of music. So they deliberately flooded the market like it's not real music.
Make money while the getting is good. Yeah, OK.
That also kind of ended up creating the thing that they were worried about. Right. Because that created the sense of overexposure of disco in the sense that, like everyone has a disco album now and all the disco sucks because there's like 10000 of them and because people make them in like three weeks.
Yes. I also my favorite symbol of this is that some company I don't know who puts out something called the Disco Bible, which is a encyclopaedia of songs based on their beats per minute. And so you can look up like two songs have exactly the same tempo. And so that makes them easier to mix.
But what that does is, you know, the original DJs were doing like unexpected stuff they were putting in that seemed to carry.
Right? Yeah. Whereas now we just get this, like, total sameness of the music. They all have the same tempo and then the DJs start just going from like disco song to disco song to disco song with the same towns.
And it doesn't seem to require any creativity. Right.
And it's like, you know, a lot of the deejays were really crappy and they're playing crappy songs and they're like, and here's disco duck. Yeah.
Again, this is from Alice Echols book, Hot Stuff, which is a history of disco. In December 1978, Andrew Holleran and the novelist who had written with affection about the earliest gay discos, decried the terrible uniformity of beat and style that now characterized disco. The music being cranked out for the mass market. Fast, mechanical, monotonous, shallow stuff was, he contended, light years away from the old dark disco, which did not know it was disco.
It was simply a song played in a room where we gather to dance to the outside world. It looks like disco, but to people who were actually dancing in those clubs in the early 70s, it has none of the factors that made that nightlife special.
It doesn't have the heart. Yeah, this is a.
So when we get back in Studio 54 and this sort of very celebrity sized, very commodified version of disco, where even when Studio 54 was empty, they would make sure that there was a huge crowd outside, the exclusivity of Studio 54 was a huge thing that they wanted to project and promote from all of it, like Tony Smith used to deejay there.
It sounds like it actually was really cool on the inside.
It just like for the rest of the country. Who's reading about this? There's all these clubs in midtown Manhattan that basically become just like celebrity VIP spaces and like that's their main purpose.
It's like mainstream, white, straight, rich American culture found this beautiful utopian subculture and colonized it and ruined it and sold it and like, made everyone hate it. Like it's really like this evergreen colonization and destruction of a subculture story. Totally.
And my favorite example of this is Nile Rodgers, who's in the band Chic. He and his partner, Bernard Evans, aren't allowed into Studio 54, even though Studio 54 is playing their music.
Oh, my God.
Apparently in anger after this happens, they go back to nightriders Reuters's apartment. They're just like jamming at like two in the morning. And they come up with a song about Studio 54 called Fuck You. And then eventually, as they keep playing with it and make it more commercial, it becomes freak out.
And that's how we got this. Oh, great. So, OK, here's a question.
Were they not allowed into Studio 54 because they were gay? Were they gay or is it a songwriting partner? Songwriting partner? OK, were they not allowed into Studio 54 because they were black?
It doesn't seem like it. I also interviewed a guy named Eric Gonzaga, who I also interviewed for our Stonewall episode, who studies gay nightlife in New York and a bunch of other cities. And he was saying that this was the time, late 70s where it kind of became cool to have like a black friend and like a girlfriend.
This was when, like, we started to get this like tokenization, OK? It was apparently actually quite diverse in Studio 54. It was much more about whether or not you were a celebrity. Right. But then we also this is a time when the gay nightlife starts to get more stratified.
So this is when we move from the sort of the early, like, loft parties that like if you're into disco, you can kind of get in to like de facto white only gay spaces.
And that's I mentioned to me that, like, this has always been a problem. Like, you don't want to idealize early gay nightlife, like they used to do this thing where they would ask you for ID and then if you were black, they would tell you, oh, you need two forms of ID to get in. Black people are less likely to have I.D. in the first place. And who the fuck has two forms of ID? Right.
I think that most changes in history, whether they're good or bad, are not differences in kind.
Most of them are differences in degree that, you know, exclusion was always a problem in the gay community, but it got worse, like going from a club, being twenty five percent black to being zero percent black.
That's not a difference in kind, but it's still extremely significant.
And then in the midst of this, like total overexposure, total saturation, we get the backlash. This is when we finally circle back to disco demolition night and the deejay named Steve Doll, who organizes disco demolition night.
He was like a shock jock rock deejay guy in late 1978, six months before disco demolition night. He gets fired when his rock station switches to disco and it takes him three months to find a new job.
And apparently he has a lower salary at the new radio station.
So he has been disenfranchised by disco. He's like a disco MRA.
Yes, exactly. And so rather than like being transparent about the fact that, like, I have a petty personal squabble related to my income, he, of course, turns this into this entire, like, disco sucks movement.
So like disco essentially, like moved into his house and like is taking care of his dog now. Yes, exactly.
Yes. He calls it the dreaded musical disease. But I mean, this is the thing is like he starts talking about disco in these coded racist and homophobic ways, first of all. Right. Second of all, in these completely grandiose ways, he's saying that like disco represents at one point, he says, the cultural void in this country.
This is just dawning on me. But, like, cultural criticism is such a great way of just being racist. Oh, yeah. And it's like incredibly violent rhetoric that you are allowed to get away with by being like, I just have specific taste in song.
And this is also I mean, so much of the rhetoric at the time was about this sort of zero sum casting of culture. And I mean, that was correct, right. In that every rock station that flips to disco is like one fewer rock stations.
Yeah. And. There is a finite number of stations of radio stations in the country, and it is hard to get access to music in other ways and it's expensive and like. Yes, like because we have to take that into account, just like the the scarcity of access to music. That is something that is really difficult to imagine now.
Yes. You see a lot of this language of like invasion and takeover.
And it's funny because, like, disco didn't take over. It's just that the people who invest and live music decided that it wasn't worth the money anymore.
I mean, I talked for a long time with Louis Manuel Garcia, this historical researcher, about this, I think a big part of it. And there's no way to prove this. But when I heard I will survive for the first time, I was probably 13.
And like after I heard that song for the first time, I listened to nothing else for like a month.
Little tiny gay kid had never kissed a boy. I didn't know what the hell was going on.
And I, like, deeply felt everything about that song, like the way it sounded, the words of it, the voice, everything.
It really spoke to me. And so Louie Manuel said the same thing that like this music hits him on a gut level.
And I do feel like a lot of this backlash is from the fact that this was one of the first times that mainstream music, mainstream culture was embracing a form of expression that didn't speak to straight men the way that like Led Zeppelin and Rolling Stones and Beatles do. Right.
It wasn't for them.
Yeah, there are like obviously there are straight people that love I will survive. They're straight people that disco really resonated with for whatever reason.
But sort of on the whole, you know, these messages of like we are family and I'm coming out. These are things that resonate really deeply with people living on the margins, like these statements of love and acceptance and self confidence and self love. It hits you when you're from one of those communities in a way that I don't think it really did on a large scale with straight people. And I think a lot of the backlash was like, well, this isn't this isn't mine.
Like, this isn't for me. I don't I don't see myself and I will survive like fucking white. Why is this being shoved down my throat? Why is it on cereal boxes? Why do I have to see it in movie soundtracks?
Well, and it's not an accident that the first place I heard I will survive was Ally McBeal. That song certainly was a song that straight women cared about and was part of the sort of mainstream like white straight lady culture, I think in the United States, at least in the nineties. So it also makes sense that, like, it could carry over and this like lost from its original meaning. Yeah. Racialized way, because straight women are allowed to have feelings.
Yeah. And are allowed to say I will survive. Yes. And, you know, one of my broader arguments about music that's coded for white straight men is that those songs are very often about feelings too. But like, you have to get really like harsh and like, yeah, it makes you feel like you're, like, really brave and extreme for having your emotions and like and that's pandering to the kind of masculinity that we have built, like a wall around your emotional self acceptance for a white straight men in this country.
And so, yeah, I can see a lot of hostility towards disco because also you're not going to not feel it like I don't think that disco doesn't work on people. And that's why the hostility I think that the people who are hostile to disco weren't like this isn't making me feel feelings. They were like, this is making me sick. And I don't like it.
I mean, there's also I mean, we talked about this with the John Lennon and Yoko Ono episode that there's I mean, there's a long history of anti blackness in rock generally.
I didn't actually know this before I started reading about this. But apparently Prince was opening for the Rolling Stones in 1981 and he got booed off the stage.
And also the prince's, you know, as an androgynous performer. Yeah, which is funny, too, because, like, Mick Jagger is allowed to do that white. Yeah.
That to me, like speaks to the importance of race to this. Right. And disco flipped the power structure of music in that rock music is all about the performer. You go there and you see like Robert Plant doing is amazing guitar solo. Right. And you're glorifying this heroic individual figure.
And yet what disco does, it's partly about the deejay, but it's really about the crowd.
It's really about this feeling of collective, joyful experience.
I mean, again, you can't, you know, read into people's motives because nobody knows why they feel the things that they feel. But it does feel like there is this sort of revolution in music that it becomes about the audience rather than about the performer.
And so I want to be clear here as we talk about the deeper reasons why people didn't like disco, I just want to say for the record that it's actually fine for people not to like disco.
I don't want to in any way imply that everyone who dislike disco is like somehow a philistine or square or racist or homophobic.
I think saying that disco is objectively good is just as silly as saying that it's objectively bad. We don't choose the aesthetic preferences that we have, but we do choose the way that we talk about them, and I think that the real problem with this movement was not just that it was a bunch of people who didn't like disco.
That's completely fine.
But we need to be able to talk about those things without acting like they are objectively less sophisticated than other forms of expression and that the people who like them are somehow worse than us.
I also actually feel like this is some of the hostility towards jam band music to like people really strongly dislike jam bands. And it's like Histones.
I know. Don't go. What can I tell you?
So now we get to the part where we talk about was the backlash to disco, explicitly anti-gay, explicitly racist. Like how much can you read into the motives of people who went to Disco Demolition Night?
And also how explicitly do people have to be describing their feelings in order to use having them?
So one of the main arguments of people who were like, I was there, I'm not homophobic. And I think to some level this is true that a lot of the backlash to disco was partly it was a backlash to like the BJ's.
Yes. And they hated the sort of mall disco and they hated breakfast cereal, disco.
A lot of people genuinely didn't know that this started in the sort of gay black underground.
I didn't know that. And I love disco. Right.
What's important about this moment, sort of after Saturday Night Fever, when disco gets really big, is there are actually a lot of popular articles that talk about disco as something that originated in the gay black underground.
So there's infamously like a Newsweek article called the Disco Take-Over that says what started a few years ago as all night dance music in African-American and gay clubs has moved into the American heartland.
The Washington Post says disco began among the bayous and back fields of the cultural landscape.
The clubs and black clubs, you know about, you know, gay men, they love hanging out and bayous. I mean, you know, not everybody reads these articles. It's not clear, you know, I mean, they're long articles, one or two sentences that mentions this.
But if the opening sentences of both these articles have the exact same alarmist gist. Yes. Then like perhaps that as a rhetoric that people are absorbing casually elsewhere. Exactly.
There's also it's also important to note that this is the time when we get more just visibility for gay people, especially in disco music. This is where we get the village people. And this is also when we get. Are you familiar with Sylvester? Yes.
And he doesn't know what time it is the. What's important about the cluster is that he's designed in a lab to make straight white America uncomfortable, but he's like a gay black man from San Francisco who, like, wears very like gender androgynous or like explicitly feminine clothing.
He wears eye makeup and he's unapologetic about it. Right.
Like, he shows up on American Bandstand and he does this interview with Dick Clark where he's just like extremely flamboyant and like totally himself. And it just like it's in people's living rooms.
And so the visibility of these artists is increasing as this disco backlash is ramping up.
And maybe that's a coincidence and maybe it's not.
We also have at this time the rise of the anti-gay movement. This is Anita Bryant. This is you know, Harvey Milk gets assassinated in 1978 right in the middle of discos.
Pete Kerslake anti-gay laws are just entirely the norm and have been basically unchallenged at this point. There's been no legal civil rights movement. Right.
And there's you know, they're still being passed. Right. Like, this is what Anita Bryant wants to do is to make it illegal for gay people to become teachers. This is another thing that straight, white America is being exposed to for the first time, like this extremely explicit movement against gay people.
At the same time, they're seeing people like the Village People in Sylvester on TV.
So this is a backlash against gay rights on some level. For some percentage of people, it absolutely is. Yeah.
You're like, I don't want these gay people on TV. Yes.
What Jillian Frank told me and he spent all this time diving into the archives of, like, what Steve Dahl said. And all of this disco sucks stuff like he's read all of the sort of articles from the time talking about why people hated disco. And what he said was what you find is very explicit homophobia.
But most of the racism is coded. He says this is kind of a preview for a lot of the fights that we had in cities later about like school desegregation, where nobody like said or very few people said, I don't want my kids going to school with black kids. But people don't say that. It was about like, oh, it's about local choice and it's about the distribution of resources.
Like we're now in a place in America where all forms of prejudice, like we talk about everything and fucking code. Now it's all dog whistles now.
But this was a time where black people fell into that category, but gay people didn't.
But within that is the idea that gay people are basically perverts, right? Yes, exactly. And I feel like a lot of people who are, like, not overtly hateful at that time would be like, well, you know, I don't think we should be murdering gay people or anything. And they're citizens and stuff. And I even know gay people. But like what I let them teach my children.
Yes. Yeah. There's also this has totally been memory hold. This didn't come up in the other podcasts that I listen to or other, like, popular accounts that I read. But there's also a lot of weird, like misogynistic Insull shit.
So one of the main arguments of Steve Dahl, the guy who eventually organizes the disco demolition night, was that like gay men are coming to take your women away or something.
Are they going to start podcast's?
But I guess there was this sense that women would go to discos explicitly to get away from straight men and explicitly to dance with gay men.
I'm sure that they were like, take it as useful information.
No. So he actually, despite the fact that Saturday Night Fever goes so far out of its way to establish that John Travolta is straight, he is convinced that Tony Manero and that movie's actually gay because he, like, does his hair. Oh, my God. And then it's like this is a threat to me because I'm being, like, forced to be metrosexual, to compete because women don't want to dance with me anymore.
OK, well, that's just an expression of how, you know, men know how much they're torturing women and how the hygienic and beauty standards to which women are held and the amount of time that they're expected to spend on their appearance at a bare minimum is like exhausting and miserable. Yeah, it's like great. Like stop making women do that. But I guess, like, live your life, right. Be free.
And so this is from Tavia Nyong'o article.
The Disco Sucks movement represented a kind of collective stagefright, an aggressive shyness that transmogrified into a male demand for a return to the position of Gaiser, rather than gazed upon a demand based in the fear that the sexy male body might already be irrevocably on display.
OK, but what are the game I'm going to do with all these women once they get them? Well, exactly. Bearlike. Great.
Now we have all these women I know, but you can see the same threads that we see now of sort of like the Pacific nation of men like this idea that men are sort of being forced to be women and like men can't even be men anymore.
What if we stop abusing boy children? Yeah. And start being nice to them. Like, what if they grow up into, like, nice adults, right. What if masculinity dies because we're nice and we stop raising? Anyone assigned male at birth to be like emotionally shattered, I mean, like, what if we got a generation of nice people? Like what? That. Yeah, I think that's a real fear that people have. And they wouldn't describe it that way, but that's how I would put it.
There's also I mean, there's a bunch of other arguments against disco, like the gay left, like left socialists hate it because it's like capitalistic and like apolitical.
So there's like essays written in these, like obscure far left wing journals about how, like, disco is not collective enough or something.
I mean, there is a certain amount of leftist politics that's run by like dudes who just enjoy gatekeeping, their political fan culture. Yes. And I think a lot of the like fun thing is bad arguments. Yeah. Could arguably be coming from that sector.
This is from New York Times article called Disco Phobia that's published in 1979.
The disco decade is one of glitter and gloss without substance, subtlety or more than surface sexuality. In the 1960s, Americans would have given anything for something as mindless and impersonal as disco, an escape hatch from the social responsibilities, from shouting and shoving in the streets. Now we have found the answer. All we have to do is blow dry our protein, enriched hair, anoint ourselves with musk oil, snort another line of cocaine and turn up the volume.
After the poetry of the Beatles comes the monotonous bass pedal bombardment of Donna Summer. Fuck you.
You know what's weird to me is that like sixties music, the best music of that time was also about euphoria. Right? You know, popular music and music that is popular among youths will always be different than the music of the previous youths. Oh yeah. Because youths can't share music once the previous youths are no longer youths because it doesn't work that way.
It's also this this fake thing fit like rock music is somehow not commercial. Yeah. What the fuck do I like?
Rock music is not glitter and gloss like what are you talking about?
The Rolling Stones did a Rice Krispies commercial in nineteen sixty four.
It's this idea that everybody wants to believe that their own aesthetic preferences are somehow like objectively pure, like they match their principles objectively when it's like, you know, everybody's music is done and that they're adolescences.
We're better than other people's adolescent, which they're not. We're just sad that we're not adolescents anymore.
So it's sort of I mean, I think of the backlash against disco. Everybody finds something in disco to hate. It's this perfect storm because disco is at once it's sort of it's too black and it's too gay. But it's also it's too mainstream because it's on cereal boxes and it's too underground because it started in these sort of nightclubs.
It I'm not familiar with. But then it's also it's too elitist because like Studio 54 is this bullshit that's only for celebrities.
And the Christians think that it's to illicit because it's too sexual. But then like the actual like young kids that are having sex with each other, I think it's like kind of square because it's like Sesame Street.
It's like every segment of society finds a reason not to like disco.
It's perfectly set up for everybody to turn on it on a dime.
Yeah, it's everyone's whipping boy. Yes. The sentiment against disco also reminds me of something that we talked about a little bit in our Jessica Simpson episodes about how, like if something is being aggressively marketed to you as a youth demographic, I know that you're being pandered to like you kind of have to rebel against the forces that are pushing that case. And unfortunately, you can't really take that out on the people who are doing the marketing because you can't see them and you don't know who they are.
And so you take it out on the artists. Yeah, that's very insightful. Thank you.
What are the other things that people don't talk about that much is that this disco sucks movement was not just disco demolition night.
So Steve Dahl started a club for people that hated disco that eventually had 10000 members.
The purpose of these clubs, this is fucked up. They would go to Village People shows and they would stand outside and they would throw marshmallows at the people waiting in line to get in white and they would go to other shows and like throw peanuts at people.
It was called like feeding the animals.
So, OK, so this is an excuse for organized homophobia, like full on.
Yeah, I do think there are people at Disco Demolition Night you like genuinely didn't know and like I like baseball.
But then there's also people if you're in a fucking club that is dedicated to hating a form of music and throwing things at people waiting in line to go to a fucking show like yeah, no, you get zero good faith forgiveness for me.
Well, then I can't be a group that's like where we think that American radio has been taken over by a commercialized art form and we want to take back the airwaves for Rock.
It's like, yeah, that's I got shit like that's the goal of that is not to destroy someone else's good time and to, like, target them in a hateful way. Yes, kind of. Use their tastes as an excuse to scoop up a big group of people. Yeah, I also think that the thing of throwing marshmallows, it's sort of one of those things that, like, you have some plausible deniability of like, oh, this isn't abusive.
Like we're not throwing you're not throwing wrenches, we're not throwing bottles.
I guess marshmallows when it's very obviously designed to humiliate another person and humiliating them in like an anti-gay like an explicitly anti-gay way. And it seems like the kind of thing to me that is specifically calibrated that when somebody gets really mad at you and fights back and like punches you in the fucking face, you know, I was doing this through maumoon.
There are some experienced bullies in that group.
Totally. So this is from Alice Eckles book in Los Angeles. A radio station released a promotional anti disco record with songs like Discos What I Hate Disco Defecation and Death to Disco Morde. In New York, radio listeners protest at a rock radio DJ because he played disco singer Donna Summer's so-called sex anthem, Hot Stuff. This is the worst one. Two deejays at a Detroit station formed an anti disco vigilante group called Disco Ducks Clan. They were making plans which were later aborted to wear white sheets on stage at a disco that was switching back to rock.
Oh, my God.
I mean, it's like it doesn't get much more explicit than. Yeah, the subtext is the text. Yes.
So if you were there that night and you're a good person, I believe you. If you were a member of one of these clubs and you say, like, I had no idea that it was racist and homophobic. Oh, I don't know, man.
And so Steve Dahl, of course, participated in the same coded shit.
He gives an interview right before disco demolition night, like trying to promote it. We're like, yeah, why do you hate disco so much?
And he says, I hate the taste of pina coladas.
I'm allergic to gold jewelry. So there's nothing there for me. You have to spend so much time blow drying your hair. I just think it's a waste of energy.
You don't have to blow dry your hair to like a funky beat.
Fuck you, Steve. He also says this is also a nice little coded language thing. He says, I have a problem with the culture, not the music.
Oh, my God.
It's like, do you care to tell us what you mean by that? Steve, can you just keep talking to me? What do you mean by the culture? So we finally get to the event.
As I mentioned, it's disco demolition night. If you bring a disco record, it's ninety eight cents to get in. I think it's ordinarily like four bucks.
It does suggest a kind of a dedication to destroying personal property because like, records aren't cheap. I know. I bet a lot of teens are like going to their sister's record collection. Yeah.
And also, as you and listeners will know, I am an expert in sports. And there's also some baseball context here.
Yeah, you're Mr. Sports. That's what we call you, apparently.
I have no idea why, but apparently baseball was also just like in the dumps at the time, and they were doing increasingly like desperate gimmicks to get fans to come. So infamously in 1974, Cleveland had 10 cent beer night and then that turned into like basically a riot and they never did it.
When Steve Dahl is friends with the son of the owner of the White Sox who like also hates disco and he's like, let's do this. This will be a fun thing. So they start cooking up this idea of having a disco demolition night. They advertise it around Comiskey Park holds 50000 people ish and depending on which source you read, ninety thousand people show up GoodGuide or maybe seventy thousand, like some huge overcapacity.
Crowd shows up and there's 15000 people outside hanging out as the game is going on. So it's the White Sox versus the Detroit Tigers. And it's a doubleheader, basically the entire first game, like no one's paying attention to the game and they start chanting Disco sucks, disco sucks.
When do they demolish disco?
Like at between games are when Steve Doll has a crate full of fifty thousand disco records. Big Krave Steve Doll comes out dressed in military fatigues. He has like an army jacket sort of thing on and like an army helmet on.
And so he has this giant crate of records that he put in the middle of the field and then he sets off a ton of fireworks around the crate.
And then I guess there's just like a big ass explosion, like shards of records go everywhere.
Because the fans are bored and they hate disco. I guess they've just been like whipping their disco records at field all night. So like, they've been throwing disco records like Frisbee. So the field is just littered with, like random disco albums.
Are they throwing them at baseball players at all? Yeah, they have to stop the game a couple of times because people are getting disco records.
Yeah, like it's just like you got like an eight track with your head and then this is wild.
After this explosion, it basically becomes a riot. Like 7000 fans storm onto the field and start just like picking up disco records, breaking them over their knee. Somebody starts a bonfire, and so there's just like a giant fire in the middle of the baseball field and people are picking up records and throwing them on the fire and like dancing around this giant fire. Fans from outside storm in. I'm not sure how, like, they're like climbing the fences or like pushing against the chain link fence or whatever.
They start climbing up and, like, threatening people in the luxury boxes and like trying to get into the clubhouse. Wow. I guess the players just like whisked out.
All the players are like really afraid for their lives. They've given interviews after this.
They're like, what the fuck is going on? Wow.
And, you know, the famous announcer, Harry Carey, who does the Chicago Cubs, he is, from whatever reason, doing the announcing that night.
And he starts singing Take Me Out to the Ballgame over the speakers to try to quell the unrest.
It's like all you can think of to do is and I guess the most beautiful, surreal vision, like I want a montage of that.
And then at nine, 8:00 p.m., this is about 25 minutes after the start of the riot, riot cops come on the field and start arresting people. This is where we get our broken hip. There's one guy who runs one of the vendors in the stadium. He breaks his hip in sort of the shoving matches that ensue. They make thirty seven arrests for, like, disrupting the peace or whatever.
I think most people end up getting released the next day, but it's like a legit riot and like police crackdown. Since 1954, there's only been five instances where baseball teams have forfeited games and this is one of them.
What are the other ones? One of them was the 10 cent beer night.
There's one in five apparently in Oakland where it was like novelty ball night, like they'd give you a ball when you walked in and then everybody throws them on the field like 50000 balls on the field, which like rice. What what were you expecting?
I think they're so funny because it seems like something that a child would put together that if you give baseballs to like everyone who comes home, I know a baseball game, but they're going to throw them on the baseball field.
Also the idea of like we're going to blow up a bunch of disco records and it's also teen night. Yeah.
Explosion's and team. Yeah.
And then we're going to go and have them watch something that was beautiful. It's very long and boring and realize the long stretches of time where nothing is happening.
Yeah, but why were people so ready to like make a disturbance. Like what do you think about that. I love this.
Chilian Frank read all of the news coverage from the newspapers the next morning. And this is so typical of like when sort of racist and homophobic things happen.
There's this leap by elite institutions to be like he wasn't racist and homophobic like that.
And so almost immediately, the theory that forms is basically that, like, if you get 50000 teenagers anywhere, they would have done this, which just isn't true also that a lot of them were smoking pot.
Oh, pot. The drug that makes you right.
Feel like if it was like free eat an entire Viennetta box. Yeah, yeah. Like riots don't come from a bunch of stoned people.
I don't know, Mike. It's it's Satan's lettuce. I think that really speaks to the idea that people had at the time.
And really, I mean, some people still that like all illegal drugs because they're equally illegal, I guess are equally extreme. And like, yeah, a bunch of people smoke pot and they're going to have a huge riot, basically.
I mean, I do think there is something interesting in the fact that the crowd was overwhelmingly young. Yeah, I think some of the teens were just like the crowds rushing out of the field. So, like, I might as well, too, right?
Well, there are a lot of teenagers who just want to be part of a disturbance. And if a disturbance starts, they're going to get in on it. Yes, that's ironically the same feeling that you would be trying to get by dancing to disco music.
Exactly. Immediately, like literally within 24 hours, we have Steve Doll saying that, like, well, I didn't know it was homophobic and racist and like I was just like making a couple jokes on the radio. I didn't know.
So this is what he says. He actually says this to the Chicago Tribune on like the fortieth anniversary of the night.
But this is like very typical of his rhetoric. He says we blew up disco records, made fun of the BJ's and Saturday Night Fever. It goes no deeper than that. Sometimes a stupid radio promotion is just a stupid radio promotion. It's like, I don't know, Steve.
I think like he used to say the word disco with a lisp.
Yeah, he was a Dufka. Like, Yeah, OK, you're joking. Officially, you're joking. But how many bigoted movements have used humor as a weapon, dude? Right.
And again, gay people and black people understood it as racist and homophobic immediately.
It's not clear that we should be judging things like this on their intention. We should be judging them on their effect.
Right. It's also interesting that in sort of may.
Stream reporting on this, there's not the sense generally that a marginalized community knows what it feels like to be marginalized and understands this experience more intimately than the person who throughout their entire life has had plausible deniability whenever they do something that is harmful to another community, because the whole point of being the perpetrator of these kinds of behaviors is that you don't really think that much about them.
Exactly. And it's kind of amazing that within basically a year, disco becomes this societal embarrassment.
The disco radio station in Chicago, the day after disco demolition night, they play Donna Summer's last dance for twenty four hours straight and then they turn off and turn on again as a top 40 rock station DJ's.
And this begins a wave of disco stations across the country switching back to rock or switching to other formats. This is also the rise of like oldies stations. Like that wasn't something that had really existed before.
And because the whole disco sucks, backlash showed the power of nostalgia as a marketing tool. I guess because what people are expressing through that is like I feel threatened because this thing that I love is no longer culturally ascendant. And so an easy way to get money from those people is to just make a little space for all the stuff that they like and also the way the nostalgia can be weaponized.
Yes, I mean, if you look at almost any reactionary authoritarian regime across the world right now, I will make things like they used to be is the message at the heart of all of them.
And I don't think Steve Dahl obviously rises to that level, but he's like he's like a tiny little taster of like how easy it is to turn nostalgia into a weapon.
Teeny little demagogue Studio 54 closes in 1980.
Also, weren't they cooking their books the whole time, too? Oh, yeah, they go to jail. OK, because of the rise of disco, the Grammys had a disco category and then it's so derided by 1980 that they cancel it. So best song only existed for one year.
Do you want to know which song won it? OK, so something that came out in nineteen seventy nine. Is it. Love to love you baby. You know is it by Donna Summer.
It's by Gloria Gaynor. I will survive. Yeah. Oh yeah. Well that really feels right doesn't it. I know, yeah. One song is going to be the only ever won best disco song. It's like yeah right now like we as a society it's fine.
We did something right. Yeah.
And so that's it. That's the that's the death of disco. Before we we're going to do a slight debunking. But for now that's that's the death of disco.
So is the debunking that disco didn't die because it was always in our hearts and it's still there. And we can blow on that number and turn it into a raging disco inferno any time we want.
Stop spoiling my episodes. I can tell because I can feel disco in my heart.
Yes, we will. You are absolutely correct. But before we get there, we have to do a slight debunking of all of these nationwide anti disco movements.
It turns out all of these were orchestrated.
So what Alice Echols finds out when she looks into this history is that radio stations figured out that having an anti disco club was a really good marketing opportunity.
And her saying there's like these consultants to radio stations that start doing focus groups and they find pitching yourself as an opposition to disco is a great way to get listeners and keep loyal listeners to keep them from switching styles, because disco disco stations are, of course, your main competition.
Wow. So you want to instill in people that disco, is this sort of some sort of enemy of rock?
So this is an excerpt from Alice Eckles book. What he discovered through his focus groups was that most people in these groups were fairly neutral about disco until one or two disco haters began ranting, at which point the entire group would turn decisively.
Anti disco. Wow.
Abram's managed within a week to convince sixty radio stations to appeal to their base by launching anti disco campaigns.
So it's like I mean, it's like Coke versus Pepsi when it's turning the feeling of I love rock into I hate disco and protect my baby rock from disco.
And one thing Gillion Frank mentioned to me was that, like, this was actually the beginning of identity and music being very closely linked. Most human beings, like listening to many different genres of music, are in different moods. Nobody is like I only listen to rock.
But once you have radio stations that are competing with each other, record labels that are competing with each other, it makes a lot of sense to try to lock somebody into one genre because you're basically making them a loyal consumer, right?
It is Coke versus Pepsi. Oh, my God. Taco Bell wants you only to eat Taco Bell.
It was capitalism. Yeah. I was waiting for you to say that it's not clever saying the only group that works out for are like record labels and especially radio station. Radio stations are very different incentives than record companies because they're not selling you music, they're selling you as a demographic to advertisers.
And so another theory for why disco crashed during the late 1970s was that it turned out from advertisers that because disco audiences tended to be less affluent, radio advertisers didn't want disco stations.
So a lot of the disco stations that switched back, it wasn't necessarily because everybody hated disco all of a sudden. It was just a financial decision.
Right. It's like where the best profit margins and that's where the culture will go.
And then we'll be told that all of us spontaneously decided we didn't like the thing that makes us money now. Yeah.
There's also, you know, if you look at the actual sales data, disco records had been falling in sales for like months, basically because of oversaturation that there was too much disco on the market. People were getting really sick of it.
And like there's been dozens of other musical genres that have had this sort of fad peak, pretty steep decline like the Lombardia Gillion, Frank compared it to the the rise and then crash of boy bands in the 90s. There's some of that in there.
Tony Smith, the DJ who we met earlier in the episode, he says that by nineteen seventy nine he was already playing like New Wave and like synth stuff like Early Electro.
And so the club scene has sort of already moved on. Right.
And Donna, Summer is putting it like I feel love, which is like one of the first electro songs, like things are already becoming obsessed with synthesizers and moving on from the sort of soaring strings.
What it turns out is that disco demolition night didn't kill disco, but what it did was it killed the word disco.
People just stopped calling it disco like they switched the name to dance music very quickly. The music itself basically just became the DNA of what we now know is like EDM and also especially rap.
Like one of the first rap songs, Rapper's Delight is a loop of Shiek song, Good Times. And like all of the deejaying techniques from disco, became standard in rap songs. And there's a really famous deejay named Frankie Knuckles who used a DJ at a gay bathhouse that be like lower tempo stuff.
No, no, like real like bathhouses used to be dope. They would have like a place where you could have sex, a place where you could dance and they'd also like serve food and stuff.
It's like, why would you ever leave? I didn't know there was food.
Yeah, it's like a fucking salad bar. It's amazing. Laughter Sort of. A lot of the clubs are closing in New York City. He moves to Chicago. He starts deejaying at a club called the Warehouse and he starts selling these bootleg tapes.
And nobody really knows, like, what genre they are because the music is so weird and they start calling it warehouse music. And then eventually they shorten that to house music.
And basically that becomes like Chicago, Detroit.
Wow. So basically, this is like Charlotte's Web, like disco died. But then it had all these babies. Yes. And we're Wilbur Visit from Alice Echols.
His book, If Disco Died, it was not immediately obvious. From the pop charts of the 1980s, Madonna, Michael Jackson and Prince made music that many would argue was disco in all but name.
I would use the Star Wars metaphor for this, which is, as Obi Wan Kenobi says, if you strike me down now, I shall become more powerful than you can possibly imagine. Yes. And like that happen like we tried to kill disco and in response, disco is like I am so great that I will just become the bones of, like, most great pop music of the next decade. And you won't even call me disco because I am everything good.
This is a quote from Tavia Nyong'o. The perceived failure of disco was really the failure of a form of disco that valorise the patriarchal, the heterosexual and the bourgeois, not the queer disco. As such, the failure was not so much a failure of queerness as a failure of the regressive attempts to contain queerness and appropriate disco.
Yeah, so it's like, yeah, we got sick of disco, we hated disco, but like we hated, like, the least interesting kind of disco. It's like trying to capture a skunk to keep as a pet and then like, it becomes domesticated and sad and lonely and it wastes away. And you're like, there are no more skunks in the world because we found this one and it didn't do well in our care.
And so the quote I wanted to end with is a lovely quote from this book. Last night, a deejay saved my life. Disco was a whole movement. People really felt that they felt disappointed. Later on, the idealistic quality of it was being trampled in favor of money and celebrity. As much as disco was glitzy and certainly love celebrity culture, there was never a sense of it being driven by that. It was much more driven by an underground idea of unity.
The manifesto was the music love is the message goosebumps.
I love it. Yeah. And just in conclusion, if a piece of media makes you feel joy, maybe don't get mad about it.
Yes. Let other people have their things. Don't join movements with the name Klann in the title and. And you will survive.
Yeah, I'm sure. On one side, correct? Gosh, no shit, they got out of town. Yes.