John Perry Barlow, the Grateful Dead lyricist, poet, writer, and Internet freedom activist, has died at the age of 70.
The sad news was confirmed by the Electronic Frontier Foundation that Barlow founded. “With a broken heart I have to announce that EFF’s founder, visionary, and our ongoing inspiration, John Perry Barlow, passed away quietly in his sleep this morning. We will miss Barlow and his wisdom for decades to come, and he will always be an integral part of EFF,” the site reported, labeling Barlow an “Internet pioneer.”
In the article A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace, Barlow famously argued that the Internet should be free of government control: “Governments of the Industrial World, you weary giants of flesh and steel, I come from Cyberspace, the new home of Mind. On behalf of the future, I ask you of the past to leave us alone. You are not welcome among us. You have no sovereignty where we gather.” As Wired recalled it, Barlow was ahead of the times, as he wrote the essay in 1996 on “a clunky Apple laptop.”
Here’s what you need to know:
1. The Cause of Death Was Not Immediately Clear but Barlow Had Health Problems in Recent Years
How John Perry Barlow died was not immediately clear, but his health had not been good in recent years. In 2015, a heart attack led to other health issues and saddled Barlow with heavy medical bills.
He wrote about the heart attack on social media, saying, “I was dead for about 8 minutes on Wed eve. Total cardiac arrest. Hard to relax & sleep now. And sad to report no Ascending Light.”
At that time, he also thanked well-wishers, writing, “So much Love! I feel bathed in it from every succulent pore of Space/Time. It’s none my business whether or not I deserve it. I accept. (However, while I believe I can feel all that love, deserved or not, I can’t receive all those calls for a day or 6. Bless you all!). I have prevailed. Back shortly. Armed and dangerous. Unlike the USA PATRIOT ACT. With any luck.”
2. Barlow Worked on the Cause of Internet Freedom
The Electronic Frontier Foundation focused on Barlow’s contributions to Internet freedom, which is one of his most lasting legacies and, in many people’s minds, he was ahead of the curve on it.
“Barlow knew that new technology could create and empower evil as much as it could create and empower good. He made a conscious decision to focus on the latter,” the site wrote, quoting him 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.’”
According to the Berkman Klein Center, “His manifesto, A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace has been widely distributed on the Net and can be found on more than 20,000 sites. Partly as a consequence of that, he was called ‘the Thomas Jefferson of Cyberspace’ by Yahoo Internet Life Magazine back when such cyber-hyperbole was fashionable.”
The EFF wrote in a tribute to Barlow that “Barlow’s lasting legacy is that he devoted his life to making the Internet into ‘a world that all may enter without privilege or prejudice accorded by race, economic power, military force, or station of birth . . . a world where anyone, anywhere may express his or her beliefs, no matter how singular, without fear of being coerced into silence or conformity.'”
Barlow co-founded the Freedom Of The Press Foundation as well.
3. Barlow Was Born in Wyoming & Met Bob Weir in High School
Bob Weir is a founder of the iconic rock band, The Grateful Dead. It was through high school that Weir and Barlow became acquainted. According to Variety, “Barlow graduated from Wesleyan University in 1969. He operated a livestock company in Wyoming before selling it.”
According to the Berkman Klein Center, Barlow was “educated… in a one-room schoolhouse” and “In 1971, he began operating the BarCross Land and Livestock Company, a large cow-calf operation in Cora, Wyoming where he grew up. He continued to do so until he sold it in 1988.”
“He attended the Fountain Valley School in Colorado Springs, Colorado starting at age 15. There, he met fellow student Bob Weir. John Perry Barlow and Bob Weir forged a friendship that lasted through Barlow’s death,” JamBase reported.
According to Relix, “Starting in the early ’70s, Barlow became the primary lyricist and co-songwriter for Weir’s contributions to the Dead catalog, eventually amassing a collection of songs,” that ranged from “Cassidy,” to “Estimated Prophet,” to “The Music Never Stopped,” and many others.
Other Grateful Dead songs that Barlow co-wrote include “Heaven Help the Fool,” “Black-Throated Wind,” “Looks Like Rain,” and “Mexicali Blues.”
4. Barlow Had Three Children After Marrying Elaine Parker Barlow
John Perry Barlow was married once to Elaine Parker Barlow, and they had three daughters together.
According to the Berkman Klein Center, Barlow’s daughters are named Leah Justine, Anna Winter, and Amelia. “When not away at school or traveling with him – which they often do – they live in Wyoming with their mother, Elaine Parker Barlow, to whom he was married for 17 years before they separated in 1992,” reported the center.
5. Some Argue That Barlow, a Writer, Started the Popularity of the Term ‘Cyberspace’
Barlow didn’t just write song lyrics. “Among Barlow’s extensive writings about the Internet is a 1990 essay in which he used the word cyberspace—taken from William Gibson’s science-fiction novels—to describe the Internet; that essay is credited with being the first such use of the word,” reports Brittanica.
One of his most influential articles was a 1994 article in Wired magazine called The Economy of Ideas, described by Brittanica as “a hugely influential article in which he argued that the nature of digital information and the Internet made traditional intellectual property and copyright laws obsolete.”
In his Declaration, Barlow continued, “Governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed. You have neither solicited nor received ours. We did not invite you. You do not know us, nor do you know our world. Cyberspace does not lie within your borders. Do not think that you can build it, as though it were a public construction project. You cannot. It is an act of nature and it grows itself through our collective actions.”
Twenty years later, in an interview with Wired, Barlow reiterated the main points of that essay, saying, “The main thing I was declaring was that cyberspace is naturally immune to sovereignty and always would be.”