After I first met John Perry Barlow, we grew to become prompt soulmates. Whereas that sentence is true for me, it additionally applies to most likely 10,000 different folks. That was Barlow—whether or not you have been a world-famous avatar of LSD, a stuffy CEO, or the Vice President of the USA, he would win you over together with his affable demeanor, arresting observations, and a mordant tackle the human situation.
He had a novel and compelling credential—“junior lyricist of the Grateful Lifeless” was the way in which he put it—and he wielded it like an all-access laminate to the live performance corridor of life. His rock and roll bona fides was just one strand of an online of myths he pulled out of his suede jacket like a well-rolled joint: cowboy, poet, romantic, household man, thinker, and finally, the bard of the digital revolution. He was an influential voice and an intimate participant within the early days of Wired, a co-founder and religious inspiration for the Digital Frontier Basis (EFF), and the man who promoted our on-line world as deftly as Steve Jobs hyped Apple. By the point he was finished, he was extra well-known for proselytizing the web than he was for co-writing “Cassidy” and different Lifeless classics.
Achieved he’s—Barlow died in his sleep final evening in San Francisco. He was 70 years previous.
Barlow’s impression is such that even those that aren’t accustomed to his identify have lengthy been grappling together with his imaginative and prescient of the networked world, one the place speech and creativity circulation unfettered, and reality targets energy with the velocity of a bullet. However Barlow received’t be remembered just for the way in which he rustled prose, concepts or lyrics. IRL, he was greater than life.
Barlow was by no means shy about sharing his biography. He hailed from Pinedale, Wyoming, the place his household had lived for generations. He fatefully went off to a Colorado boarding college, the place his roommate (and, naturally, soulmate) was future Lifeless guitarist Bob Weir. Barlow went to school within the liberal arts enclave of Wesleyan, the place by his personal description he reduce a troubadour-ish determine together with his motorbike and ten-gallon Stetson. Again in Wyoming, he helped with the ranch, which appeared to have a operate past elevating cattle—a spot the place wealthy youngsters would go to get straightened out. A kind of youngsters was John F. Kennedy Jr., who grew to become an in depth Barlow good friend. In the meantime, as his former roommate Bob Weir discovered himself in a celebrated rock and roll band, Barlow started serving to him put phrases to music, at first for a Weir solo album after which for the Lifeless normally.
I’m unsure how Barlow grew to become enthusiastic about know-how—possibly it was simply his extremely tuned zeitgeist antenna. Someway he wound up at a Hackers Convention in 1989, the place I met him. As a generally Deadhead, I had a fan-boy attraction to somebody who was a part of the household. However he was keenly on the earth of hackers and we spoke endlessly about that. A couple of weeks later, after I scored a few tickets to the Bay Bridge World Collection, I provided one to him. Twenty minutes earlier than the beginning time, the Earth shook—the Loma Prieta earthquake. It wasn’t till nicely after midnight that we discovered a working phone to report ourselves alive to our respective wives.
Over the following few years, I watched with fascination as Barlow grew to become a number one voice in know-how. With no engineering expertise in any way, he grew to become a terrific explainer, turning his reward for bullshit right into a drive for comprehension. He might cling round a bunch of cryptographers for some time and two weeks later clarify public key crypto (just about) to a room of bankers, diplomats, and company managers. Much more vital, he grasped the soul of the know-how, whether or not the transporting features of digital actuality or the wonderful disruptiveness of friction-free distribution. On this present period of digital regret, his Panglossian take on the web is usually mocked. However as he explained to Andy Greenberg a few years in the past, he was all too conscious that the probabilities he celebrated could be the artifacts of a perfect end result, a state of affairs price working for. One nonetheless price dreaming about.
Throughout the 1990s, Barlow labored his method into the middle of huge tech discussions, each by his writing and his activism. He satisfied software program entrepreneur Mitch Kapor to fund the EFF—a basis dedicated to preserving digital human rights that cast an admirable legacy over the following few a long time. He grew to become buddies with Tim Leary. Barlow additionally discovered soulmates within the Clinton White Home and the NSA. When one good friend accused him of liking Air Drive Two just a little an excessive amount of (sure, Al Gore was a Deadhead) Barlow professed to be damage, after which admitted there was greater than just a little reality to that. Naturally, his epic manifesto of the digital age, “A Declaration of Independence for Cyberspace” was banged out on a keyboard throughout a World Financial Discussion board.
His massive concepts and massive character usually overshadowed what I believed was Barlow’s underrated energy as a author. Between 1989 and the early 2000s he created a collection of operatic non-fiction items—on virtual reality, on the prosecution of hackers, and naturally on the which means of our on-line world—that matched the very best within the enterprise. I’d usually goad him to get into that enterprise. Certainly he was perpetually planning to put in writing a magnum opus on his know-how views, to be entitled “Every little thing You Know Is Flawed.” However he by no means appeared to have the time or self-discipline to craft that legacy-making massive e-book.
Barlow was at all times on the transfer, and in electronic mail dispatches he despatched to a voluminous mailing checklist of pals–“by that I imply those that would bail me out of jail,” he’d clarify to the a whole lot who match that class–he’d share an advanced itinerary, alongside together with his present location in “meatspace.” Regardless of his self-styled rambling man persona, he adored his three daughters, whom he dubbed the Barlowettes. However in 1993, Barlow met and fell exhausting for a younger girl who was attending a convention at a lodge the place Barlow additionally occurred to be staying. She was a superb psychiatrist simply in need of thirty. The 2 of them moved into my Greenwich Village house whereas my household was spending a yr in Western Massachusetts. After we moved again, we kicked him out—he by no means did handle to satisfy his obscure promise to pay us some hire—and so they moved to a floor flooring house on 23rd St.
All was cool, and in early 1994, I accompanied the couple, together with a Barlowette or two, to a Grateful Lifeless live performance at Nassau Coliseum, on New York’s Lengthy Island. Going to a Lifeless live performance with Barlow was one thing particular. At the same time as a non-performing member of the Illuminati, he was regarded with awe. The ocean of Deadheads would magically half as he made his method by them, Gandhi-style, and you might observe him into more and more fortified sanctums till you made it to Bobby Weir’s dressing room. He later wrote that, together with his love beside him, he understood the phrases to his personal songs for the primary time.
A couple of weeks later Dr. Horner, as he known as her, fell asleep on a airplane to JFK and didn’t get up. After I heard she was lifeless, I rushed over to 23rd Road, the place John Kennedy and I did our greatest to console Barlow. That evening there was no laughter.
Over the previous decade or so I noticed Barlow solely sporadically. Naturally, Barlow managed to stay within the middle of the zeitgeist, changing into tight with Ed Snowden and Julian Assange, and getting loads of facetime within the current 900-hour (it appeared) documentary of the Lifeless. Each time I bumped into him was a pleasure. In April 2015, I used to be interviewing a scientist at Stanford Medical Middle after I obtained a Fb alert that Barlow was close by. After I pinged him, he instructed me he was within the emergency room, and I went right down to see him. We had our common dialog—loads of laughs—as medical doctors got here out and in, taking samples and hooking up IVs. “I think this can go as mysteriously as [it] got here,” he messaged me the following day.
No such luck—he remained hospitalized for months on and off for the following few years, transferring into cyber-rights activist John Gilmore’s San Francisco Victorian, dubbed Toad Corridor. He nearly died a few occasions, however then rallied. You would see that after every of these episodes just a little extra was gone from him, like a thrice Xeroxed doc. However after I visited him final yr, we spent the entire time laughing once more. And even final week on his Fb feed, there have been two footage of a wisp-like Barlow with a smile on his face: one shot together with his new grandchild and the opposite of him scarfing down a cheeseburger whereas his previous good friend Bobby seemed on. Say what you’ll in regards to the poisonous web, it was good to see these pictures.
Higher but is the information he posted nearly per week in the past that he had completed an autobiographical novel that Penguin will publish. “Chances are you’ll be in it,” he instructed the hundreds of soulmates, and we most likely will.
Speaking about his well-known band in 2005, Barlow wrote, “Many people are literally lifeless now… many extra of us could be had we not developed such an astonishing facility for spitting within the Satan’s eye and laughing.”
Now Barlow can expectorate instantly into the Devil’s outraged punim whereas Jerry Garcia, Tim Leary, and Physician Horner cheer him on. For these of us left behind, the world is dumber and fewer enjoyable.