This is a public service announcement: This song is so terrible, it’s genius.
The lyrics to P.S.A. are more audible and even more intelligible than its creator believes them to be. The song itself, well, that’s another story.
“This spunky little pop tune features my “singing”. It’s a moralizing diatribe about what happens to people when they attempt to have too much fun,” announces Hani Habashi in an introductory note accompanying his latest digital release. The note was his attempt to soften the song’s effect on our sensibilities. Habashi included the lyrics too, because he thought we wouldn’t be able to understand them through the distortion.
First, the song is not a pop song. Don’t get confused by the hashtag on SoundCloud. You’re not getting Pharrell’s version of happy. This is digitally poetic, electronic-infused, cerebral cyberpunk. There are patterns and rhymes you’d usually find in the technical format of a pop song, but it’s aesthetically 80s punk, in the vein of the Jim Carroll Band’s tragic People Who Died, a casual musical stroll down an avenue of Carroll’s dead friends, where he describes the various ways in which they meet their demise. Coincidentally, it is a fantastic example of an accidentally popular song if there ever was one.
Pop songs have the potential to appeal to the masses. P.S.A. doesn’t. Although it does cover a range of popular subjects, like genetically modified organisms, lysergic acid diethylamide and sexually transmitted diseases – GMOs, LSD and STDs – I guess these are things that seemingly make you happy or things you get while you’re happy.
This moves us to the second point. He may have warned us, but Habashi is not really singing or even rapping. He’s pretty much just talking – out of tune.
Throughout the decades that he’s been creating music, Habashi released four CDs with “completely conceptually autonomous” bands all under the United Deviations Music Recordings (UDmr) label, This Motor Oil (Rather Panic and The Ugly Ones), Tummy Drums (Teko), and Meat Makes Meat (CD of the same name).
Having considered that CDs may be a “dead-end path in terms of sales,” Habashi still likes the idea of the complete physical package compared to downloading or streaming music. However, he readily admits that his problem with selling his music likely has nothing to do with the packaging and everything to do with the music itself. Like a diehard music fan, he releases one-off digital singles “just for the hell of it”.
He writes music on his computer. In the case of P.S.A., he used free VST (Virtual Studio Technology) software, “the latest digital signal processing, to make the words…as intelligible as possible.”
“Unfortunately, no technology exists to actually improve the quality of the song.” Those are his words, not mine. He sent me a link to stream the song and included another link, adding: “In the case of technological inadequacy, a secondary and somewhat more primitive system of communication has been made available”. Here are the lyrics.
This acronym-filled piece of cybernetic poetry sounds more like a warning about the destruction of civilization. It’s extremely thought-provoking but Habashi thinks the lyrics are “dumb,” considering that it took him so long, three years on-and-off, to write them.
Habashi is poignantly pessimistic and it shows in his music. Case in point, he describes UDmr as if it was a wasteland for his “IRRELEVANT” music career. Instead of the positive, slick promotional copy hyping his passion, he addresses Joe Public in the following way: “Just so you know, I have long given up making a career of music…there is no career to be had with the kind of music I make”. Habashi believes that if he depended on his music for an income, he “would have starved to death long ago”.
“By not having to make music to survive,” he is afforded the choice to enjoy “the creative freedom to explore” his musical interests “unencumbered by market forces”.
We’ll inform you of the popularity of P.S.A., or lack thereof, in the very distant future.
The alert level is now Green: Listen to P.S.A.
by Cherryl Bird
Toronto, Ontario, Canada