Joe Flower & Harmony Breeze are two 60s aficionados who sing the songs that transformed life in the West as we knew it. That iconic music has become their personal soundtrack as they pursue peace and love, advocating that old universal remedy to a modern world polarised between an “effete corps of impudent snobs” (as Spiro Agnew so memorably put it) and the silent majority of staunchly patriotic and pro-war working class folks living in “middle America.” As the counter memory that Joe & Harmony makes clear, the concept of peace and love is extremely common within the working class — much more common, in fact, than within the middle and upper classes — even though working class people do not always express themselves in the language of class politics. While challenging and correcting popular conceptions of what war can achieve, Joe & Harmony also offer numerous insights into what makes for successful and peaceful community organising, the interplay of class cultures within social movements, and the possibilities of a United Nations of Peace in our own time.
Joe & Harmony were gracious enough to sit down with me for an interview about these ideas and their implications for world politics today. This is a lightly edited transcript of our conversation:
JG: You’ve both been performing popular music from America’s mid-60s peace & love era for a number of years now, haven’t you?
JOE: That’s right. Harmony and me first performed our Trippy Hippy 60s show on vacation in the Australian Blue Mountains a while back, and then it toured America, West coast to East in 2014.
JG: In particular, you identify with the U.S. hippie movement as it began with Bob Dylan. The folk revival in Greenwich Village?
JOE: I do, but I think Harmony was “neo-country rock” first, and then later, hippy.
HARMONY: Yeah, neo-country rock was around between The Byrds and The Eagles in the early 70s. I was going to school during much of the country rock movement, and after that I sang harmonies in a Gram Parsons tribute band and also part-time in a Weavers cover group. I met Joe at a peace rally in San Francisco and our musical influences were like two halves of a bridge that had been growing towards one another for years.
JOE: That music is now the soundtrack of our Trippy Hippy 60s show and our personal soundtrack as we journey towards peace.
JG: Now, the Peace & Love ingredient of The Trippy Hippy 60s Show is what separates you I think from the 60s cabaret acts I’ve seen over the years. I was wondering if we might talk at length about what you have both become aware of in your pursuit of peace and if you could tell me a little bit about what war and peace means to Joe & Harmony?
JOE & HARMONY: Right.
JG: Great. Well, let’s start with an obvious one: peace and love, can you know one without the other?
JOE: Total peace? Total love? I don’t think so. When you embrace love, totally, peace is the result, right? If you’re at peace – and I don’t mean dead, right, I mean, open to truth and seeing old ways in a new way, right? You can’t do that unless you’ve already embraced love.
JG: Is peace and love the upshot of war?
HARMONY: Let me start by saying…everything war is, peace and love is not – can you get behind that? War starts when people get scared, people start forgetting how they’re related to the people they’re warring against. They start trying to force an outcome, right? And forcing something to be a certain way, well, that’s just unnatural, man. War is unnatural – and peace and love is not the upshot, no.
JG: History appears to provide many examples of where war has eventually resulted in peace.
JOE: Well that’s just perception, man.
HARMONY: The end of war does not bring peace – let’s get that right – it just brings about the end of war. The war machine’s been duping people into believing that winning a war brings peace – but it’s crap, man.
JG: So achieving peace thru war is an oxymoron?
HARMONY: Exactly! Peace will never come thru war because war is a total contradiction of peace, and peace is a total contradiction of war. “War and Peace” is just the title of a book, man. One can’t exist with the other; war won’t make peace and peace won’t make war. They’re two opposites that won’t ever get it together.
JG: The world has seen many examples of what war looks like – what does peace look like?
JOE: Well, firstly, being peaceful is not about not waging war.
JOE: It’s tricky to describe, man, because it’s not a place, dig? I mean, sure, you can have a peaceful setting, right, but a peaceful setting can be wiped-out by nature or more often than not destroyed by humans. So peace is really a quality within a person, in the way they live and how they treat others within the setting they’re at, right? So if peace looks like anything it looks like a bunch of people living peacefully, embracing and extending peace by being peaceful and by deliberately pursuing peaceful ways of existence. So if you ain’t got “A Peaceful Easy Feeling” then, man, you’re not at peace.
HARMONY: And that goes whether there’s a war being fought someplace or not.
JOE: Yeah, right! – Or whether you like The Eagles or not.
JG: Many would site common sense examples of where civilisation thought war was necessary in our past to bring about peace. Can you understand some people can’t comprehend how the world could have survived without engaging in war to either protect ourselves or gain something we valued or believed we needed?
JOE: Well, World War 2, man, Hitler, I mean, that happened because he deliberately went far, far out of his way to not see that there is always a peaceful solution.
HARMONY: That war…all wars start from the same point, man, where one side or both go too far to go right back to from where they started. And where they start is at the point where people stop being peaceful with one another. So, you know, time Pearl Harbour rolls around, in they come and blow things to smithereens, which is way, way beyond the time to start waving a peace sign yelling, Hey! Let’s pursue peace coz it will result in peace…
JOE: Your ass will be fried chicken, man.
HARMONY: It will at that stage, man, coz it’s too late, and by then all you can do is fight to stay alive. Sometimes you have to fight a war when you don’t really want to. It’s like, fight or die. And if miraculously you survive the dumb war you have another chance to pursue love, and hopefully come to an understanding that war will never result in peace and will only result in more war, more pain and more suffering.
JG: So how do you stop a war?
JOE: The only successful way to stop a war is to not start one, right?
JOE: I know that sounds kinda glib, but see, peace is not the act of not fighting or not demanding vengeance. Peace comes when people like you and me do away with the anger and fear that brought about what they felt was the need for war or vengeance in the first place.
HARMONY: War won’t stop anger and fear, man, it just means the anger and fear of the stronger army will later or sooner overpower the anger and fear of the lesser army.
JOE: See, there is no winning, there is just the idea that, okay, great, and the enemy is dead so we’ve gained control…but control is not victory. Control is oppression, and on a war footing oppression is maintained thru fear, dig? – Peace will never-ever exist in a place where people are living with the Sword of Damocles hanging over their heads.
JG: In 2001, America experienced an act of war against them and the response was to wage further war and to seek vengeance. Is the world a better place today because of the “war on terror”?
JOE: Oh, man, I mean, was the world a better place before or after the Americans made deals with Bin Laden in Afghanistan? Was Afghanistan better before or after the Russians invaded? Vietnam, better before or after the war? How about Korea?
HARMONY: Or the American Civil War – oh, but it ended slavery. Really?! Try telling that to black Americans living South before 1965.
JOE: Not only is the world today not a better place, but it’s now even more hot-blooded than before 9/11 happened. Like Harmony said, war just creates more war and more fear. The only way to “win” thru war is to totally annihilate your enemy, just wipe them out! But it won’t bring peace, just the end of that particular war.
HARMONY: America’s post 9/11 goal is all about “winning the war on terror” which has nothing to do with “bringing about peace.” Peace will never happen because of “the war on terror,” because peace is not part of the goal…peace won’t ever be the consequence of that war.
JG: So, what were America’s options after 9/11? What else could America have done to bring about peace….just fold up and ignore what happened? Was America supposed to simply turn the other cheek and say “Please, hit me again”?
HARMONY: Well…that’s the attitude, man. Right there: that’s the attitude that creates more war. See, I don’t know if post 9/11 peace will ever happen. It’s all gone way too far right for this hippie, yah know? I mean, it started from the wrong place on the wrong foot and the powers that be just keep making it worse.
JG: Is it hopeless?
HARMONY: No, man, no. It’s grim, but where there’s life there’s hope. No one should give up on the idea of a United Nations of Peace. That would be a total bummer, man. Peace is not about apathy; it’s about getting your head and heart straight, about peaceful actions and effects, and not about giving up on peace.
JOE: Can we just embrace the idea of The United Nations meeting to discuss love? I mean, peace would be the result. Then healing could really begin.
HARMONY: In any situation and within any occasion…
JOE: Right! Peace doesn’t look to find blame and it doesn’t care who started the hassle, right? Peace looks beyond all judgement, and the UN could simply decide to apply healing to all sides of the apparent crisis so that the issue can be seen truthfully and then fully resolved to where everyone does win, peacefully.
HARMONY: When any form of attack happens, the world can choose to accept the attack and then attack back, or we can choose to see the attack as an unanswered cry for help which should tell us that big healing is required for this situation.
JOE: Can you imagine after 9/11, instead of embracing thoughts of vengeance and war, George.W.Bush had focused on providing healing to the situation that allowed the attack to happen in the first place.
JG: And what might that healing have looked like?
JOE: Well, think about what the world might look like today if George had said something like…America’s dealings in the past have provoked you to fear us so greatly that you felt you had no choice other than to hit us and try and provoke us into an all out world war. Neither of us have done the better thing, here. We are both responsible for a bloody, fucked-up mess where colossal healing is needed so that peace can be given a chance.
HARMONY: How groovy to dig George.W.Bush standing with Pete Seeger and singing “All we are saying, is Give Peace A Chance…” instead of popping on his pith helmet and demanding you are with us or with them! – Which was no choice at all, man, because on either side the only choice was war, war, and more war! How about George or Bin Laden saying… – no, wait! Hang on, forget about both of them, it’s all history, man. It’s been written. This is all just imaginary. It’s fantasy, man. How about getting real? Getting now! How about President Obama, or the next stooge they stick in the White House, saying to ISIS, you can side with war or you can side with peace? There is nothing in between, man, because you can only embrace the dark or the light, one or the other, but never both. Do you welcome peace or do you welcome war? Which side are you on?
JG: You’ve already stated that peace is not about inaction, not about inactivity. So, let’s play devil’s advocate and assume IS would reject this gesture and continue to chose war. What then?
HARMONY: Okay, so the President addresses the United Nations and offers, as a first step towards healing and peace, to change what motivates America, which would also change the way America relates to the world. Imagine the President saying, We have decided to relinquish our self-appointed mantle as the world’s police and to stop meddling in the relationships between other nations and we will stop doing so immediately. From now on, I am the President of Peaceful America; we will defend our country, but The United Nations can be the collective that manages world policing.
JOE: I guess the exception would be countries currently under attack that need military defensive aid, the UN could handle that. Otherwise, all U.S. troops are coming home.
HARMONY: Right, the U.S. will only use its military defensively from now on.
JOE: Right! I mean, America’s dealings to date have included deliberate ignorance of areas of the world that are truly in need, but had no natural resources they wanted to exploit, right? Can you imagine the U.S. President saying to IS, saying to the UN, from now on we’ll provide financial, technical and educational support to the starving nations and struggling people throughout the world and help stimulate new growth and true hope thru peace?
JG: Devil’s advocate again, no, no I can’t imagine that.
JOE: Well, of course…not with the current heart, which is always on red alert. The President would have to work in a reciprocal way with all nations to help best distribute the resources of the world as equally as possible amongst all nations so that the seeds of war are not sown in the first place…
HARMONY: All countries in the UN would have to lead by example and show all that matters now is feeding, housing and educating our brothers and sisters of the world to live in peace.
JG: It sounds utopian, like Dostoyevsky’s “Dream Of A Ridiculous Man.”
HARMONY: Well, I’d prefer John Lennon’s “Imagine” – but okay. Dostoyevsky’s “Man” may have been ridiculous, right, but if you’re saying I’m ridiculous, I’m faced with a choice, right? I could say “Screw you, asshole!” – an act of aggression, of war. Or, I could choose not to turn away from peace: All is forgiven because we have all contributed to this state of the world, so there is no blame to cast and no guilty party to destroy.
JOE: Right on, Harmony – America, so-called leaders of the “Free World” should be the ones to not behave foolishly and warlike. America should tell IS “We are not at war!” So, please stop any future attacks and let’s sit down and truly heal the rift that has allowed this situation to fail so miserably. America extends the olive branch to you, and whether you believe it or not or initially accept it or not, you will come to see it within us as we radically change how we treat all nations and all people of the world.
JG: Do you think Israel is ready to offer that to Palestine?
HARMONY: I think the heart of Israel is ready. The sleeping giant has been dreaming of war for a while, man, but really…Israel’s heart is a heart of peace.
JOE: Yeah, pursuing peace instead of war is humanities most important option and Israel should try a little harder to show it knows that.
JG: Do you think America is ready to wage peace?
HARMONY: America’s been ready since the 60s, man. “Tune in, turn on, drop out” – but that got bastardised by an administration that used its might to inflict a misguided concept of world order on its own people and the people of other nations. Their greatest thought then was the Vietnam war, man, catastrophes, economic collapse, poverty, starvation, disease…that is what they helped bring about, and what they always supported. Then you had Flower Power which had the sway to bring about what the love generation’s greatest thought was – a desire for all people and nations to pursue peace, along with a genuine wish to work fairly with everyone in the world…that is what they tried to bring about…and always supported.
JG: How do we get back to that garden?
JOE: We’re already in the garden, man; we’ve been there since Woodstock. We just have to respect it.
HARMONY: And do what the children of the revolution did, they pursued peace and love. It’s not a secret recipe of eleven different herbs and spices, right? The formula will never change: pursue love and peace will follow – and peace will remove the need for war. It will simply vanish. The result of peace is the absolute dismissal that war is even the slightest part of an answer: war and peace cannot exist at the same time and will only ever annihilate each other – that’s what ended the 60s.
JG: Can Christianity live in peace with the state of Islam?
JOE: And vice versa?
JOE: Both have to be a part of ridding this earth of war. Instead of seeing war as inevitable, prophesied or even divinely necessary, both have to choose instead to see peace as the only solution and be open for what peace will bring. To look away from all other ideas and options and choose peace, it’s that simple. Be open to love. Be open to peace. Be willing to see and make the future of this world peaceful. Be part of the reason that it spreads quickly…be the model of achieving peace thru peace.