Kevin Mattson


On his book What the Heck Are You Up To, Mr. President?”: Jimmy Carter, America’s “Malaise,” and the Speech that Should Have Changed the Country

Cover Interview of February 07, 2010

A close-up

On page 149 I start to describe the Disco Demolition rally in Chicago that occurred just a few days before Jimmy Carter gave his speech.  The rally is a wonderful portrait of a chaotic America—youth streaming onto a baseball field after thousands of disco records have just been blown up amidst orgiastic chants of “DISCO SUCKS!”  The chaos—stoned teenagers setting a baseball field on fire—gives the reader a sense of where America was at the time, chaotic, conflicted, and unruly.  But it’s also important because disco was so central to defining 1970s American culture.

Disco had started early in the decade in a marginalized, predominantly African-American and gay urban music scene.  By 1979, disco was mainstream and literally everywhere.  But there was something about disco, especially in its later and more commercial renditions, that seemed fake and superficial.  The kids who chanted “Disco Sucks” weren’t necessarily even aware of what they were doing.  But they were showing how fed-up Americans had become with the state of their culture, among other things.

The Disco Demolition Rally gives a nice sense of just how wild things were in America at the time, with murders and riots occurring on the gas lines that were getting longer and longer.  1979 makes you realize that the chaos of the 1960s never really ended; it just turned uglier.