It happened today - July 12, 2015

WIld Bill Hickok July 12 was a good day for culture. As I’ve noted before, if history goes on long enough every day on the calendar gets kind of crowded. But here are a few from July 12 that stand out.

First, disco died an ugly death on this day in 1979. Seems two Chicago DJs, one who had recently switched from a station that had dropped rock for an all-disco format, launched a vendetta that culminated in a promotional stunt for a White Sox double-header, a “Disco Demolition” night where they’d blow up a dumpster full of disco records between the two games.

What could go wrong? Plenty. For one thing, offering 98%-off tickets to anyone who brought a disco record, bringing not an extra 5,000 but an extra 25,000 raucous fans plus as many as 40,000 outside the stadium. For another, not collecting the records.

Following the dumpster detonation, fans stormed the field, hurled records, and caused such havoc that the Sox forfeited the second game. Still a small price to pay, I say.

July 12 is also the day, in 1389, Geoffrey Chaucer secured a plum post from the otherwise dismal King Richard II, as chief clerk of the king’s works in Westminster, a job he held while writing the Canterbury Tales.

One more thing. On July 12, 1861, Wild Bill Hickok won his first shootout, against three opponents. Now Hickok was a kind of classic Wild West character, a drifter, gambler, crook, Civil War veteran and lawman. But he also took part in one of the few documented “quick draws” of the sort immortalized in countless Westerns, many of which should themselves have been quietly deposited on Boot Hill.

Evidently in his version the combatants stood side-on, as in a classic pistol duel, took careful aim and fired; this were no Blazing Saddles-style deadly accurate firing of 23 bullets from a single six-shooter in a quarter of a second. But where would the world be without the lightning-draw Western hero, from Clint Eastwood to Michael Landon’s Little Joe on Bonanza?

Incidentally Louis L’Amour insists that there really were a lot of quick draw contests before the West was won. Most, I expect, weren’t as quick as in Hollywood and the combatants were probably often fairly close together. Either way you don’t want it to go on for a long time. But what a cultural icon.

I kind of feel the same way about blowing up a dumpster full of disco records, to be honest.