In the last year, there has been a shooting at a school every two weeks on average, but to my knowledge, no one has written hit songs about them — nor about any similar event in several decades. Which is what makes this piece of rock history (from 35 years ago this month) stand out.
On January 29, 1979, a 16-year-old named Brenda Ann Spencer fired a gun at a playground full of kids at Grover Cleveland Elementary School in San Diego. She injured 8 children and killed two adults before being stopped and arrested. She showed no remorse for her crime, offering only the bizarre explanation, “I don’t like Mondays. This livens up the day.”
British rocker Bob Geldof was at Georgia State University with his band The Boomtown Rats the next day and stopped by the campus radio station, WRAS, for an interview. While there, he saw the Spencer story on the newswire and was amazed by it and her comment. He immediately started writing a song about it, and a month later, the band performed it live for the first time. Within a few months, it became the #1 song in the UK and received a lot of airplay on album-oriented-rock stations in the US (though not many Top 40 stations played it). The song has since been covered by Tori Amos, Bon Jovi, and others. A few years later, Geldof created the song “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” and the Band-Aid charity concerts to raise money for famine relief in Ethiopia.
In 1989, I interviewed Geldof at Abbey Road Studios and asked if the popularity of the song surprised him. He said he’d never planned it as a hit single — in fact, the band wanted to almost throw it away as the B-side of another song — and was shocked when audiences started singing along with it, making it seem like a feel-good tune, which it definitely is not.