The name Bob Geldof might not ring in the ear as it once did a generation ago. Back in the 80’s his presence was well-known thanks to his biggest and most famous effort, Live Aid. The massive concert event that had locations all around the world and raised money for famine relief in African country Ethiopia back in 1985. Bob has done other things since then but his musical efforts are what he is really known for. But here is the thing, Back before the Live Aid, the Live 8’s, “Do they known it’s Christmas” and the cover versions released every ten years or so, Bob was just the front man in an Irish rock and new wave act from the late 70s called The Boomtown Rats.
Now this story takes us to January 1979, at the time The band was riding the success of their album called “Tonic For the Troops” that had been released the previous year in 1978 in the UK and now was just being released in the United States. Stories differ, but one version has it Geldof and the band were at a college station in Atlanta, Georgia being interviewed about the album coming out when news came across that something had happened on the other side of the country.
On January 29, 1979, in San Diego, 16-year-old Brenda Ann Spencer used a Ruger semi Automatic rifle she had received from her father for Christmas and fired over 30 rounds at the elementary school across the street from her house. She wounded a police officer, 8 children and killed both the school custodian and the school’s principal who were trying to save the kids when they were gunned down. She barricaded herself in the house and as the story goes she had a phone conversation with a local journalist, she commented that the reason for doing this was “I don’t like Mondays. This livens up the day.”
Now if you think that part of the story is chilling, remember this was back in the day when mass shootings, let alone school shootings, were an extreme rarity. You can imagine what kind of reaction something like that got during those times.
Now, however Bob and the band had actually heard of it, Bob put pen to paper and wrote the lyrics for the song. “I don’t like Mondays” was released in July of that year and was part of the band’s third album The Fine Art of Surfacing. It ended up being a huge song for the band as it became a UK number one song for 4 weeks that summer and was the only hit for the band in the United States. In the U.S. the song lived on for decades when music channels like VH1 would include it in their “One Hit Wonders” type shows while others would use the song more as an anthem for the weekly grind of going to work (really missing the point of the song). These days you don’t hear much about the song anymore and Geldof himself isn’t brought up nearly as much anymore with the Rats breaking up in 1986 and Geldof known for his charitable endeavors more than anything.
Meanwhile, while Geldof and the Boomtown Rats took the tragedy and made something out of it, there is the other side of the tale. Back in 1979, Spencer eventually surrendered from her barricaded shooting spot and arrested. When brought to trial she was charged as an adult for both the murder of the principal and the custodian, and Assult with a Deadly weapon for firing on the school. She was sentenced to 25 years to life in prison and as of this writing she was still there. The school where this event took place was closed in 1983 and has been used by private Schools ever since. There have been numerous books, documentaries, and TV movies made of the event over the years as well.
And to add to all this, Spencer’s father actually wanted to sue Bob for the song, but it was shown that Bob never mentioned her name in it so it never went anywhere. As Bob explains it, Brenda herself actually thanked Bob for writing the song and helping her become even more famous.
Yeah, after hearing something like that from a convicted school killer I’d probably want to create Live Aid too.