On 23 February, 1980, “I Don’t Like Mondays” by The Boomtown Rats peaked at #73.
On 29 January 1979, Brenda Spencer, at the time 16, opened the window to her home and fired thirty .22 caliber bullets at people outside on Cleveland Elementary School in Dan Diego, California with a Ruger automatic rifle. She killed two adults and wounded another adult and eight children. The gun was a gift from her father, despite the fact that she had been recommended for admittance to a mental hospital. When asked by a journalist why she had done it, she said, “I Don’t Like Mondays”. Bob Geldof heard about the story and in response wrote and recorded “I Don’t Like Mondays” with The Boomtown Rats. I don’t remember the shooting or the song from my childhood; I was three.
I do remember Laurie Dann, however. She lived in Winnetka, Illinois, not far from where I lived; she was similarly disturbed. On 20 May 1988, she delivered packages of arsenic-laced food to a host of her acquaintances, tried to set a school on fire, and tried to murder two children and their mother by setting their house on fire. She then drove to Hubbard Woods Elementary School with three guns, went on an inept shooting spree inside. She killed two children and wounded four others. She then fled, taking refuge in a house, where she eventually shot and wounded one of the residents before shooting herself.
This sort of story seems to happen more and more often as I get older. I doubt it’s because the press are more willing to report on it. It seems to me instead that there seem to be more crazy people around, and for whatever reason, they’re getting their hands on guns. It’s hard to go on from here, really. What do you say after discussing crazy people shooting kids? You can’t really expect crazy people not to do crazy things with the weapons they find. Given that she tried poisoning people before she went to Hubbard Woods armed to the teeth, Laurie Dann would have knifed her way through that school if she had to. Instead, it’s the responsibility of those of us who aren’t crazy to do our best to keep guns (and knives) out of the hands of crazy people, and to make sure that crazy people are under enough care that they can’t act on their paranoid impulses. This, I think, may be the biggest flaw in the American collective psyche: we have our rights and guard them vociferously, and rightly, but we are irresponsible with them, too often failing to shoulder the burden of responsibilities that go along with those rights. I was angered by “Voice of Freedom” in my last post, and this is part of the reason why: it blithely ignored American responsibilities that go along with being the land of the free and the home of the brave.
So, there’s a song to talk about: “I Don’t Like Mondays” by The Boomtown Rats. I think Bob Geldof did an amazing job of handling a horrifying subject without sentimentalizing it or being offensive. He tells the story as it happened, pointing out that when the silicon chip in someone’s head overloads, reason goes by the wayside and anything can and often will happen. Musically, it’s liltingly beautiful, which makes it all the more haunting and touching, and the details are generic enough that every time another Sandy Hook shooting hits the headlines, the song is eerily appropriate. Timeless and judgmental without overtly taking sides: a fine craftsman or artist cannot hope for a more resilient legacy. Long after everyone forgets about his charity work trying to feed the starving millions in Africa, long after most of the other songs of 1980 aren’t even memories, people will still listen to “I Don’t Like Mondays”.