Behold: the latest in musical torture.
In late 1989, United States military forces invaded the Central American country of Panama, in an attempt to oust former CIA asset-turned-narcodictator Manuel Noriega from power. Fearing capture, Noriega sought sanctuary in the Vatican’s apostolic nunciature, where U.S. Special Forces bombarded him with a(n admittedly pretty good!) playlist of American rock and roll standards, played at maximum volume, day and night, to flush him from his diplomatically untouchable asylum — which is what eventually happened, 10 days later.
I mention all this because up till now, that particular episode in the U.S.’s long and ignominious history of catastrophic foreign meddling has been held as the gold standard of musical torture. Well, not anymore. Not after today. Not after the aural assault that is “Sweet Florida”, a just-released ode to Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. And if those words alone aren’t enough curdle your milk, well, just give it a listen:
You can tell this is gonna be something special when right off the bat, one of the Van Zant brothers (Donnie? Johnny? Not the one from Lynyrd Skynyrd, in any case) asks DeSantis if he “likes listening to it loud” and the governor, who clearly does not, can only stammer “yeah, however you want, yeah yeah yeah.” Folks, we’ve got a real rock and/or roll appreciator here!
It’s all downhill from there, I’m afraid. Not that the song’s lyrics are all that shocking; mostly it’s just a generic rehash of the basic “we love freedom, we hate Brandon, boohoo Dr. Fauci is so mean!” shibboleths that pass for conservative ideology these days. What is surprising, though, is how lazy the whole thing feels, as it lists in and out of any sort of coherent rhyme scheme to brag about things like not having vaccine mandates or COVID lockdowns which ... look around, my dudes! No one has that shit anymore. Republicans won! Coronavirus won! What are you even talking about?? And, also, if you’re singing about a state that’s been the site of two of the most horrific instances of gun violence in American history, maybe think twice before you drop “he’s shootin’ us straight” in your chorus, yeah?
Here’s a sample lyric, set to the absolute laziest, buttrock melody you’ve heard since 1982:
Well we ain’t been locked down // we still have our freedom
We can still see our friends and family.
Oh our kids are in school // and we can go to church on Sunday
And it’s all because DeSantis knows how to lead.
While it’s true that DeSantis does embody the longstanding rock n’ roll virtue of “hating school,” it’s hard to imagine anyone on Earth who rocks less than Ron in pretty much all other regards. That a gay-hating, cop-loving, participation trophy hander-outer would be lionized with electric guitars is anathema to a genre born of salacious rebellion and the championing of underdogs against a conservative status quo.
Which brings me back to Noriega. Perhaps “Sweet Florida” is actually a psyop to make something so awful, so unlistenable, that playing it will drive DeSantis out of Florida once and for all. If that’s the case, Van Zant, I salute you. If this really is what it claims to be, however, then rock is truly dead, and this is what they’re playing in the waiting room for hell.