John Perry Barlow, the lyrical mastermind behind some of the Grateful Dead’s most beloved songs and a wise, outspoken pioneer of Internet freedom, passed away in his sleep on Wednesday morning at the age of 70. Barlow entered the crazy world of the Grateful Dead in the late 1960s thanks to his childhood friendship with the band’s co-founding member Bob Weir, who would later use Barlow as his lyricist starting with his 1972 solo album, Ace. Together, the two men helped establish the band’s psychedelic-cowboy themes throughout their deeper live catalogue of tunes, which included “Mexicali Blues,” “Cassidy,” “The Music Never Stopped,” “Estimated Prophet” and “I Need A Miracle,” just to name a few.
Barlow and Weir first met while attending the same school for whom society then referred to as troubled kids. They linked up a few years later when a teenage Weir came out to Wyoming to work on Barlow’s family ranch. The experience would leave a lasting effect on Weir, and would eventually act as the catalyst to his latest cowboy-themed solo album, 2016’s Blue Mountain. Following a brief stint in India on the advance money for a book he’d never finish, Barlow returned to the U.S. and made his way out to the Haight-Ashbury scene in San Francisco to join the members of the Dead, before returning to his ranch in Wyoming for a number of years.
Later on in life, Barlow would become a key player in the earliest years of the Internet. He helped establish Electronic Frontier Foundation in 1990, which promoted freedom and civil liberties in the earliest days of the world wide web.
“It is no exaggeration to say that major parts of the Internet we all know and love today exist and thrive because of Barlow’s vision and leadership,” it reads in a statement shared to the EFF’s website on Wednesday. “He always saw the Internet as a fundamental place of freedom, where voices long silenced can find an audience and people can connect with others regardless of physical distance.”
Barlow had lived a more private life over the past few years, following a nearly fatal heart attack in 2015. More recently, he had been a featured interviewee in Amir Bar-Lev’s highly acclaimed documentary on the Grateful Dead, 2017’s “Long Strange Trip.”
“That which was the Grateful Dead is the elephant with 500 blind men and women. Everybody’s got a different understanding of what that thing was,” Barlow admits at one point in the lengthy documentary. “I’m vain enough to think that mine might be better than some people’s since I did have this unique position of being both inside and outside.”
Tributes from members of the Grateful Dead family poured across social media as news of Barlow’s passing began to spread late Wednesday afternoon. The Grateful Dead’s social media pages also shared a tribute playlist to Barlow on Spotify, which can be heard by clicking here.
Fare thee well John!
This life is fleeting, as we all know - the Muse we serve is not. John had a way of taking life’s most difficult things and framing them as challenges, therefore adventures - by their nature awakening and maybe even fun. He was to be admired for that, even emulated. He’ll live on in the songs we wrote... John Perry Barlow 1947-2018