The whole day down

Ah, 80s album cover art

Ah, 80's album cover art

We live in a bizarre world. People like this are famous. People like this make gobs of money promoting music they couldn’t even write themselves. And people like this do senseless shit like this. While instances like these are regarded as unusually violent and isolated tragedies, we still don’t really have any new insights or solutions on mental health. We have no idea how to help people whose livelihoods destabilize to the extent where the individual’s grasp on right and wrong can no longer be trusted.

On January 29, 1979, a sixteen-year-old San Diego girl took her father’s rifle and shot at the children in the elementary school playground across the street from her home. The principal and head custodian at the school were killed in the attack, and eight children were wounded. Thirty years after the incident, the students still experience pain from their injuries. The murderer remains in prison but is eligible for parole later this year. The motive behind Brenda Ann Spencer’s actions, other than the less-reported statements that she was bored and the elementary school youths looked like ducks in a pond, became the title of the Boomtown Rats’ greatest chart hit in their career. In subsequent years, the Boomtown Rats’ lead singer, Bob Geldof, was knighted and nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize for his work to eradicate poverty in Africa.

Obviously, I can’t really find much fault with current-day Bob Geldof. Whether you believe he’s just a celebrity mouth-piece or a true champion of humanitarian campaigns in the Third World, he has logged more charity time than I have. And he called Russell Brand that naughty C word. Who can blame him for that? However, Brand’s rejoinder that Geldof’s expertise on famine arose because Geldof’s “been dining out on ‘I Don’t Like Mondays’ for 30 years” rings with a little mean-spirited truth. I don’t know that Geldof distributed any of royalties garnered out of that song toward the families of the victims in the shooting. Depending on the source, he allegedly didn’t pay out the royalties to the other members of the Boomtown Rats. Nor was any of the revenue donated towards gun control or any organizations involved with mentoring youth who have undergone traumatic experiences. Of course, that’s all just speculation based on my meager Interwebs research.

I’m certain about a few factors. One: Whether Bob Geldof knowingly or unwittingly erred by writing the song (after reportedly hearing about the attack via telegraph machine) is reconciled by the considerable aid he’s advocated for since then. Two: No matter how much awareness regarding random acts against innocents the song generates, it’s still a little exploitative. It wasn’t really the Boomtown Rats’ story to tell. Maybe that’s a cold, hard fact of art that no songwriter wants to discuss. Three: In spite of that, the song is as catchy today as it was in 1979. Hand-claps, grandiose piano sweeps, and the classic call and response chorus all help to wash down the disturbing reality of the lyrics. And it brings me to something I struggle with whenever I listen to “I Don’t Like Mondays.” The story of Brenda Ann Spencer and Cleveland Elementary is no longer an unfortunate, unusual event. I can’t believe that “we can see no reasons.” Even if Spencer offered no solid explanation, we as a culture obsessed with violence should have some theories. And if we’ve thought about those reasons, we should have the materials necessary to ensure that those events no longer occur.

  • Boomtown Rats ~ Fine Art of Surfacing ~ Columbia (US)

I Don’t Like Mondays

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