John Perry Barlow has died.
February 7, 2018 6:36 PM   Subscribe

Barlow, a Lyricist for the Grateful Dead and co-founder of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, died in his sleep. Barlow met Bob Weir, founding member of the Dead in 1971 and began a songwriting collaboration that would last until 1995, penning lyrics for “Cassidy”, “Mexicali Blues”, “ Looks like rain” and other tunes. In 1990 he, John Gilmore (cypherpunk, Usenet alt., Cygnus) and Mitch Kapor (Lotus) founded the Electronic Frontier Foundation to “defend civil liberties in the digital world.” In 2012 Barlow founded the Freedom of the Press Foundation. He was a great protector of human rights and a true hero of the internet. On a personal note: I met him once at a TTI Vanguard conference, on which he served as a a board member. He was as charming and fascinating as you might imagine.
posted by grimjeer (101 comments total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
 
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posted by oneswellfoop at 6:47 PM on February 7


Quick beats in an icy heart.
catch-colt draws a coffin cart.
There he goes now, here she starts:
Hear her cry.
Flight of the seabirds, scattered like lost words
Wheel to the storm and fly.

Faring thee well now.
Let your life proceed by its own design.
Nothing to tell now.
Let the words be yours, I'm done with mine.
posted by octothorpe at 6:47 PM on February 7 [17 favorites]




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aav
posted by the sobsister at 6:53 PM on February 7


The plowman is broad as the back of the land he is sowing
As he dances the circular track of the plow ever knowing
That the work of his day measures more than the planting and growing
Let it grow, let it grow, greatly yield
posted by downtohisturtles at 6:58 PM on February 7 [3 favorites]


Keep on dancing through to daylight,
Greet the morning air with song.
No one's noticed but the band's all packed and gone-
Was it ever here at all?
posted by Daily Alice at 7:01 PM on February 7 [5 favorites]


My time coming, any day, don't worry bout me, no
Been so long I felt this way, ain't in no hurry, no
Rainbows end down that highway where ocean breezes blow
My time coming, voices saying, they tell me where to go
posted by octothorpe at 7:05 PM on February 7 [7 favorites]


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The Dead wouldn't have been the Dead without John Perry Barlow. Jerry at one point said he was glad when Barlow and Bobby started writing songs together because it took some of the pressure off him and made the band more interesting (paraphrasing from memory, but you get the drift). That different perspective Barlow gave probably had some part in keeping the band going, and for that I'm eternally grateful.
posted by friendlyjuan at 7:06 PM on February 7 [5 favorites]


If the game is lost then we're all the same
No one left to place or take the blame
We will leave this place an empty stone
Or that shining ball of blue we can call our home
posted by pyramid termite at 7:06 PM on February 7 [2 favorites]


Ashes, ashes, all fall down...

I may be going to hell in a bucket/But at least I'm enjoying the ride.
posted by not_on_display at 7:10 PM on February 7 [4 favorites]


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posted by Thorzdad at 7:13 PM on February 7


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Must read story (IMHO) from This American Life.
posted by nevercalm at 7:20 PM on February 7 [20 favorites]


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posted by adamsc at 8:04 PM on February 7


Long time EFF member. Thank you JPB.

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posted by intermod at 8:07 PM on February 7 [2 favorites]


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posted by I'm always feeling, Blue at 8:17 PM on February 7


Goodness, one of my heroes! 70 feels so young!

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posted by hippybear at 8:18 PM on February 7 [1 favorite]


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posted by /\/\/\/ at 8:22 PM on February 7


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posted by b1tr0t at 8:27 PM on February 7


I named my son Cassidy after his song.

The EFF, and John's work on the WELL, cyberspace, and Internet activism, have been profound influences on my life.

Let your life proceed by its own design.
posted by chbrooks at 8:40 PM on February 7 [6 favorites]


I'd gotten used to having him around...
posted by uosuaq at 8:44 PM on February 7 [3 favorites]


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posted by Lyme Drop at 8:44 PM on February 7 [1 favorite]


He co-wrote Weather Report Suite, a song so beautiful it has moved me to tears on occasion.

🎵
posted by panama joe at 8:46 PM on February 7 [5 favorites]


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and do give Long Strange Trip a few hours of your time. Great piece of work. And no, you don't need to be a Deadhead.
posted by philip-random at 9:20 PM on February 7 [4 favorites]


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I remember reading his over-the-top-exuberant writings in the '90s about how the Internet will instantly fix all of our problems. I kind of snickered at him at the time but he and his fellow hippie types gave the Internet an anti-capitalist streak that still persists today.

I also remember reading something by him in the early 2000s where he said, basically, that he was completely wrong about the Internet and that it was worthless garbage. Which, I suppose, means that Mr. Barlow was prone to extremes.

*sigh*
posted by suetanvil at 9:21 PM on February 7 [2 favorites]


I'd like a long strange trip. Should we move this conversation to MeMail?
posted by hippybear at 9:22 PM on February 7 [1 favorite]


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posted by jonp72 at 9:23 PM on February 7


Information wants to be free.

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posted by jonp72 at 9:24 PM on February 7


JPB has had a positive profound influence on my life by his works with both The Grateful Dead and the EFF. I had a brief exchange with him years back where I got the opportunity to thank him personally. He appreciated that although his name is not very common, I never put the John Barlow songwriter and John Perry Barlow advocate together.

I have seen where the wolf has slept by the silver stream.
I can tell by the mark he left you were in his dream.
Ah, child of countless trees.
Ah, child of boundless seas.
What you are, what you're meant to be
Speaks his name, though you were born to me,
Born to me,
Cassidy...

posted by AugustWest at 9:49 PM on February 7 [1 favorite]


All I got is what I said in my head when I saw that...

"FUCK!"

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posted by Samizdata at 9:55 PM on February 7


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posted by hap_hazard at 10:15 PM on February 7


Goodbye, John.
posted by scalefree at 10:19 PM on February 7


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posted by crocomancer at 11:30 PM on February 7


  • The Guardian - John Perry Barlow, 'visionary' internet pioneer, dies aged 70
  • Wired (Steven Levy) - Mourning John Perry Barlow, The Bard of the Internet
  • Boingboing (Cory Doctorow) - RIP John Perry Barlow, 1947-2018
  • Reason - John Perry Barlow, The Thomas Jefferson of Cyberspace, R.I.P.
  • Rolling Stone - John Perry Barlow, Grateful Dead Lyricist and Internet Pioneer, Dead at 70
  • The Verge - Internet pioneer John Perry Barlow is dead at 70

    John Perry Barlow - A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace
    John Perry Barlow (for the NYTimes) - Bill O' Rights Lite

    Couldn't find a NYTimes obit for him, it better be there tomorrow, he was mentioned several times in the last year and already this year in its publication. Also waiting for other 'mainstream' publications to write a proper obit (if People magazine can, the rest of the journalistic world can as well). I hope it's because they want to spend enough time to make it a good and complete obit.

    His influence will continue far longer than his lifetime, and even beyond the memory of his name.

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  • posted by el io at 11:38 PM on February 7 [8 favorites]


    His influence will continue far longer than his lifetime, and even beyond the memory of his name.

    Absolutely true. He was one of the early activists talking about what the internet is and where it can go in the future. And those ideas of openness of communication, universibility of access, freedom of information to be available to allow humans to build towards a better future have permiated internet culture and activism through work like the EFF to build a basic idea of what the internet should be in it's ideal form. That legacy is a basic part of how the internet continues from here forward.

    And then his work with the Dead. Those songs built a whole community that has continued for over 50 years now and continues to evolve. Because it's not really about the band. It's about the songs. It can be a jammy electro psychedelic dance band or an acoustic string band playing but the community will love and support it because they love those songs that Garcia/Hunter and Weir/Barlow wrote. So they go out to see live music that may be pretty varied stylistically but have a sort of classic songbook that ties the whole thing together. Kind of like the folk/blues/bluegrass the Dead started with. Those songs are part of American music now.
    posted by downtohisturtles at 12:09 AM on February 8 [3 favorites]


    Thanks so much for that This American Life story, that was incredible. I particularly appreciated this bit of self-awareness:
    Ira Glass: Explain your connection with the Grateful Dead?
    John Perry Barlow: Oh, I spent many, many years as their sort of junior varsity song writer. There were two song writers. And I was the lesser of the two.
    I was reluctant to enter this conversation because that's exactly how I see it, Robert Hunter was a much better lyricist. I mean, IMHO a band should not sing "They're a band beyond description, like Jehovah's favorite choir" about themselves.

    But his honesty about that and his great work with EFF, and that amazing love story, that's awesome.

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    Knew it was coming, but it hurts anyway.
    posted by mosk at 1:51 AM on February 8 [1 favorite]


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    posted by mikelieman at 3:10 AM on February 8


    His words were so brilliant, and everyone has said everything that could be said with them already, so I have to use other words to eulogize him:

    "If any ground is Consecrate, this ground is. If any day is Holy, it is this day."
    posted by mikelieman at 3:14 AM on February 8 [2 favorites]


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    posted by pjmoy at 3:33 AM on February 8


    JPB flatlined back in 2015, and came back. As with many things he reflected on it with a certain wit: "I was dead for about 8 mins. on Wed. eve. total cardiac arrest. Hard to relax & sleep now. And sad to report, no Ascending Light.”

    I heard John Perry Barlow speak at conferences a few times. In hindsight, for me he was kind of a muse for the internet.
    posted by SteveInMaine at 4:06 AM on February 8 [3 favorites]


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    posted by missmerrymack at 4:42 AM on February 8


    In the article, JPB is quoted as saying:
    I knew it’s also true that a good way to invent the future is to predict it. So I predicted Utopia, hoping to give Liberty a running start before the laws of Moore and Metcalfe delivered up what Ed Snowden now correctly calls 'turn-key totalitarianism.'
    This wisdom goes way beyond the internet--it's about as as pithy a statement as you'll ever see about why one should fend of cynicism and despair, and instead creatively (and playfully) engage with the world.

    I, like many here, was heavily influenced by the psychedelic anarcho-techno-utopian scene he was such a big part of. In this age of reactionary upheaval, it's not clear to me whether this was for the better. Certainly, Adam Curtis' critique of the cybernetic hippy counter-culture is challenging for me, but something we all need to grapple with. So it's nice to see this one last nugget from JPB, to keep everything in play.

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    posted by mondo dentro at 4:56 AM on February 8 [5 favorites]


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    posted by valkane at 5:12 AM on February 8


    hero.
    posted by brewsterkahle at 5:18 AM on February 8 [2 favorites]


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    posted by mfoight at 5:22 AM on February 8


    Support EFF
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    posted by Chipmazing at 6:46 AM on February 8


    People like to point at the Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace as an example of early net-libertarian naivete. And I suppose in a way it is, much of the program outlined there has failed. But it was such an important document for establishing the idea of a culture. Of a thing called the Internet, with denizens hanging out at places like Metafilter. That our culture matters and has value to itself, not just as an adjunct of the larger outside culture. I hope that spirit survives and eventually we reverse the reduction of the Internet to just another advertisement platform.
    posted by Nelson at 7:40 AM on February 8 [5 favorites]


    I was reluctant to enter this conversation because that's exactly how I see it, Robert Hunter was a much better lyricist.

    Probably but that's a pretty high bar to get over. Hunter is one of the great songwriters of the 20th century. Songwriting was obviously a side gig for Barlow but Cassidy is probably my 2nd or 3rd favorite Dead song.

    I'm always impressed that Jerry and Bob realized early on that they weren't lyric writers and found two who were more than up to the task. The Dead would have been a much different band without Barlow and Hunter's words.
    posted by octothorpe at 7:46 AM on February 8 [3 favorites]


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    My vague impression of him was filtered strictly through the EFF, but he turns out to be one of those public figures whom one learns more about, and fully appreciates, only following their deaths. As a flip side to his Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace, he also composed an inward-looking list of 25 Principles of Adult Behavior (Kottke.org) that's a lot more philosophically grounded, for all its hippyness, than the current generation of solipsistic 'net libetarians.

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    posted by Doktor Zed at 9:38 AM on February 8


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    posted by evilDoug at 10:01 AM on February 8


    Barlow was the subject of an FPP many years ago wherein I referred to him as an idiot. Much to my surprise, he emailed me, and we exchanged a few (very civil) thoughts. I appreciate that he took the time to do that. An interesting man, and I am sorry that he has passed.
    posted by davidmsc at 10:35 AM on February 8 [4 favorites]


    We will create a civilization of the Mind in Cyberspace. May it be more humane and fair than the world your governments have made before.
    posted by Jairus at 11:03 AM on February 8


    Thanks for posting this, but...
    Barlow met Bob Weir, founding member of the Dead in 1971
    No. They went to high school together in the early 1960s. Barlow didn't start writing lyrics for Bob Weir until much later, but he was involved in the scene a long time before that.

    For example, here's a little piece he wrote about writing the lyrics to the song Cassidy. It includes great memories of hanging out with Neal Cassady and Bob Weir at 710 Haight Street in 1967.

    In any case, RIP to one great soul.
    posted by Winnie the Proust at 11:17 AM on February 8 [1 favorite]


    Here are the 25 Principles of Adult Behavior that Doctor Zed mentioned. So great.
    1. Be patient. No matter what.
    2. Don’t badmouth: Assign responsibility, not blame. Say nothing of another you wouldn’t say to him.
    3. Never assume the motives of others are, to them, less noble than yours are to you.
    4. Expand your sense of the possible.
    5. Don’t trouble yourself with matters you truly cannot change.
    6. Expect no more of anyone than you can deliver yourself.
    7. Tolerate ambiguity.
    8. Laugh at yourself frequently.
    9. Concern yourself with what is right rather than who is right.
    10. Never forget that, no matter how certain, you might be wrong.
    11. Give up blood sports.
    12. Remember that your life belongs to others as well. Don’t risk it frivolously.
    13. Never lie to anyone for any reason. (Lies of omission are sometimes exempt.)
    14. Learn the needs of those around you and respect them.
    15. Avoid the pursuit of happiness. Seek to define your mission and pursue that.
    16. Reduce your use of the first personal pronoun.
    17. Praise at least as often as you disparage.
    18. Admit your errors freely and soon.
    19. Become less suspicious of joy.
    20. Understand humility.
    21. Remember that love forgives everything.
    22. Foster dignity.
    23. Live memorably.
    24. Love yourself.
    25. Endure.
    posted by Winnie the Proust at 11:26 AM on February 8 [12 favorites]


    So to follow up on my other comment, the Washington Post and the New York Times posted obits of him. I won't link to them, because the Associated Press wrote it. In mind this is a shame, as NYTimes alone has 523 articles that either mention him or were written by him.
    posted by el io at 11:54 AM on February 8 [2 favorites]


    A true American original.

    You were gone, oh gone, my heart was filled with dread;
    You might not be sleeping here again.
    posted by TripKendall at 12:37 PM on February 8


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    posted by doctor_negative at 1:03 PM on February 8


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    I know his name from a spectacular This American Life episode from ~15 years ago, about how he met the love of his life, but then tragedy struck. I had no idea he funded the EFF, of which I am a member!
    posted by honey badger at 2:08 PM on February 8 [2 favorites]


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    I have always loved (and had my heart broken by) his story about Cynthia.
    posted by jenfullmoon at 2:47 PM on February 8 [1 favorite]


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    posted by Amplify at 3:08 PM on February 8


    From a fairly recent interview:

    At one point I had a massive myocardial infarction. They’d been fooling around inside my veins and in the process knocked loose a clot the size of Rhode Island that ended up in my coronary artery. I was as good as gone and didn’t have any heartbeat for eight minutes. I was at UCSF Long Hospital when it happened. In any case they put the paddles on me and that didn’t work, so they put ’em on again and turned ’em up and it didn’t work, then they put ’em on again and turned ’em way up and it burned my skin, and then this amazing intern grabbed my arms and pulled me off the gurney and leaped on my chest with both knees and my heart was kind of like well if you’re gonna be like that then I guess I’ll beat (laughs). But I was dead for eight minutes, and much to my dismay there were no ascending rivers of light or descending angelic hosts including everybody I’d ever loved or any of those things. That wasn’t happening. In fact all that was happening was just stone black darkness. I told Weir about it and he said, “well you just weren’t dead enough.” Always this criticism (laughter).
    posted by mecran01 at 5:21 PM on February 8 [7 favorites]


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    posted by zaelic at 12:38 AM on February 9


    Here are the 25 Principles of Adult Behavior that Doctor Zed mentioned. So great.

    In the better timeline, the one in which Bowie and Prince played at President Clinton's inauguration, this is their equivalent of Jordan Peterson.
    posted by acb at 1:58 AM on February 9 [2 favorites]


    Here's the NYT obit
    posted by neroli at 6:32 AM on February 9 [1 favorite]


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    Thanks so much for posting the This American Life segment, I never knew that one.
    posted by away for regrooving at 2:18 AM on February 10 [1 favorite]


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