Monday, December 19, 2016

Brooks on Books: Disco Demolition

This is an odd but totally compelling book. I admit I just love the fact that someone wrote a whole book about one of the most infamous nights in Major League Baseball history: Disco Demolition Night at Comiskey Park in Chicago on July 12, 1979. The idea was to blow up disco records on the field in between games of a White Sox/Tigers doubleheader. Things escalated quickly, the field was a mess, and a rare forefeit was called as the second game was canceled.

There's the compelling part accounted for; it remains a notorious event in the annals of sport, and I would have enjoyed any book about it.  As for the oddness of it...It's credited to "Steve Dahl with  Dave Hoekstra and Paul Natkin," but Dahl only wrote an intro, and Natkin contributes many of the vintage photographs. It's nice of Hoekstra, a Chicago columnist and radio personality, to share credit, but it is odd that Dahl, the Chicago DJ who was the ringleader of the original event, disappears as a direct voice despite the author credit.

Also, Dahl refers to the book as an oral history, and while it is structured almost like that, it's not a direct oral history as we think of, say, the SNL and ESPN books. There are lots of short paragraphs and plenty of white space in between them, but it is not just direct quotations. Hoekstra makes it more of a narrative (though one that jumps around) than just an oral history, though the dozens of interviews he conducted are the framework of the book.

Here's another unusual thing: I expected more baseball, and there isn't a lot of actual baseball content. It's far more about Chicago, specifically the musical and cultural scene of Chicago in the 1970s. I expected there to be a lot of interviews with fans who actually attended the game, hopefully some who stormed the field, but there isn't much of that, either. The emphasis is on the Chicago radio landscape and how disco rose and fell in the decade.

There is some discussion of how critics called the Disco Demolition Night event racist, but it's mostly from a defensive stance, with interview subjects saying, "Some people claimed it was racism, but..." Yet there is not a good context showing just how exactly it was called out as racist. Frankly it sounds like a ridiculous accusation to me, but I would be open to a deeper dive into it. As it is, it reads as unorthodox to have so many people bringing up an argument that's not fully presented.

All that said, this is a fascinating book. It's a slim book--under 200 pages--and the white space means there  isn't a ton of text, but it is a hardcover and feels substantial. The art design is stunning, with colorful disco-style graphics and lettering throughout. The pictures are great. And though I was left wanting a bit on the baseball end of it, you do get a full view of how the main participants felt.

There are some unusual choices in the book--a whole chapter devoted to Dennis DeYoung's thoughts, for example--and it seems geared more for a Chicago audience, but it is a fun book.  I wish the text were a little more cohesive and that there were more about the event itself and less about side detours into Chicago nightclubs and whatnot, but I was glad I picked this up.

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