A modern American hero died this week — farewell to John Perry Barlow: poet, essayist, cyber-libertarian, song lyricist, cattle rancher and all-around amazing adult.
I’d rather not try to write any more words about such an incredible writer. There are eulogies and memories aplenty out there now, and, after all, he left so many great words for us already. So, I’ll simply resort to repeating selected words of his — starting with a list he compiled on the eve of his 30th birthday.
Principles of Adult Behavior
He has explained that he wrote this list on his impending “adulthood” because he wondered if “my wariness of the pursuit of happiness might be a subtle form of treason.” Though penned for himself, the list eventually went into circulation on the internet and remains one of his lasting achievements.
- Be patient. No matter what.
- Don’t badmouth: Assign responsibility, not blame. Say nothing of another you wouldn’t say to him in the same language and tone of voice.
- Never assume the motives of others are, to them, less noble than yours are to you.
- Expand your sense of the possible.
- Don’t trouble yourself with matters you truly cannot change.
- Expect no more of anyone than you can deliver yourself.
- Tolerate ambiguity.
- Laugh at yourself frequently.
- Concern yourself with what is right rather than who is right.
- Never forget that, no matter how certain, you might be wrong.
- Give up blood sports.
- Remember that your life belongs to others as well. Don’t risk it frivolously.
- Never lie to anyone for any reason. (Lies of omission are sometimes exempt.)
- Learn the needs of those around you and respect them.
- Avoid the pursuit of happiness. Seek to define your mission and pursue that.
- Reduce your use of the first personal pronoun.
- Praise at least as often as you disparage.
- Admit your errors freely and soon.
- Become less suspicious of joy.
- Understand humility.
- Remember that love forgives everything.
- Foster dignity.
- Live memorably.
- Love yourself.
A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace
Embodying the fierce independence of a Western lifestyle, Barlow saw the advent of the new communications media of the internet opening up a whole new frontier, fraught with peril and opportunity. In co-founding the Electronic Freedom Foundation, he pioneered the concept of an independent cyberspace, putting forth his beliefs in the bold Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace published in 1996.
Governments of the Industrial World, you weary giants of flesh and steel, I come from Cyberspace, the new home of Mind. On behalf of the future, I ask you of the past to leave us alone. You are not welcome among us. You have no sovereignty where we gather…
We are creating a world that all may enter without privilege or prejudice accorded by race, economic power, military force, or station of birth.
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.
Your legal concepts of property, expression, identity, movement, and context do not apply to us. They are all based on matter, and there is no matter here.
Later, he would also co-found the Freedom of the Press Foundation when he saw how new media threatened our old liberties.
Of course, it was the lyrics that lead me — and a lot of us — to John Perry Barlow in the first place, and it is his lyrics many of us will most remember. Starting back in 1972 with Bob Weir’s “solo” album, Ace (solo in name only really, since the Grateful Dead played on all tracks), the album showcased the first collaborations between Barlow and his high school buddy, Bob Weir. That first outing writing together produced several lasting Weir-Barlow gems, such as Black-Throated Wind, Mexicali Blues, and Looks Like Rain.
Walk in the Sunshine —Weir/Barlow (Ace)
One of my favorites from that album stands out in a singular way: the Grateful Dead never performed this song live — nor, as far as I know, did Bob until Ratdog played it in 2010.
Try not to hurry
It’s just not your worry
Leave it to those all caught up in time…
You got to deep six your wrist watch
You got to try and understand
The time it seems to capture
Is just the movement of its hands
Cassidy — Weir/Barlow (Grateful Dead)
Another classic from the Ace album now firmly enshrined in the canon of Grateful Dead songs — written in tribute to legendary road icon and Merry Prankster, Neal Cassidy, as well as for the infant daughter of the Dead family’s Eileen Law.
Faring thee well now
Let your life proceed by its own designs
Nothing to tell now
Let the words be yours, I’m done with mine
Just a Little Light — Mydland/Barlow
Barlow also co-wrote a series of songs with the Grateful Dead keyboardist, Brent Mydland, producing a string of powerful performance pieces throughout Brent’s time with the band, from 1980’s Go To Heaven up until his death in 1990.
So you know I’ve been a soldier in the armies of the night
And I’ll find the fatal error in what’s otherwise all right
But now you’re trembling like a sparrow,
I will try with all my might
To give you just a little sweetness
Just a little light
It Is What It Is — Mydland/Barlow/Kang
Not all of the songs that Barlow wrote with Brent Mydland were recorded or released. This is a set of lyrics originally set to music by Brent but never recorded. Years later, Michael Kang of the String Cheese Incident, would revive the tune with additional music to make it part of the SCI song catalog.
It is what it is, what it might have been, it isn’t
An infinity of mornings, and only one shines through
It is what it is, gonna grab the day we’re given
‘Cause it is what it is, and what it is will have to do.
Waiting for the Song to Come — Welnick/Barlow
Vince Welnick replaced Brent Mydland in the Grateful Dead’s “hot seat” on keyboards (the 6th player there, including occasional sit-in Bruce Hornsby — 4 had died) for the final years before Jerry Garcia’s death ended the original “Long, Strange Trip.” After Jerry’s death, Vince suffered depression after receiving a diagnosis of cancer and emphysema, and attempted suicide in late 1995. Barlow visited him shortly after to write some songs. He describes writing this one, “He was still in a heart-rendingly desolate state. We wrote a song the lyrics of which went like this…”
Waiting for the song to come:
When it does, there will light again
There will be colors in the world and birds across the sun
And everything that’s been going down so hard
Will be coming right again…
But I’m still waiting
Despite the title of this entry, John Perry Barlow is not done with his words. Not only will only those words ring down through the ages, but he’s getting one last word — actually a whole set of words — in this summer with the release of his memoir, Mother American Night: My Life in Crazy Times — can’t wait to hear even more from his fine fellow.