Music History #5: "I Don't Like Mondays"
By Bill DeMain
“I Don’t Like Mondays”
Written by Bob Geldof (1979)
Originally sung by The Boomtown Rats
It may be the catchiest murder ballad of all time. Laced with baroque piano flourishes and a call-and-response style chorus, the song is an earworm that makes you feel a little guilty for singing along. After all, you are echoing the words of a convicted killer. “I Don’t Like Mondays” was born in January 1979, when Bob Geldof, lead singer of Irish pop band the Boomtown Rats, was in the US doing a radio interview. He noticed a breaking news story coming out of the Telex machine about a school shooting. By the time he got back to his hotel, Geldof had started writing the song. The title came from the teenage shooter’s stated motive for the killings.
Released in October that year, the song shot to #1 in the UK. Though it only reached #73 on the US charts, it became a staple on FM radio, and remains one of those day-of-the-week songs that disc jockeys love. The song has since been covered by Tori Amos and Bon Jovi, and featured in episodes of House and The West Wing.
On the morning of Monday, January 29, 1979, 16-year-old Brenda Spencer took a .22 caliber rifle and opened fire on the Grover Cleveland Elementary School across from her house in San Carlos, California, killing two faculty members and wounding eight students.
Thirty police officers and twenty SWAT team agents surrounded her house. One policeman was shot and seriously injured. After six-and-a-half hours of negotiations, Spencer finally came out of the house and laid down her gun.
After she’d been taken into custody, she was asked why she did it. Her infamous reply: “I don’t like Mondays. This livens up the day.”
Spencer pleaded guilty to the crime, forfeiting her right to a trial. Because she was only 16, she escaped the death penalty. Instead, she was imprisoned in the California Institute for Women, where her sentence was 25 years to life, with the possibility of parole.
“Cos’ there are no reasons”
While Spencer wasn’t America’s first school shooter, her crime and remorseless reaction shocked the nation, and the story became the first like it to be covered exhaustively on network television. Though some neighbors and teachers described Spencer as a good student, quiet and shy, there was definitely trouble at home. Her parents had divorced seven years before, and the dad, Wallace Spencer, won custody of all three children – Brenda and her two older siblings. For a Christmas gift in 1978, Wallace bought Brenda the .22 caliber rifle, along with 400 rounds of ammunition. Brenda later said, “I had asked for a radio and he bought me a gun.”
Though Wallace says he bought his daughter the rifle so they could target shoot together, Brenda claimed that her father was trying to get her to kill herself.
In a bizarre twist, less than a year after Brenda was sent to prison, Wallace Spencer became involved with her 17-year old former cellmate, who he got pregnant. The girl split shortly after the baby was born, and Wallace raised the child. He still lives in the same house in San Carlos, and he sent his daughter to Grover Cleveland Elementary School.
Brenda Spencer has been denied parole four times, most recently in 2009. In 1993, she gave an interview where she claimed that she’d been “hallucinating” on that fateful morning, due to taking a combination of pills, alcohol and marijuana. In 1999, she revealed that she’d been sexually and physically abused by her father. Whether any of this is true or not, it has not swayed the parole board. Her next hearing is scheduled for 2019.