Taking a closer look at music and lyrics can tell us a lot about our culture as well as mark certain events in history. I chose ‘I Don’t Like Monday’s’ to study because of Bob Geldof’s typical story telling style in documenting social, political and cultural issues, and because the subject of his song, Brenda Ann Spencer, will be eligible for parole this year after 30 years in prison for killing several people in a school shooting. I think ‘I Don’t Like Mondays’ tells the story well, although it is open to different interpretations of the actual events. Please note that the following reflects my own personal interpretation based on publicised information and may not be accurate.
‘The Telex machine is kept so clean
And it types to a waiting world’
While Bob Geldof was in a radio station, a breaking news report was transmitted via the telex machine regarding a schoolyard shooting in San Diego.
‘And all the playing’s stopped in the playground now
She wants to play with her toys a while
And school’s out early and soon we’ll be learning
And the lesson today is how to die’
It tells the story of a 16 year old girl from California, Brenda Ann Spencer, who snapped one day and opened fire on a group of children in the playground of the school opposite her home. Eight children and a police officer were injured, and the principal and custodian were killed.
While ‘play with her toys’ suggests child-like reactions, this phrase possibly refers to the gun being treated as a child’s toy. According to some reports the gun she used may have been a Christmas present from her father; she had wanted a radio. Or, perhaps the children are being portrayed as toys in her mind game. The staccato sound used at the end of the phrase ‘how to die’ could be likened to gun shots.
‘I don’t like mondays
I want to shoot the whole day down’
To questions regarding her motive for the shooting she replied “I just don’t like Mondays.” Hence the title of the song representing the senselessness of her act. The music emphasises this point by leading up to a crescendo. The choice of material for the refrain including repetitions of “Tell me why?” and “I don’t like Mondays” then reaches a dramatic climax. In this way the music is placing even more importance on this aspect of the event than on the act of violence itself. Then the final line in the refrain “I want to shoot the whole day down,” begins the diminuendo and a trivial sounding anticlimax to emphasise the pointlessness of her act.
‘And he can see no reasons
‘Cause there are no reasons’
Brenda was quoted as saying, “There was no reason for it.” Yet there are always underlying reasons for this type of outburst. The song doesn’t attempt to expand on that part of the story except to categorise it in general terms about someone who has been stressed to an extreme limit then snaps as indicated by the phrase below.
‘And the silicon chip inside her head
Gets switched to overload’
Various reports alleged that Brenda’s home life was abusive and that she suffered continual sexual abuse from her father.
‘And Daddy doesn’t understand it
He always said she was as good as gold
And he can see no reason’
She may have been as good as gold in doing exactly what he wanted, and this adds an additional chill factor to the story, however it’s not really clear if this was evident at the time the song was written, or even if it was true. She also indicated that she had made previous attempts at suicide. She thought that if she fired at police they would respond by killing her. She wanted to die. A person planning to die doesn’t need to worry about creating excuses for their actions, especially if they feel society is somehow to blame for their misery anyway.
Brenda Ann Spencer is now almost 47 years old. I wonder how she feels today. Does she regret the school shooting spree? Has she learned to like Mondays? I also wonder how society will react if she is granted parole this year. Has anyone learned anything thirty years on? The classic seventies hit ‘I Don’t Like Mondays’ by Bob Geldof becomes relevant once more.
BoomtownRats.co.uk (2003), viewed 26 June 2008. www.cyberspace7.btinternet.co.uk/idlm.htm
Mikkelson, B (2007) I Don’t Like Mondays, viewed 26 June 2008.