Internet Pioneer, Grateful Dead Lyricist John Perry Barlow Dies
John Perry Barlow, co-founder of the Electronic Frontier Foundation and lyricist for the Grateful Dead, died this week at age 70. The San Francisco resident, who will be remembered as both an internet pioneer and rock 'n' roll icon, "passed away quietly in his sleep" according to a post on the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) website.
Barlow made a huge impact on the way people use the Internet today with EFF, the San Francisco-based nonprofit fights for digital rights.
Since its founding in 1990, EFF has backed legislation and lawsuits related to online freedom and security, and advised tech companies and governments regarding policies that affect us all in the internet age.
"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," Cindy Cohn, executive director of the EFF, said in a blog post Tuesday. " 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's famous piece, the "Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace," written in February 1996 -- shortly after the passage of the Telecommunications Reform Act, which he decried -- has taken on a new meaning today as the internet has taken over the world.
"We are creating a world that all may enter without privilege or prejudice accorded by race, economic power, military force, or station of birth," Barlow wrote. "We are creating a world where anyone, anywhere may express his or her beliefs, no matter how singular, without fear of being coerced into silence or conformity."
Today, the tech industry and the world are grappling with a digital divide, a threat to net neutrality, and controversy after controversy over free speech, abuse and harassment online. The rise of social media has greatly influenced how we consume news and elect our presidents.
Also from Barlow's declaration, foreshadowing: "In China, Germany, France, Russia, Singapore, Italy and the United States, you are trying to ward off the virus of liberty by erecting guard posts at the frontiers of Cyberspace. These may keep out the contagion for a small time, but they will not work in a world that will soon be blanketed in bit-bearing media."
Mitch Kapor, who along with John Gilmore co-founded EFF with Barlow, tweeted Wednesday:
Rock fans, however, will likely best remember Barlow for his work with the Bay Area's Grateful Dead, primarily as a co-songwriter with Bob Weir. Although he often lived in the shadow of the Dead's more famous lyricist -- Robert Hunter, who worked primarily with Jerry Garcia -- Barlow was an amazing wordsmith, who helped pen a number of Grateful Dead staples, including "The Music Never Stopped," "Cassidy" and "Estimated Prophet."
"This life is fleeting, as we all know -- the Muse we serve is not," Weir said on Twitter about Barlow's passing. "John had a way of taking life's most difficult things and framing them as challenges, therefore adventures. He was to be admired for that, even emulated. He'll live on in the songs we wrote..."
Barlow, who was born Oct. 3, 1947 in Wyoming, met Weir while in high school in Colorado. The two began collaborating in the early '70s, with Barlow reportedly planning on moving out to join Weir. Yet, Barlow ended up staying in Wyoming to work on his family ranch, after his father had suffered from a stroke.
Still, Barlow became heavily involved on Weir's first solo album, 1972's "Ace," which contained many of their best collaborations, like "Cassidy," "Looks Like Rain" and others that went on to become Grateful Dead concert classics.
"John Barlow wrote a number of wonderful songs with Bob Weir for the Dead, from 'Weather Report Suite' to "The Music Never Stopped' to 'Feel Like a Stranger' and lots more, but he meant more than that," says Dennis McNally, Grateful Dead historian and author of the band's official biography "A Long Strange Trip: The Inside History of the Grateful Dead." "Because he was trying to save the cattle ranch from bankruptcy -- eventually, he failed -- he wasn't usually out on the road with the band, and as a result he never fell victim to the group think that being part of a traveling circus can induce. He was always an independent voice, and that was a healthy thing. He was funny and smart and caring, even as he was dealing out zingers."
Although primarily associated with Weir, Barlow did some memorable work with Grateful Dead keyboardist Brent Mydland, who died in 1990. The two collaborated on several songs on the band's 13th and final studio album, 1989's "Built to Last."
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