PRINT October 1986


Extrasensory perception.

HEAVY-METAL SINGER OZZY OSBOURNE was sued recently by the parents of a 19-year-old boy who shot himself to death, allegedly while listening to Osbourne’s song “Suicide Solution.” John McCollum was still wearing headphones when his body was discovered, and the song “Suicide Solution” was the last cut on the last album side McCollum listened to. Osbourne claimed that the song was about the horrors of alcoholism. The McCollum family’s lawyer claimed that the song was intended to induce teen suicides; in dismissing the case, California Superior Court Judge John L. Cole commented that there was no proof of that. But Judge Cole did say that he would consider a new claim by the family’s lawyer that “a low-pitched hum” increased John’s receptivity to the lyrics. The lawyer plans to introduce expert testimony to the effect that an inaudible tone, described in the press as an “11-kilohertz hum,” on some of Osbourne’s records makes listeners "peculiarly inclined to follow suggestions.”

I’ve never listened to this Ozzie song, and I’m not taking any chances now. But I have begun to wonder if television advertisers are not employing low-pitched hums. As I look out across my kitchen I see the Vegematic that slices, dices, chops and peels, the Ginsu knife, the cases of Bud Lite and cases of Kal Kan just waiting for me to get a dog, and from here I can also see into the bedroom where the packages of Members Only Jordache, and Sasson clothing lie unopened. The whole house smells like Calvin Klein’s Obsession. And I’m at a loss to explain how I acquired a Civil War chess set and all those Lee Press-On Nails. Now I’m wondering if I haven’t been subjected to a constant barrage of low-pitched hums that have made me fly People Express and drink Harvey’s Bristol Cream, two things, to name but two, that I feel I would not ordinarily do.

Now as I watch TV I have a Geiger counter and a hertz meter and an EEG running at all times. Already I have picked up several low-pitched hums that seem to be related to my shopping patterns. And there is definitely an 11-kilohertz hum emanating from the new Pepsi commercial. I think it’s the voice of Don Johnson.

If that weren’t enough to worry about, a punk rock group from England called Sigue Sigue Sputnik has put out the first record album featuring advertising (usually combined with some kind of hum). Between tracks on their album Flaunt It (Manhattan Records) are ads for Tempo magazine, Network 21, Pure Sex rubber clothing, i-D magazine, EMI Records, and L’Oréal Studio Line hair products. Actually I kind of like the ads better than those blank pauses between songs that are usually found on record albums, in fact I like them more than the songs on this album. The ads are very well produced and they could provide an excellent outlet for products like Marlboros or Chivas Regal that can’t get on television. Such advertisements, reeking of the profit motive and upward mobility might tend to snap young people back to reality, or at least to a more productive form of fantasy after songs such as Ozzie’s “Suicide Solution” or Sigue Sigue Sputnik’s “Love Missile F1-11” (the lyrics of which seem to consist of "Shoot it up. . .shoot it up. . .shoot it up. . .”). I do think young people would be less inclined to kill themselves after listening to heavy metal if, after listening, they took a little time out for a drink and a couple of cigarettes.

Glenn O’Brien is a writer who lives in New York. His column on advertising appears monthly in Artforum.