The Boomtown Rats – I Don’t Like Mondays

The Fine Art of Surfacing
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Elvis Costello / XTC / Billy Joel

When did Monday get such a bad rap?

Probably in the not-so-long-ago, when unions gave us weekends. The weekend provided the worker with a moment of legitimate rest, and also gave the worker something to dread. Or maybe it’s always been a portent of dread, coming as it does after the Sabbath, the classic day of rest in Judeo-Christian heritage. That’s harder to say: as a child, I recall Sunday being lethargic and slow. The “day of rest” idea carried over to meaning “sitting in church for an hour and then doing nothing all day.” Sometimes we would head down to Westerly and visit my grandparents and the wealth of family we had down there. On those Sundays, the day meant fried dough and plenty of butter, or swimming in the pool all afternoon. Sunday itself, however, was the hope of these jaunts. On the more frequent weeks where they did not come to pass, the day was lazy in the least appealing of ways. Sunday drags in my mind. Anyway, the Sabbath is sometimes presumed to be Saturday anyway, so this entire argument is moot to begin with.

Maybe it isn’t even about real work, but instilled in us during our school days, along with the love of summer. Summer is freedom. Monday is the return to imprisonment. The reality of course is that in the real world, most people don’t work 9 to 5, Monday through Friday jobs. People get Mondays off after working all weekend. People work Sunday and Monday, but not Saturday or Tuesday. Schedules vary greatly. The people who do have the Monday-Friday work week are most apt to be getting better pay, shorter hours, more benefits… not always, mind you, but the point is, the demographic that is really dreading Monday is slimmer now than it’s ever been. Just as we still praise the summer, however, despite working through it, and despite being able to arrange our vacation time for any part of the year, Monday carries a certain heft of depression, and Friday some sort of elation, even if we’re working Friday night, or Saturday morning, or all weekend. Garfield and Office Space haven’t helped matters.

With all this ambiguity about why we don’t like Mondays, it is appropriate that the most famous song about the day is equally ambiguous. It’s a track we’ve likely all heard without knowing anything about it. Almost assuredly, even if we know about Bob Geldorf and his Boomtown Rats, our first listen to the song led to all manner of wild speculation as to the singer. There was even more ambiguity with the lyrics: things fall into place when we know it is about a real life teen shooting (think Jeremy, but female and a good decade prior), but each verse presents its own vignette, making it seem like there are three separate stories instead of various windows onto one tragedy. It always seemed to me that there was some weird thing going on with someone’s mother, what with “[making] them stay at home” seeming to be what “Daddy doesn’t understand.” The story, from that perspective, made even less sense. Capping things off, there is the cognitive dissonance involved in this song not even cracking the ’80s… that’s even a new one for me. It just feels so of-that-decade that I never bothered questioning.

Still, whether we ever knew the story or not, whether we knew the band or the era, the whole package is nevertheless very good at being unsettling and just a bit ominous. There’s something just under the surface that makes the skin crawl: the meaningless of everything that’s happened is left bare… trying to understand doesn’t solve anything. The dramatic (and super recognizable) intro adds to the stormy drama. The sheer pop of the song doesn’t dispel the unsettling feeling… indeed, it perhaps underscores it even further, like carnival music in a horror movie. The lilting beginning of the third verse, the staccato of the most direct reference to the tragedy, and the slow plod of tempo after that payout seems made to disturb as well. It’s beautifully composed, smartly created, and instantly memorable as a song, don’t get me wrong, but it’s not always easy to hear.

That sense of dread that the song drips with, however, made it a sort of anthem. It’s not an accurate one necessarily: knowing the chorus of “I don’t like Mondays” is like knowing that Springsteen was “Born in the USA”… there’s way more to the sentiment than that one iconic repetition, and identifying solely with that point misses the point. Still, sometimes we just need an excuse to let our feelings out. Perhaps being able to chime in on the radio, lamenting how we want to shoot Monday down, was the shred of sanity left to a generation of proto-mods in the workforce, the thing that made things OK and prevented a repeat of the terrible events the song is based on. Whatever the case, for those of us with workaday commitments, whatever they may be, Monday is difficult. The catharsis of great music, however, just might help.

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Alex Lupica (@Alex_Soundtrack) has been in love with music since he was a toddler, despite its infidelities. (Really, music? Nu-metal? How could you!). Alex is Editor-in-Chief at The Daily Soundtrack.

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