John Perry Barlow passed away in his sleep on Tuesday at the age of 70. I would venture to say that most people reading this have had their lives touched by Barlow in one way or another, though it’s quite possible most of you don’t even recognize his name.
Barlow was something of an enigma. Throughout his life he was a prep school boy, a cattle rancher, chair of the Republican party in his home county in Wyoming, a Deadhead, a poet (including being a song lyricist for the Grateful Dead), one of Dick Cheney’s campaign coordinators, someone deeply committed to that-which-he-believed-was-right, a vocally “out” psychonaut, former roommate of Sean Parker, and co-founder of the Electronic Frontier Foundation. I’m also told he was, above all else, a very loyal friend.
I had the pleasure of meeting Barlow a few times, though I certainly didn’t know him well enough to call him a friend. Barlow came to some of our Cirque du Mac parties that we threw in San Francisco during Macworld Expo “back in the day.” I have very fond memories sitting between him and fellow EFF co-founder John Gilmore back stage after the show feverishly discussing all the things about which each of us were passionate.
The first time I met him I had no idea “who” he was, and he still made an indelible impression on me with his astute wit, his intensity, and his gregariousness. And since Barlow worked closely with Andrew Stone producing their “Stone Rave” parties years before, I always kind of felt like he was part of the long history of tech-parties-meet-crazy-artists upon which Cirque du Mac was built.
Many of you have likely been impacted by all the great things the EFF has done and, without Barlow, the EFF may not have existed… it certainly would have been different. It’s worth reading their post about him, including this bit:
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: “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.’”
Barlow’s long-lasting friendship with Grateful Dead co-founder and guitarist Bob Weir led to him collaborating with the band and writing lyrics for some of their songs, including “Throwing Stones”, “Cassidy”, “Estimated Profit”, and “Hell in a Bucket” among others.
Related a little more specifically to our Apple community here, Barlow was good friends with Andrew Stone, creator of software for NeXT, macOS/Mac OS X, and iOS. Their friendship started when Barlow interviewed Stone for NeXTWorld magazine in the early 1990s, and Barlow was never far from our Apple community, helping to nudge things along in the very strangest of ways. Andrew’s tribute to Barlow includes this little snippet… and discusses many other aspects of Barlow’s less-than-typical life:
What better way to karmically clean dark money than throw a psychedelic rave and invite the NSA? The Palace of Fine Arts had been totally transformed. […] Barlow and I were determined to keep Steve Jobs’s original mystical spark burning and, other than my phone line getting tapped and being put under DEA investigation, it was a huge success.
Over the nearly-two-decades that we’ve been publishing TMO and living within this crazy world, I’ve come to know that the histories of Apple, The Grateful Dead, Silicon Valley’s psychedelic subculture, and their collective impact on our world today are very related and intertwined. Barlow was part of the glue which made that all happen, and I think the ripples that resonate from everything he did ring strongly through our world today. His life is so much more than just the sum of its parts, and each of those parts would be a lifetime accomplishment for most of us.
RIP, Barlow. Thanks for everything you did, man.