Rock ‘n’ Roll’s Power: Even Noriega Trembles

At last U.S. foreign policy has transcended adjectives of campaigns past--such as “bold,” “futile” or “brutish,” as the case may be--and has entered the realm of the truly bizarre-o.

For what other description could be used vis a vis the Army’s scheme to drive deposed Panamanian leader Gen. Manuel Noriega out of the Vatican Embassy in Panama City by blaring rock music at him day and night?

The sonic assault lasted only a few days; when high-decibel renditions of such “message songs” as “You’re No Good” and “Nowhere to Run” failed to root out the Cur of the Canals, our troops switched tapes in favor of material designed, in one official’s words, to bore Noriega into submission: They pelted him with President Bush’s speeches. (Hmmm--I would have thought that forced exposure to political grandstanding would be forbidden by the Geneva Convention.)

Still, the whole incident represents, in my mind, a significant turnabout in official governmental policy that, despite its failure in execution, deserves the applause of the rock community.

For the first time, it appears that the U.S. government recognizes rock music as a front-line weapon in the fight for truth, justice and the American Way.


I hope this means that rock no longer will be viewed on Capitol Hill--and at the Orange County Performing Arts Center, for that matter--as the tool of the devil, as the soundtrack that will not only accompany but instigate the fall of the American Empire.

Is there a better testament to the freedom-ringing power of rock ‘n’ roll than the crumbling of all those Eastern European Communist governments that had banished rock to the catacombs of the black market?

The boys in military intelligence have probably been dying to go out in the field with some really top-notch sound equipment ever since “Apocalypse Now,” when they saw what havoc Robert Duvall wreaked in the jungles of Vietnam with a reel-to-reel tape deck.

Just think: With a couple of CD players and a stack of digitally re-mastered rock classics, we could rule the world!

I submit that the campaign against Noriega failed not because the idea was bad, but because whoever was spinning the tunes just picked the wrong ones. Look at ‘em: “You’re No Good” (I’ll wager they used the Linda Ronstadt version), Hendrix’s “Voodoo Chile” and Martha & the Vandellas’ “Nowhere to Run,” among others (so far, the Army hasn’t released the full Playlist for People You Love To Hate).

Obviously, they were shooting for some stunningly subtle psychological impact here (“You’re No Good,” Get it? Huh? Nudge, nudge!). But the Army seemed to forget one crucial point: Basically, these are good records . If you want to drive someone to surrender, you have to crank up something irritating .

In the office next to the one I worked in about 10 years ago, a guy played the “Saturday Night Fever” soundtrack at wall-rattling volume all day long. Had I possessed any national or state secrets, I happily would have turned them over.

Had the Army inundated Noriega with Morris Alpert’s drippy “Feelings,” Bobby Goldsboro’s insufferable “Honey” or just about anything by New Kids on the Block, Manny would have been out of the embassy and in U.S. custody inside 30 minutes.

That’s why law enforcement agents across the country should study this latter-day Marshall (Amp) Plan closely and seriously consider implementing it on the federal, state and local levels.

Federal Drug Enforcement Agency officers stymied as to how to break the vicious crack dealers holed up in a fortified rock house? Submit them to a 12-hour Debby Boone marathon.

State parole officers looking for a way to keep ex-cons on the straight and narrow? Let them know in no uncertain terms that if they stray, they’ll have to sit through “Paul Anka’s 30th Anniversary Collection.” (Just the prospect of “Having My Baby” should be enough to keep even the most unrepentant miscreant out of trouble.)

City cops need a secret weapon to crack down on gang violence? Deluge their neighborhoods with squad cars blasting Phil Collins’ oh-so-whiney “One More Night.”

Yes, indeed, rock ‘n’ roll is here to sway.

THE ENVELOPE PLEASE: This week’s Bureaucratic Gobbledygook Award goes to . . . the John Wayne Airport staffers who came up with the report submitted last week to the County Board of Supervisors regarding the supes’ plan to put art in the new airport terminal.

In recommending an annual budget of $250,000 for the proposed program, the report stated that “this amount represents an additional cost of 7.4 cents per each enplaned passenger, based on our estimated 3,378,200 enplaning passengers in 1990-91.”

“Enplaned” passengers? Precisely how are enplaned passengers different than garden variety passengers? And per each? Please, someone take $12.95 out of the general fund and buy these folks a copy of Theodore M. Bernstein’s “The Careful Writer.”