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Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Art Reflects Life

How many of you have ever heard the Boomtown Rats song, I Don't Like Monday's?

Growing up in the 70s, I recall this song. I can sing almost every lyric, still. Although the song came out when I was twelve in 1979, it was still popular by the time I reached HS. I remember driving to school, listening to WPLJ play this song like a Monday morning anthem. I'd drive with the windows rolled down (when the weather was nice), and sing on the top of my lungs, Tell me why? I don't like Mondays. Tell me why? I don't like Mondays. Tell me why? I don't like Mondays. I want to shoo-oo-oo-oo-oo-oot the whole day down....

It was also common knowledge, in those days, that the Boomtown Rats wrote that song based on a real life tragedy. Today, when people think of school shootings, their minds jump to Columbine. And, truly, that was a horrible, horrific, unthinkable tragedy. But, sadly school shootings have been happening for many, many decades.

The Boomtown Rats did, in fact, write this song based on a 1979 tragedy that took place on a Monday morning, on January 29. The shooter, Brenda Ann Spencer, was 16-years old. She was given a gun as a present from her father. She lived across the street from an elementary school in San Diego, California and decided it would be "fun" to open fire and shoot the children, teachers, passersby, etc. like a shooting gallery. When she was later questioned she replied, "I don't like Mondays. This livens up the day." Spencer showed utterly no remorse and even said it was "fun." She killed two men and wounded eight children and a police officer. She currently sits in a California prison where her parole has been denied numerous times. She is up for parole again this year - 2009. At 46, she's practically lived her whole life in prison.

Why do I bring up this unspeakable event? Because, as artists, we hold a responsibility to tell about life and the world we live in, that one day will become history. We can use our gifts to tell about the trials, tribulations, or triumphs of life. The Boomtown Rats were plagued and haunted by Spencer's cold reasoning and it prompted them to write a song that I am positive, if you lived in the 70s (and were not a baby or a toddler) you remember it. They took life and made art.

Look around you. What if you were a child growing up today? What would you think about, worry about, be afraid of, or excited for? It is not the same world we grew up in and yet, somethings never change. Our job, as writers of children's literature, is to reach today's children. They live in a time when we've elected the first black President, whether you voted for him or not. I was born only 13 years after segregation ended! We live now in a time when our economy is frighteningly unstable. When I grew up, the United States had the strongest world economy. Times have changed, time has stood still, and we, the artists, the writers, must capture our time. Re-frame it, structure it, learn from it so we teach from it. We need to tell our story but reach today's children.

Will you be like the Boomtown Rats? Will you take life and turn it into art? What piece of today will you capture in your stories? What lesson do you hope to teach?

Thank you, Kathleen Conners, for inspiring today's posting. It is not one of her favorite songs, but look how thirty years later, we are still discussing the song and the story behind it.

I don't Like Mondays Lyrics
The silicon chip inside her head
Gets switched to overload
And nobody’s gonna go to school today
She’s gonna make them stay at home
And daddy doesn’t understand it
He always said she was good as gold
And he can see no reasons
'Cos there are no reasons
What reason do you need to be show-ow-ow-ow-own?

Tell me why
I don’t like Mondays
Tell me why
I don’t like Mondays
Tell me why
I don’t like Mondays
I wanna shoo-oo-oo-oo-oo-oot the whole day down

The Telex machine is kept so clean
And it types to a waiting world
And mother feels so shocked
Father’s world is rocked
And their thoughts turn to their own little girl
Sweet 16 ain’t that peachy keen
Now that ain’t so neat to admit defeat
They can see no reasons
'Cos there are no reasons
What reasons do you need?
Oh Oh Oh Oh

Tell me why
I don’t like Mondays
Tell me why
I don’t like Mondays
Tell me why
I don’t like Mondays
I wanna shoo-oo-oo-oo-oo-oot
The whole day down, down, down,
shoot it all down

And all the playing's stopped in the playground now
She wants to play with the toys a while
And school's out early and soon we'll be learning
And the lesson today is how to die
And then the bullhorn crackles
And the captain tackles (With the problems of the how's and why's)
And he can see no reasons
'Cos there are no reasons
What reason do you need to die, die?
Oh Oh Oh

Tell me why
I don’t like Mondays
Tell me why
I don’t like Mondays
Tell me why
I don’t like
I don’t like (Tell me why)
I don’t like Mondays
Tell me why
I don’t like
I don’t like (Tell me why)
I don’t like Mondays
Tell me why
I don't like Mondays
I wanna shoo-oo-oo-oo-oo-oot the whole day down

9 comments:

Rebecca said...

It's interesting to think about this, Sheri. I think I've always taken bits from my life and put them into my writing (especially my poetry from my teen years!), though it isn't always deliberate.

Ame Dyckman said...

Hey, Sheri! For me (and just about all my little friends on the playground) it was nuclear war. Seems we all crept out of bed the first night "The Morning After" aired, all caught a few minutes (at least) of it when our folks were watching... and on some level, have been secretly terrified of nukes ever since. (Oh, and "Dallas." I'm afraid of reruns of "Dallas" too.)

Ame Dyckman said...

Oops, forgot my point (again). Anyway, my point being that I feel my work (quirky PBs) is always trying to get back to that place of innocence, before I realized, round-eyed in pajamas, in addition to all the good, that there was huge and horrible, STUPID evil in the world.

Dang, I wish I'd just stayed in bed.

Sheri said...

Becky,
Richard Peck, at the NJ SCBWI conference, said never, ever write about yourself. I can't stop thinking about this because I think no matter what we try, bits of ourselves (grammar?) will always find its way into our writing...

No nukes! I remember feeling that way too, Ame, and the Chernobyl disaster of 1986. I just graduated college. I remember lying awake at night years before that and asking my father how he knew we wouldn't all die from radiation, and was he really, really sure no one would bomb us... Yeah, I guess as a PB writer, you can write about all the happiness and silly and funny. But as MG and YA writers, we need to include sometimes deep thoughts, or environmental/governmental/religious themes, etc.

Ame Dyckman said...

(Chernobyl = 3-foot earthworms. Who wouldn't be freaked out?!!) I think both groups of writers are heavily influenced by Life, only MG/YA writers have to incorporate it, PB writers (largely) have to ignore it, or at least smush it down to the point where it's no longer so big and scary. I salute you guys, because I'm sure it's harder to draw it in than shut it out. (And, you know it's a gripping MG/YA I've snuck off to read when I've told the family I need to go pay bills or something!) ;) Maybe Mr. Peck just meant not to write your own story, not that you can't write with a part of yourself in it. Baked bean theory: when writing, you can be the little square of bacon in the can, but you shouldn't be the beans. (That made a lot more sense in my head than it does written down...)

Amy Tate said...

What a wonderful post. Words are a gift, and it's a great responsibility.

Sheri said...

AME, I LOVE THAT ANOLOGY!!!! Be the bacon, see the bacon, feel the bacon... that is excellent and something I will ALWAYS remember. Thank you for that!

And from Ame with an E to Amy with a Y... Thank you Amy. I am so glad the posting touched you. Richard Peck sure made every writer in the room this June very aware of the awesome responsibility we do have to our audience, whether they are PB readers or MG or YA or A for that matter.

Thanks everyone!

Kelly H-Y said...

Wow ... I wasn't familiar with that song or story. Great post, and I love how you speak to the responsibility of children's book writers!

Sheri said...

Thanks, Kelly. But of all the job responsibilites out there, isn't our great!

“Personal limitation exists only in our ideas of who we are. Give up all notions of who you are and your limitations will vanish.”

- Anonymous