John Perry Barlow, Grateful Dead lyricist and Internet activist, dead at 70

Tonya Becker
February 11, 2018

Speaking of his passing, EFF director Condy Cogn said: "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 worked for us and it has worked for everyone else I've ever seen try it", Barlow said.

Barlow was a seminal child of the 1960s who took LSD with Timothy Leary, wrote lyrics for the Grateful Dead, and eventually became an internet activist in the 1980s and 90s.

According to CNET, Barlow is probably best remembered for his "A Declaration of Independence of Cyberspace", a 1996 paper that argued against governmental influence on the internet.

The essay was credited with helping popularize the term "cyberspace", coined by science-fiction writer William Gibson in 1982, and began with a utopian flourish: "Governments of the Industrial World, you tired giants of flesh and steel, I come from Cyberspace, the new home of Mind. You have no sovereignty where we gather".

Barlow was born in rural Sublette County, Wyoming, in 1947 and grew up in Pinedale, where his parents were ranchers.

In addition to his work with the EFF, Barlow co-founded the Freedom of the Press Foundation in 2012, which works to support public interest journalism.

Barlow is also credited with coining the term "cyberspace".

He graduated from Wesleyan University in 1969 and eventually returned to Wyoming, where he ran a cattle ranch for almost two decades and dabbled in libertarian and Republican politics, working on a congressional campaign for Richard B. Cheney, the future vice president in the George W. Bush administration. "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'". He remained on the organization's board and involved with EFF until his death. Some of tunes he helped pen include "Cassidy, ' 'Heaven Help the Fool, ' 'Black-Throated Wind, ' 'Looks Like Rain, ' and 'Mexicali Blues.' He also wrote four songs on the band's 1989 album titled 'Built to Last" and an additional song, 'We Can Run, ' on the 2004 reissue.

Yesterday, John Perry Barlow died in his sleep after a tumultuous three years of health issues following a 2015 heart attack. He attended high school with Grateful Dead co-founder and guitarist Bob Weir in Colorado; their songwriting partnership was chronicled in the recent documentary "Long Strange Trip".

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