Grateful Dead lyricist, digital civil rights icon John Perry Barlow dies

John Perry Barlow, who wrote several Grateful Dead tunes with guitarist Bob Weir and formed the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) in 1990 to try to shield online civil rights from government intrusion, died last Wednesday in his sleep. He was 70.

Throughout his life, Barlow was prolific in his writing; he was a frequent collaborator for Wired, the New York Times, and much more. He documented his cyber-spatial journey to Africa in his renowned Wired piece titled, Africa Rising: Everything You Know About Africa is Wrong.

“I am a pig for Africa. I want more. I can hardly wait to get back for a few more cracks at describing the Indescribable Continent, where darkness and light dance so beautifully. While there are, of course, plenty of reasons for caution and even despair in Africa, my giddy theories about the continent’s 21st-century info-economic potential seem so true now I can’t state them strongly enough,” wrote Barlow at the time.

It is no small feat that due to his courageous efforts, the care of the EFF alongside the anti-apartheid movement, that South Africans ended up with an Internet Friendly Constitution, several articles specifically relate to online communications freedom, were included in our foundation document during 1995, as cyberactivists canvassed government Ministers such as Jay Naidoo and Pallo Jordan shortly after the first democratic elections.

The author of the Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace, John was a familiar and reassuring presence on the Internet. He last communicated on Tuesday evening and died after the Elon Musk event. Even though his postings and feed was coming less and less following his near death experience when he went into cardiac arrest for 8 minutes in 2015.

I first encountered John Perry Barlow in San Francisco, where he gave a talk at the Parallel University, later attending a book launch event hosted by ‘the Zippies’, his was a warm magnanimous spirit, and we maintained contact. In 2010 John retweeted my response to the Anonymous DDos attack against Mastercard. “Freedom of Expression is priceless, for everything else there is Mastercard” and “Freedom of Expression is priceless, for everything else there is error 401 timeout.”

Although EFF were critical of the 1994 Intervasion ‘Net Riot’, and world first DDos Event, of which I played an organisational role, we became chums. A rabble-rouser, raconteur, womaniser, activist and raver, I felt honoured to have him as a ‘friend and father’.

Sean Ono Lennon, 42, a singer-songwriter and the son of John Lennon and Yoko Ono, also counted Barlow among his friends says: “John Perry Barlow was a master of all trades and jack of none. He was a wordsmith a songsmith, a tech wizard party maniac car mechanic and bona fide lady magnet of incomparable intellect. He was an angel and double agent, a prophet and pioneer of digital divination, a Master Mason, a Burning Man patron, an internet architect, and political maven, a psychedelic shaman, a counter culture statesman and a hero to great men. In the end he was still a Wyoming cowboy to the core, and above all else, he was a family man because to him nothing mattered more. John Perry Barlow, he set the bar high, with big boots to follow, and many will try, but no one will ever come close to the guy, for this grateful and graceful guru was one of a kind.”

Songs borne out of Barlows collaboration with ​Grateful Dead’s ​Weir include: “Cassidy,” “Mexicali Blues,” “Black-Throated Wind,” and many more until the Dead disbanded in 1995.

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