Before our benevolent, beautiful, and broken editor-in-chief went away on his vacation, he sent all us scribes an e-mail that closed with the following: “I expect something to be published, you pissants, upon my return to my fortress or else the checks stop coming!” (Paraphrased and edited to illustrate the subjective point of view of this scribe.)
Well, he’s back and I’ve got nothing. Not because I’m lazy or devoid of ideas, but because during his time abroad I started the Masters of Education program at Georgia State University. It’s not that the work is difficult, but it’s certainly time-consuming. Currently my penis-envy sized desk is buried in mountains of books, articles and other texts, framed by a “due date” list that requires an extension to my new dry-erase board.
So, dear readers, I give you one of my first response critiques for my graduate’s degree — specifically my EPSF 7110 course. It’s for my Multicultural Education and Society class and asks for me to evaluate and interpret a song that reflects the feelings of modern teenage students. I chose “I Don’t Like Mondays” by the Boomtown Rats and was shocked to learn that the story of the song’s origin come from my own university’s radio station!
Oh, and keep those Contrarian paychecks coming, please. They help cover my weekly whiskey bills.
Christopher S. Parizo
Song Lyrics and Society
June 25, 2011
“The computer chip inside her head gets switched to overload / and nobody’s going to go to school today, she’s going to make them stay at home.” With these opening lyrics, Sir Bob Geldoff of 1980s New Wave stalwarts the Boomtown Rats, begins the tale of a teenage female murderer.
Geldoff wrote the song while sitting in the radio station at Georgia State University in 1979. A telex machine printed the story of a 16-year-old student in San Diego named Brenda Ann Spencer, who openly fired a handgun at an elementary school, killing two children and wounding nine. The event marked one of the first school shootings in American history. But it wasn’t the tragic events that sparked Geldoff’s imagination, but rather the apathetic response Spencer gave to police and reporters when asked why she committed such a heinous crime: “Tell me why! / I don’t like Mondays.” This exchange is repeated throughout the song’s chorus.
Although the Boomtown Rats had a good deal of success overseas, “I Don’t Like Mondays” was the sole American hit for Geldoff and the band, only reaching #73 on the Billboard charts. Despite the song’s relative lack of U.S. impact, it has regularly featured in American media, such as in episodes of “The West Wing,” “House MD” and the movie The Breakfast Club.
The song’s speaker blames a technological flaw within the shooter herself (she happens to have a computer in her head instead of a brain). Beyond this device, the song’s lyrics describe a shift towards apathy that critics of American youth have trumpeted for generations. This is based on a common observation that the more society moves away from organic, human connections and towards technology, the greater distanced we are from human emotion. Geldoff himself comments on the irony of this in the song’s second verse by stating how the news came to him: “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.” Here, Geldoff imagines the response of the shooter’s parents, having heard the same news via the same cold telex message.
Geldoff continues his search for meaning in apathy with the third verse, which describes the schoolyard following the shooting. Geldoff writes, “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.” Geldoff tells us here that there is no ultimate truth to be drawn, no moral compass to be re-calibrated — the violence is merely random. This is reinforced in the song’s close, which concerns the thoughts of the police captain who takes the shooter away: “… the problems [with] the how’s and why’s / And he can see no reasons because there are no reasons. What reason do you need to die?”
Ultimately, “I Don’t Like Mondays” concludes “there is no reason to be shown.” Geldoff follows this logic by not explicitly stating the cause of teenage apathy; the listener needs to draw their own conclusions. Nor do the lyrics depict the actual school shooting. We do not get a retelling of the events of the tragedy, only the emotional reactions (and lack thereof) to the events. Still, Geldoff does hint at the cause in his references to our modern world. We live in a technologically-oriented culture of computer chips and telex machines — or websites and text messages — and each expression that employs these technologies becomes severed from its emotional tether. When the “human” aspects of human communication are replaced or superseded, it engenders apathy, which makes violence easier. Deeper meaning is eclipsed by the mode of transmission; the ultimate reasons behind violence are forever obscured by easy catchphrases and purely mechanical interactions.