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Country Rock

The Byrds’ Roger McGuinn and Chris Hillman, together with Marty Stuart and his Superlatives, are currently on tour to observe the 50th anniversary of their pivotal album, Sweetheart of the Rodeo.

Of all the golden anniversaries connecting the tumult of 1968 to 2018, it is fitting to revisit The Byrds’ country-rock classic here near year’s end. At the time of its August 1968 release, four months had passed since Dr. Martin Luther King’s assassination, two since Bobby Kennedy’s, a week since Soviet tanks had rumbled into Prague, mere days since tear gas wafted onto the floor of the Democratic National Convention in Chicago. On the surface, Sweetheart doesn’t sound like any of that, at all.

And yet, it may be one of 1968’s most profound sonic documents, because what you can hear in it is a California rock band turning to American musical tradition to make sense of their moment. Different corners of the counterculture handled the year’s apocalyptic air in their own appropriate ways. The MC5 and The Stooges hurled vitriol; the Velvet Underground curled into a knowing cynicism. The Byrds responded by practically inventing Americana. With the nation’s social fabric seemingly torn asunder, Sweetheart’s country-rock ballads played their small part in stitching it back together.

This seems like a lot to lay on The Byrds. After all, the ’60s pantheon does not tend to include them in the first tier of rock revolutionaries: Beatles, Stones, Dylan, Hendrix, Joplin, Morrison. It was the experimental collages of Pet Sounds and Sgt. Pepper’s, not the nostalgic harmonies of Sweetheart of the Rodeo, that supposedly drove home the idea that rock music was serious, complex, adult art. These works leaned into the shock of the new, the decade’s dizzying mix of heightened expectations and dashed hopes, modish affectation and psychedelic splash. The Byrds were a part of all of these conversations, and understood them well. “Eight Miles High” had established their psych credentials. But with Sweetheart, they made something like the anti-Sgt. Pepper’s, a statement of sonic simplicity, reverence for tradition and arrangements that translated well to live performance.

Of the other ’60s icons, The Byrds’ career most closely intertwines with Dylan’s. The beginning of the decade found Dylan squarely ensconced in folk, a universe then far removed from rock. Folk was for the earnest, the engaged, the intellectual, while rock, the folkies claimed, pandered to the fun-seekers, weekend hell-raisers and fad-chasers. Together, The Byrds and Dylan obliterated the distinction between the two, merging rock’s infectious verve and folk’s ambitious gravity. Dylan’s electric turn at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival often serves as shorthand for the whole process but, earlier that same year, The Byrds had also helped ease Dylan’s rock transition with their chart-topping recording of his “Mr. Tambourine Man.”

If “Mr. Tambourine Man” was folk-rock’s opening act, Sweetheart of the Rodeo inaugurated country-rock with the further recognition that the lines between “folk” and “country” had more to do with social position, region, marketing and politics than with the music itself. Sweetheart is country-rock’s beating heart, the genre’s Pangea, its Big Bang, its Rosetta Stone.

Of course, the Byrds were not the only act blurring the boundaries between rock and country and folk. Country-rock arrived as a cresting wave of artists rather than a solo voyage of discovery. Dylan and the group that would come to be called The Band had already improvised the infamous Basement Tapes in upstate New York, though those tracks remained apocryphal in 1968. Dylan had also already tested the Nashville waters with John Wesley Harding. Fellow Southern Californians Buffalo Springfield plowed the same fields; Mike Nesmith eyed a post-Monkees career that reflected his Texas roots; and The Beau Brummels’ country-rock gem Bradley’s Barn dropped shortly after Sweetheart.

But Sweetheart of the Rodeo crystalized all these ongoing developments. It did so with a refurbished Byrds lineup. David Crosby had moved on, and Florida-born, Georgia-raised Gram Parsons had entered the ranks. Though McGuinn and Hillman had always been steeped in folk and bluegrass, Parsons strongly influenced the new album’s country turn.

The track list begins, appropriately, with Dylan, as The Byrds brought “You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere,” one of those self-same basement tapes, into the light of day. They stirred in other iconic folkies, recording Woody Guthrie’s “Pretty Boy Floyd” and reworking the traditional “I Am a Pilgrim.” They gestured to the genre’s African-American influences with soul singer William Bell’s “You Don’t Miss Your Water.” The album’s signature, though, is its full country tilt: tracks like The Louvin Brothers’ “The Christian Life,” honky-tonk auteur Cindy Walker’s “Blue Canadian Rockies” and Merle Haggard’s “Life in Prison.” Gram Parsons contributes the album’s only original tracks, and his classic “Hickory Wind” feels very much at home in this august company. The 2018 setlists have included all of these, in addition to other Byrds classics.

From top to bottom, Sweetheart of the Rodeo is both timely and timeless. It sounds timeless because the impeccable musicianship and song-craft hold up (with an able assist in concert from Marty Stuart’s top-notch group). It feels timely because The Byrds seem to have turned to country as a port in the 1968 storm, looking to the nation’s past to explain its present.

Whether the album’s rendition of American tradition resonates as hymn, hallelujah or dirge depends largely on the listener. Personally, I have always heard their work as anthemic, a Guthrie-style reminder that American tradition has always been contested territory, the province of anyone who might be able to imagine himself or herself in it, whether hippie like Hillman, Southerner like Parsons, black like Bell, or ex-con like Haggard.

In the years following Sweetheart, the Byrds would split and regroup in various combinations. Hillman and Parsons teamed up to further California country-rock with The Flying Burrito Brothers, before Parsons spiraled off in collaborations with The Rolling Stones, Emmylou Harris and martyrdom. McGuinn held the band together in partnership with Clarence White through the early ’70s and subsequent reunions. Separately, their work would often match Sweetheart, but nothing they made after could really surpass it.

Sweetheart of the Rodeo is the hope and hurt of 1968 encased in amber, yearning for an America that feels both whole and true to itself, all in a melodious country-rock package. When McGuinn, Hillman, Stuart and the band take the stage in 2018, that amber liquefies just a little, the feelings frozen in it reanimated for our own moment.


Mellard is assistant professor of history at Texas State University and author of Progressive Country: How the 1970s Transformed the Texan in Popular Culture.

Categories - Main
On Irony

This week we toast The Byrds, whose 12-string guitarist Roger McGuinn and bassist Chris Hillman are passing through Ponte Vedra on tour to mark the 50th anniversary of their Sweetheart of the Rodeo album. Although the seminal California rock collective is probably best known for their debut single—a jangly, chart-topping reading of Bob Dylan’s “Mr. Tambourine Man” that dropped in 1965 and paved the way for the Summer of Love—their 1968 album saw them in Nashville with new recruit Gram Parsons, laying the foundations of a new genre: country rock.

Read on and, in this very issue, Texas State University cultural historian Jason Mellard will tell you all about it. He’s something of an expert on the genre. His excellent 2017 book Progressive Country explores the intersection of country and rock in Austin during the 1970s. There was a (brief) moment, he argues in the book, when the country music tradition became contested territory. Appropriated by thoughtful dissidents like Willie Nelson and Jerry Jeff Walker, country’s ethos of rugged individualism proved compatible with the iconoclastic—sometimes even utopian—values of rock and roll. That moment, however, didn’t last long. Country rock would keep the sneer and swagger, but discard the optimism.

If we zoom out of Texas, we might say that noble experiment ended when country rock stopped looking to California and started looking to Georgia and Alabama. That’s when the open horizon of the country-and-western frontier gave way to the resentful nostalgia of Southern rock. The former was problematic enough, to be sure, but the latter got downright ugly. (See Hank Williams Jr.)

But what does any of this have to do with irony and hipsters? Well. When the primordial hipsters of the Beat Generation turned their backs on middle-class life and experimented with jazz and folk subcultures, they established irony as a viable existential gesture. It meant something. There were, of course, a whole lotta other politics that went into the sausage. But the defiant bucking of lifestyle expectations and the embrace of marginalized forms was at least an attempt to reconcile the 20th-century’s many contradictions.

The Byrds and their countercultural boon companions continued those experiments. McGuinn and co. respected roots music and took its progressive potential seriously. The hipster dream became the hippie dream. And, though that dream famously died at Altamont, generations of young people would carry the torch to the present day.

Eventually, however, it became more about style than substance. Fast-forward to 2018. Today’s hipster is a universally reviled creature, despised—even by fellow hipsters—for chasing lifestyle trends just for the sake of it.

And the lifestyle trend of the moment is “Americana.” From cute, vaguely rootsy acoustic music to huge, lumberjack beards, the hills have definitively colonized our cities. It’s hard not to hear in this an echo of the cosmopolitan hippies’ turn to country in the late ’60s. (Literally. There’s a fair amount of Gram Parsons worship, although the windswept AOR of Stevie Nicks seems to be the model par excellence.)

At best, it’s an empty irony. At worst, it provides fashionable cover for some highly unsavory ideas. Just as hippie country rock devolved into a worst-of-both-worlds hybrid with the likes of Hank Jr., hipster Americana has given us Vice Magazine and Proud Boys honcho Gavin McInnes, a smug (and successful) hate-peddler decked out in a sharp suit and ridiculous waxed beard.


Thank You Note

As has been documented in this column over the last couple of years, Jacksonville City Councilwoman Anna Brosche and Mayor Lenny Curry don’t get along.

The two Republican CPAs, both elected to their first terms in 2015, never quite gelled. And daylight emerged from the moment that Brosche defeated John Crescimbeni, the Democrat who was favored by Curry in the 2017 race for the council presidency.

Brosche was cool on pension reform and the Kids Hope Alliance proposal—two Curry priorities. But in the wake of Charlottesville, she called for Confederate monuments to be inventoried and then brought down. Curry was not willing to take that position. He and his political operation know that wouldn’t play well with the base. Despite quietly pedaling back, Brosche got little credit for taking a leadership role … and less for abandoning it.

Brosche’s council presidency ended in June, as did her influence on the council itself, a body that clearly has gotten sick of her. The latest example (at least before the publication deadline): last Tuesday’s Rules Committee. That’s when Brosche filed a bill that would have called for the city to return a $2.775 million gift given by a criminal enterprise with a flag: the United Arab Emirates.

We’ve covered the UAE money before, of course. Some cynics call it “blood money.” But what does it matter?

In October, when asked about that country’s human rights record, Mayor Curry punted. It’s a great look if you are a native-born male citizen, but less so if you are a female, a dissident, a journalist, a thought criminal, an expat or someone on Yemeni soil, where the UAE tortures locals as part of our endless proxy war against Iran.

People of a certain age will remember the neoliberal justification for American hegemony: we are, the story went, the Indispensable Nation, a beacon of democracy and justice in a world inclined toward tyranny without our benign guidance.

That got us through 9/11 and maybe a bit longer (even the dovish Democrats in 2004 and 2008 called the Afghanistan sh*tshow “the good war”). But the enduring truth from that era was Vice President Dick Cheney, weeks after 9/11, predicting that this would be a decades-long struggle in the shadows.

The lines between good and evil have been blurred, we can agree. We are lined up with Saudi Arabia and the UAE against Iran, and we have geopolitical reasons for doing so. Beyond the transactional relationships, though, it’s clear that we are backing one set of barbaric values over another.

And judging from the curb-stomping the Council Rules Committee gave Brosche’s bill, moral strictures about good and evil are as disposable as styrofoam.

Here’s Bill Gulliford: “I’ve seen a number of ridiculous bills come through. This is right at the top … All the billions of dollars we’ve given to countries over the years. Isn’t it nice to get some back?”

Well, sure, it’s always nice to have extra money. But endorsing those checks means that you basically agree with how that country does business. And, as Americans, we know that the number of drone strikes we drop on a daily basis dwarfs our reasons to live by an order of magnitude.

Here’s Tommy Hazouri, pretending not to know better in order to again shiv a council enemy: “Many of these countries we give money to are worse on human rights than the UAE. This is not Saudi Arabia. This is the United Arab Emirates.”

No substantiation was needed for that innuendo—or for anything else discussed in this committee.

John Crescimbeni, who may or may not be running for tax collector as his council tenure nears its term-limit terminus, proposed an elegant solution: to substitute and re-refer the bill, to offer the UAE a gesture of appreciation.

Uncertain at the time of this writing: will there be a formal proclamation?

The UAE already got one press event out of this, with dignitaries feted by Mayor Curry at a local school. Would they send the ambassador back to a plaque? Depends on what’s in the green room that night.

One of the recurring miscalculations made by commentators in our era is to assume that people actually care what’s being done in their names. The bigger the unit of government, the more divorced we are from its actions. We are subjects, satellites and nothing more.

We don’t care about some funky little proxy war in Yemen that cynics describe as genocidal. We didn’t care about Iraqi sanctions killing a few hundred thousand kids. And whatever happened in Libya and Syria was cool, at least as long as we don’t have to take in refugees from the war zone.

Another hurricane will come, soon enough. What despotic mess from overseas will cut the next check? Sooner or later, we will find out.


One City: One Jacksonville

One City: One Jacksonville is a great saying for a political campaign; but it is not the truth! Jacksonville is a city significantly divided by race, class and political affiliation. In 2015, Lenny Curry defeated Alvin Brown and took over the mayor’s office. His campaign slogan was “One City: One Jacksonville.” Jacksonville is, in fact, “a tale of two cities.” One is a big sleepy Southern town with a legacy of racism. The other one is a growing and thriving metropolis attempting to redefine itself for the challenges presented by the 21st century.



I earnestly desire and pray that the leaders of my home town are approaching this critical issue with candor, confidence and a sincere commitment. I will work with any group that has a desire to stop the violence and increase the peace. I will not be a part of anyone’s dog-and-pony show or political smoke-screen!

These are the essentials for making the city’s anti-violence initiatives work: strong leadership, positive attitudes, effective partnerships, honest dialogue and consistent funding. The final necessary ingredient in this recipe is a group of city officials who will work together to develop solutions and who will not simply kick this issue around like a football to advance their own political agenda.

It will take teamwork to make this dream work!



The major issues that will define the city’s image to its residents and also to the rest of the world are public safety and violence.

Back during the 2015 mayoral campaign, violent crime was up, and Mr. Curry promised to fix it.

“This will be a safe city again,” Curry said.

After three years in office, Mr. Curry has increased police budgets by millions of dollars and hired another 147 cops. Unfortunately, the body count in the streets continues to rise just as fast as JSO’s budget. The crime-fighting plan designed and implemented by Mayor Curry and Sheriff Mike Williams has been an epic failure.

The murder and violent crime rates in Duval County are still the highest of any large city in Florida.



To reduce violence, we must begin to eradicate racial, geographic and economic disparities. We must create policies and programs that address underlying issues like the disproportionate poverty and unemployment.

We should focus our primary efforts on ZIP codes 32206 and 32209. These geographic locations, with their distinct and apparent racially demographic markers, should be Ground Zero for our economic redevelopment efforts and this is why:

1. 17,000 people live in ZIP code 32206 on the Eastside

a. 79.3 percent are black.

b. The poverty rate 38.9 percent.

c. The unemployment rate is 11.4 percent.


2. 39,653 people live in ZIP code 32209

a. 98 percent are black.

b. The poverty rate is 40.3 percent.

c. The unemployment rate is 11.9 percent.


Social, racial and economic injustices are intricately interwoven into our present reality. We are all angered by an upsurge in gun violence that is taking place in broad daylight. An honest assessment is that even in 2018 racial division and discrimination is still stifling the city’s social and economic growth. It’s all connected.

The city’s white body politic still refuses to expose, acknowledge and address this infamous connection. However, even despite the apathy, we all know these are the underlying issues that should be addressed.

Here’s the big question: How do we make a change?

The Northside Coalition is pushing the city to implement elements of its 10-point plan for gun violence reduction with all deliberate speed! This is by no means a magic wand but it is a viable data-driven plan that represents a new approach and new ideas.



1. Holding a town hall meeting to allow residents to question elected officials about any anti-violence and public safety plans being developed. (City officials have agreed.) The purpose of these two noticed meetings would be to open lines of communication, build trust and tear down walls between residents and elected officials.

2. Closing the gun-show loophole to cut off the availability of guns to people who should not have them. Private gun sales should be documented, and buyers should have to undergo background checks.

3. Creating a multimillion-dollar major plan of social and economic redevelopment. This would include improved delivery of various public services, education, health and the arts. Major input and funding from the public and private sectors will be needed to fund these ideas.

4. Input from experts in the fields of education, health, music and the arts would be helpful.

5. Targeting disadvantaged areas like ZIP codes 32206 and 32209 which have high poverty rates and double-digit unemployment rates.

6. Implementing a massive job training and job creation element would be a key component. Working with various businesses, community colleges, nonprofits, universities would be necessary.

7. Developing and implementing conflict resolution training by professionals in schools and on the streets. Working with counselors in the public and private sector would be a part of this effort.

8. Expanding and supporting minority businesses should also be a priority.

9. Providing more accountability and transparency in the criminal justice system and at JSO. Review policies, practices and procedures to eliminate racial bias at JSO to enhance trust with the black community.

10. THE CURE VIOLENCE PROGRAM: The city is considering implementation of the Cure Violence program. We believe it will save lives and that the city should move to implement it. And city leaders should make sure that enough money is committed from the outset to fully sustain at least the first five years of the program’s existence (about $4 million). Cure Violence is guided by clear understandings that violence is a health issue. NCOJ believes community and strategic partnerships will be the key to the success of this initiative. For this effort to work, all the stakeholders, each of us, will have to work together like we never have before! Individuals and communities can change for the better. I believe we can restore hope in our city, our communities and our people. Those who say it can’t be done are usually surpassed by those who are doing it!


Frazier is the founder of the Northside Coalition of Jacksonville.

Giving the Gift of Green Part Deux

Here we go again, with a second round of holiday gift ideas for the cannabisseurs in your life (or simply for yourself, if you’re feeling selfish). At this point, it’s a bit late to rely on mail order—and, frankly, with all the recent stories about porch thieves, delivery truck mishaps and Amazon robots spraying their employees with bear mace (which, granted, is a pretty good way to keep wages under control, though it’s kind of a sop to the Medicare-for-all crowd), it may be in everyone’s best interests to just purchase the items in-store.

Thankfully, shoppers in Northeast Florida have no shortage of options. Between the classic smokeshops and new-school dispensaries, your cup (or your bowl) runneth over with local retailers at your disposal. (Some of them might even be advertising on this very page or nearby. Thanks for your support, by the way. Keep it coming!)

To start, you can always go to Chamblin Bookmine and buy one of a flood of books on the subject. I recommend the Peter McWilliams classic Ain’t Nobody’s Business If You Do: The Absurdity of Consensual Crimes in a Free Society, or Jack Herer’s legendary The Emperor Wears No Clothes, which helped more than anything else to set the decriminalization process in motion. And how! Decriminalization initiatives enjoy unprecedented and unstoppable momentum heading into the 2020 election cycle (which has already begun—no rest for the wicked, and even less for the good).

Here are a few ideas from my friend Sil Kaelin, proprietor of San Jose green emporium Hydroponic Unique Goods. HUGS is a great place not only for your edibles, emollients and whatnot, but also—as the name suggests—hydroponic paraphernalia. There’s a special emphasis here on the agricultural component, for those whose thumbs are as green as their tongues.

“We have some great ideas and savings on CBD Beauty Anti-Aging Bundle for the holidays,” Kaelin says. “Also, some unique gift ideas would include Colorado Hemp Honey and CBD Tea, Colorado Strava Craft CBD Coffee and a bag of edibles like gummies, hard candy, gum, chocolate or mints. On the gardening side, we have a start grow kit that includes a tent, lights, carbon filter and fans, or a single bucket hydroponic system, or a starter kit of bottles of nutrients such as Advance Nutrients, General Hydroponics and Foxfarm.”

We’ll give the last word, again, to Miss Ellie K (who is herself a gift to advocates of medical marijuana; after all, the YouTube sensation has performed the oh-so-difficult work of sorting through an intimidating array of products, skimming the cream of that crop for her viewers, as well as you, the reader).

“Another device your giftee will love,” says Ellie, “is the Pax ERA device, if you or your giftee are a medical marijuana card holder here in Florida. The new age cannabis oil vape device can be purchased straight from the PAX manufacturer, but to get THC or CBD pods for this product legally, you’ll need to go to the Florida Medical Marijuana dispensary called Liberty Health Sciences who boast several dispensary locations throughout Florida as well as offering free next day delivery statewide.”

In a pinch, I also suggest buying the deluxe DVD of Reefer Madness, just to remind folks how far we’ve come on this subject.


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