“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.”—Bob Geldof, “I Don’t Like Mondays,” performed by the Boomtown Rats for their Fine Art of Surfacing LP (1979)
Last year, Christian Caryl’s Strange Rebels: 1979 and the Birth of the 21st Century focused on the seismic impact that market forces and the rebellion against secularism had on the last tumultuous 12 months of the seventies. But, in reviewing the admittedly formidable men and events of that period (gas lines, the Iranian revolution, Margaret Thatcher, etc.), I wonder if Caryl inevitably might have given short shrift to an event occurring on this date that same year that didn’t fit into this neat worldview: a 16-year-old schoolgirl who, from her bedroom window, fired 36 rounds from a semi-automatic rifle, killing two people and wounding nine others at Grover Cleveland Elementary School in San Diego.
Asked by a reporter for the reason behind her spasm of violence, Brenda Ann Spencer replied, “I don’t like Mondays.”
That answer, ultimately dissatisfying for such a profound tragedy, provided the chorus and title for the number-one hit that Irish rocker Bob Geldof wrote for his group the Boomtown Rats. In the process, “I Don’t Like Mondays” followed Harry Chapin’s “Sniper” and Elton John’s “Ticking” in the small category of popular songs that dramatize mass murder.
Unfortunately, that killing spree was also the prelude for a particularly horrifying subset of the mass murders that have littered the American landscape since: the school massacre. The names—Columbine, Virginia Tech, Newtown—have become shorthand for more than just a parent’s worst tragedy. They also now signify the paralysis of an American democratic system willing to abide the repetition of senseless crime, all for the sake of a special-interest lobby that has forced its countrymen to pay a price for preserving gun-owner rights, under circumstances that even the Founding Fathers they claim to revere could never have anticipated.
(See, for instance, this post from the “Media Matters” blog by Alexander Zaitchik chronicling the fears expressed at last year’s Gun Rights Policy Conference.)
Geldof can only trace the source of the Cleveland shooting to the "silicon chip inside her head...switched to overload." But it comes just as surely from progressives who, unlike the gun lobby, disarm themselves these days for any legislative battle over an outdated "right to bear arms" before it even begins.