Remembering John Perry Barlow

John Perry Barlow, 1947-2018

John Perry Barlow, 1947-2018

It was John Perry Barlow’s birthday on Thursday— his first one since dying earlier this year. Some might consider this post would have been more timely if posted two days ago, but I kinda figure death eliminates time entirely, especially the importance of  recognizing a “birth” day. More likely, there would be a Transition Day celebration if anything.

First notorious as a lyricist for the Grateful Dead, Barlow led a rich American life: ranching, writing, and ranging across the cultural landscape of our land.

He would pen a marvelous list of “25 Principles of Adult Behavior” in 1977, starting with : “#1: Be patient. No matter what,” and ending with#25: Endure.”
All 25 principles offer excellent advice for all of us.

As fierce in his defense of freedom as he was fearless in exploring intellectual frontiers, he co-founded the Electronic Freedom Frontier (EFF) in 1990 and went on to pen the Declaration of Independence for Cyberspace, proudly proclaiming:

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.

Later, he would also co-found the Freedom of the Press Foundation (FPF), all of these being ongoing efforts to help preserve individual freedoms in our liberating yet constantly-encroaching technological age.

Barlow suffered a debilitating heart attack in 2015 but hung around long enough to write a book of memoirs, Mother American Night. I’m about to start reading that one and will keep you posted. For today, I think it’s more than sufficient to share a few of the songs he wrote that will carry his words into eternity.

His primary co-writer was high school buddy, Bob Weir, and their collaboration started with Weir’s solo album, Ace. Later, Barlow would also team up with keyboardist Brent Mydland for several memorable tunes added into the Grateful Dead’s songbook. After Brent died (4th keyboardist to exit the band’s “hot seat”), new keyboard player Vince Welnick partnered with Barlow for a single song before the band broke up after Jerry Garcia’s death.

The Devil I Know

Let’s start with the sole Barlow-Welnick tune, written for the Dead but performed here by  Vince Welnick with the Missing Man Foundation (clip includes 2 other songs but cued to start this one).

I want to keep on dancing with the devil I know
Though she steps on my feet and drags me round the floor
I want to keep on dancing with the devil I know
Until the devil won’t dance — no more.

A double-set of songs fro the Mydland/Barlow songbook, both available on the final studio album by the Dead, 1989’s Built to Last.

Just a Little Light

Even though I’ve been a stranger, full of irony and spite,
Holding little but contempt for all things beautiful and bright,
Something shines around you and it seems, to my delight
To give me just a little sweetness,
Just a little light.

I Will Take You Home

Ain’t no way the bogey man is gonna get —
You can close your eyes, the world is gonna let you.
Your daddy’s here and never will forget you,
I will take you home.
I will take you home.
Gonna carry you back home in my arms.
I will take you home.

But it was the songs with Bob Weir, starting back in the early 70s that set the stage for John Perry Barlow to enter our lives so many years ago. These tunes still ring true today with glowing words of wisdom, so let’s close-out with 3 classics from the two partners:

Black-Throated Wind

The black-throated wind keeps pouring in,
With its words of a life where nothing is new—
Ah, Mother American Night, I’m lost from the light
Oh-oh-oh, I’m drowning in you


Fare thee well now,
Let your life proceed by its own design.
Nothing to tell now,
Let the words be yours — I’m done with mine.

While many people remember and memorialize John Perry Barlow with this specific favorite (here’s a clip of Bob Weir singing it to Barlow on his death bed), I prefer to end this list with the promise that reaches beyond the man, the words, and his lifetime —

The Music Never Stopped

And the fields are full of dancing,
Full of singing and romancing —
the Music Never Stopped!

Bob Weir said it best, I think: “This life is fleeting, as we all know — the Muse we serve is not. John had a way of taking life’s most difficult things and framing them as challenges, therefore adventures. He was to be admired for that, even emulated. He’ll live on in the songs we wrote.”

Thank you, John Perry Barlow — free forever now.


About bullersbackporch

I am a native Austinite, a high-tech Luddite, lover of music, movies and stories and a born trainer-explainer.
This entry was posted in books, creativity, songs and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Remembering John Perry Barlow

  1. Jill says:

    Your writing inspires me, Alan.

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