1979 and the week that gave us 'malaise' and 'disco sucks'
For many of us, the summer of 1979 was a tough one. It certainly appeared as if President Jimmy Carter was in over his head, and radio was saturating us with disco music.
It was no coincidence that two of the most famous days of that summer came 39 years ago this week.
On the political front, on July 15, 1979, a frustrated President Carter gave that famous "malaise" speech that probably sank his presidency:
The threat is nearly invisible in ordinary ways. It is a crisis of confidence. It is a crisis that strikes at the very heart and soul and spirit of our national will. We can see this crisis in the growing doubt about the meaning of our own lives and in the loss of a unity of purpose for our Nation.
The erosion of our confidence in the future is threatening to destroy the social and the political fabric of America.
The confidence that we have always had as a people is not simply some romantic dream or a proverb in a dusty book that we read just on the Fourth of July. It is the idea which founded our Nation and has guided our development as a people. Confidence in the future has supported everything else – public institutions and private enterprise, our own families, and the very Constitution of the United States. Confidence has defined our course and has served as a link between generations. We've always believed in something called progress. We've always had a faith that the days of our children would be better than our own.
Fair or unfair, the speech and the word he didn't use defined President Carter. He spoke of a "new age of limits," and that just exposed him to attacks from Ronald Reagan, the ultimate optimist about the U.S. The U.S. is not a country of "limits." It does not seem to like leaders who tell citizens to "downsize" their dreams.
In other words, the speech did not work.
Then came "disco night" at the old Comiskey Park in Chicago. By the summer of 1979, disco was here, there, and everywhere. It got to a point where Frankie Avalon recorded a disco version of "Venus" and we heard a disco version of the I Love Lucy theme.
On July 12, 1979, the Chicago White Sox and Detroit Tigers were scheduled to play a double-header. The Chisox needed a promotion, and they got one by joining forces with Chicago D.J. Steve Dahl, one of many rock fans who resented how disco threatened rock 'n' roll.
The "Disco Demolition" promotion called for fans to blow up disco vinyl 45s and L.P.s between games.
What could possibly go wrong? Everything did, as the Chicago Police Department will tell you.
It happened one week in 1979. As for disco, it probably died that night, but, assailed by punk and new wave, it was dying already anyway.
As for "malaise," it got worse for President Carter, from the Iran embassy hostages to the failed rescue, the challenge from Senator Ted Kennedy, and the humiliating defeat in 1980.