Friday, January 16, 2009

What reason do you need to die?

Like most other people who've been alive this long, I've heard the Boomtown Rats' song "I Don't Like Mondays" for nearly 30 years. Perhaps I'm different, but I've never listened to it until now. It's always been the song some drunk was playing on his stereo, the song at a party or in a bar when I was trying to listen to what someone was saying, the song that appeared in the background of a soundtrack or something else that commanded my attention first.

In the last few weeks, it's featured in the background for promos about the TV show House and its move to Monday nights. And it's stuck in my head. It's been there for two weeks.

I let it linger around for the first week because of catchiness. I assumed, erroneously, that it was like so many other New Age-ish songs in that it had a fun and infectious chorus and was otherwise a bunch of mindless garbage lyrics going nowhere. For a good example of what I was imagining, think of almost any Cars song. Almost all seem like Rick Ocasek thought of a chorus and then said, "Screw it," and made the verses out of various menus and street signs he ran across. ("You've got your nuclear boots/and your drip-dry glove"? What the fuck?)

It turns out I couldn't be more wrong about "I Don't Like Mondays." Do yourself a favor and click on this Youtube and then look at another window while listening. The video is terrible in that early-1980s "we'll just film some folksy and familiar but unrelated things" way and does nothing but detract from the song. For the most part, it makes it seem stupid. Just listen to the song.

Okay, you back?

The story, as Wikipedia tells it (and other sites you can't edit with the word Fart confirm):
[Singer/Songwriter/"Pink" in the movie The Wall/and Live Aid impresario Sir Bob] Geldof wrote the song after reading a telex report at Georgia State University's campus radio station, WRAS, on the shooting spree of 16-year-old Brenda Ann Spencer, who fired at children playing in a school playground across the street from her home in San Diego, California. She killed two adults and injured eight children and one police officer. Spencer showed no remorse for her crime, and her full explanation for her actions was "I don't like Mondays, this livens up the day."
Wikipedia is of course wrong about some points. That wasn't Spencer's full explanation. She was interviewed by police for hours, and that comment proved most incendiary and also poignantly hopeless and disconnected, which is why it's remembered as her testament to her murders.

It also informs the seeming meaninglessness of the song. "What reason do you need to die?" "What do you need to be told?" As if there could really be an explanation good enough. Knowing the background, the stubborn insistence of "Tell me why!" escapes pop repetition and effects something plaintive and adrift: there has to be something, because this can't happen because of nothing. And yet that's really all the answer is.

Perhaps its the added resonance; perhaps it was a Monday spent arguing about Israel and Palestine in which I was accused of being an anti-semite; or perhaps it's just the hook, but the song has taken up mental residence for another week. I can't stop thinking about it, nor can I stop clapping my hands where appropriate, nor feeling sad.