I like The Boomtown Rats. I like their slightly bolshy attitude, being a group of upstarts from Ireland. I like how they mixed the energy and attitude of punk (as particularly shown by my beloved Damned) and fused it with a Nu Wave melodic sensibility, whilst having a bit of an attitude. I particularly loved how their pianist, Johnny Fingers (what an excellent name), seemed to spend his life in pyjamas – kinda like a bedtime version of Captain Sensible. Yeah, that’s the kinda popstar that my 10 year old brain seemed to identify with at the time.
So before we leap into their epic “I Don’t Like Mondays”, let’s create a bit of context by showing you a typical example of what came before. So here is “Rat Trap” that took over the number one slot from John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John who seemed to occupy the number one space for several years with whatever song from “Grease” it was that was selling squillions.
Yeah, we’ll rip up a photo of Mr Travolta (was this before he became a Scientologist?) and then use a candelabra as a saxophone which probably broke Musician’s Union rules at the time. Mr Geldof can be seen to be gleeful in his “fuck you all” chopping away at the rules. Fun fun fun – even though the lyrics of the song have got a real social grit to them. I just never picked up on that element at the time – hey, I was young.
So the next time I come across The Boomtown Rats is with this:
Just utterly different from anything I had ever heard from The Rats before – possibly different from anything that I could hear on Radio One at the time, towards the end of the 70s. Sparse piano starts it all off, surrounded by some haunting orchestration, then a choir of voices comes into back up Bob Geldfof’s surprisingly tuneful voice, building up to the chorus before breaking back down again.
And that is without even thinking about the lyrical content.
The silicon chip inside her head
Gets switched to overload
And nobody’s gonna go to school today
She’s going to make them stay at home
And daddy doesn’t understand it
He always said she was as good as gold
And he can see no reason
‘Cause there are no reasons
What reason do you need to be sure
According to Bob Geldof, he wrote the song after reading a telex report whilst he was being interviewed at Georgia State University’s campus radio station, known as WRAS. The content of the telex report was concerned with the shooting spree of 16-year-old Brenda Ann Spencer, who fired shots at children in a school playground at Grover Cleveland Elementary School in San Diego, California, US on 29 January 1979, The shooting spree resulted in the killing of two adults and the injuring of eight children and one police officer. Spencer allegedly showed no remorse for her crime and her full explanation for her actions was “I don’t like Mondays. This livens up the day” when questioned by journalists.
When interviewed about the process of writing the song, Geldof said, “I was doing a radio interview in Atlanta with Fingers and there was a telex machine beside me. I read it as it came out. Not liking Mondays as a reason for doing somebody in is a bit strange. I was thinking about it on the way back to the hotel and I just said ‘Silicon chip inside her head had switched to overload’. I wrote that down. And the journalists interviewing her said, ‘Tell me why?’ It was such a senseless act. It was the perfect senseless act and this was the perfect senseless reason for doing it. So perhaps I wrote the perfect senseless song to illustrate it. It wasn’t an attempt to exploit tragedy.”
Tell me why
I don’t like Mondays
I want to shoot
The whole day down
This was no longer a case of hiding brutal social commentary within the poppier sound of the musical spectrum. The sparse and decidedly un-rocky territory of the music meant there was no other way to present it than straight and without pissing about.
I remember the video – it was one of the first wave of videos that received lots of airplay, especially during the weekly edition of “Top of The Pops” where it (according to my memory) was shown rather than have the band playing live in the studio. The whole image of the band stood on the school stage, and the creepy faces of the schoolchildren staring maniacally at the band is one that is imprinted upon my memory. And the bit where Johnny Fingers crosses from the monotone of the school hall into the brightly lit studio and everything goes full-on Technicolor, is another element of the video that I will always remember.
The Telex machine is kept so clean
As it types to a waiting world
And mother feels so shocked
Father’s world is rocked
And their thoughts turn to their own little girl
Sweet sixteen ain’t that peachy keen
Now, it ain’t so neat to admit defeat
They can see no reasons
‘Cause there are no reasons
What reason do you need oh, woah
This was the first time I had ever heard about a school shooting, not through the news but through the singular power of a focused and intense piece of music. Sadly, it would not be the last time – as I got older, Dunblane happened. Then we learned about the horrors of Columbine and Sandy Hook, and hundreds of other school shootings that have happened prior to this and subsequently after the Sandy Hook shooting.
One of the most infamous incidents is the Columbine massacre, which was a school shooting that took place at the Columbine High School on April 20, 1999. Senior schools students, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, put together a highly planned attack that involved a fire bomb to divert firefighters, propane tanks that were converted to bombs and placed in the cafeteria, 99 explosive devices, and car bombs. They were responsible for the murders of 12 students and one teacher. They also injured 21 additional people, and three more were injured while attempting to escape the school. The pair subsequently committed before they were captured by armed police.
Columbine became an infamous incident in entertainment circles, as the motives of the perpetrators were examined in the closest possible detail. Small details, such as examples of the music of Marilyn Manson, which then resulted in the artist being targeted as having the blame for the murder. This issue (and the resulting impact upon Manson’s career) has been documented in a previous #RaisedOnRadio about Manson’s “Rock Is Dead” track: https://raisedonradio.wordpress.com/2017/04/14/marilyn-manson-rock-is-dead-1999/
Here’s a live version which is even more stripped down to basics than the recorded single version:
The massacre at Columbine sparked a furious debate over gun control laws, high school gangs and goth subcultures, school bullying. “I Don’t Like Mondays” was starting to address similar concerns whilst Marilyn Manson was actually being of a similar age to me (being born in 1969 whilst I was born in 1968). So what has happened since Brenda Ann Spencer took those lives that inspired Bob Geldof to write “I Don’t Like Mondays” in 1979?
I suppose the answer is not very much. America has a continually disturbing history of single-person shooting incidents, all the way up to recent events in Las Vegas where, on the night of October 1st 2017, a gunman opened fire on a crowd of 22,000 concertgoers at the annual Route 91 Harvest country music festival on the Las Vegas Strip. This incident has been confirmed as one of the worst in American history, as 58 people were dead and 546 were injured. The shooter was 64 year old Stephen Paddock, who killed himself prior to being captured by the armed police squad who were about to storm his room at the Mandalay Bay hotel, where he had been firing high velocity semi-automatic weapons from.
Whilst not being a school shooting, it clearly shows the continuing and worsening problem that America has with guns – and my continued amazement at the total lack of willingness of their political representatives to put into place some form of logical gun controls, especially to lesson the possibilities of children being able to get their hands on these lethal weapons. In the USA in 2017 so far, 43 people have been fatally shot by children under the age of 4. So we not only have problem with children being shot by other children (or sometimes by adults on school premises) but now we have an issue with children shooting adults (who are often immediate family members).
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
And then the bullhorn crackles
And the captain tackles
With the problems and the how’s and why’s
And he can see no reasons
‘Cause there are no reasons
What reason do you need to die, die
The song gained a slightly different resonance when The Boomtown Rats played as part of 1985’s Band Aid extravaganza, when those words listed above allowed a moment of reflection in amongst the cheers and jubilant partying that inevitably became part of such a groundbreaking live event.
As with many iconic songs, you will often get artists who do an interesting cover version. What follows is a version by Tori Amos who covered “I Don’t Like Mondays” as part of her “Strange Little Girls” album project which was based around covers of songs about female characters (real or fictional) that were written by men. Tori Amos decided to reinterpret those songs from a female perspective, therefore her version of “I Don’t Like Mondays” takes away all the bombast and implied tragedy of Geldof’s vocals and strips it right back to a female voice and a piano. What comes across is something that is fragile and perhaps hints at the possible mental condition of a girls who decides to take the lives of schoolchildren and teachers. It is totally different – and I really think that all the best cover versions do something totally different from the original.
Both version are stunning pieces of music, perhaps in totally different ways. Perhaps this is the real strength of a song that is destined to last decades.