Many people naively tell me that Steve Jobs is their hero. I wish I would meet more who aspire to live like John Perry Barlow. He was good-natured, kind, and lifted everyone up around him (we posted his "Adult Principles"  on all the cubicles at NeXTWORLD). He had a noble heart; he made choices in his life that were not comfortable or safe but lived a principled life and found his own way. Above all, he had a sense of the tenuous dignity of man (humankind, if you prefer) and the need to defend ourselves with every means at our disposal, including poetry and theatre. I think the battle may be lost and he may be the last of his kind that I meet.
Here's a performance of the song mentioned in the article:
A tribute to John Perry Barlow
The son of America’s frontier—physical, psychedelic and digital—passes
Feb 18th 2018
HIS rough features resembled the hard Wyoming land from where he came. Sandpaper skin, deep gorges across his forehead and wrinkles alongside the temples like cracked, dry earth. A craggy, stubborn nose. But gentle eyes, narrow as if formed by squinting into the sun over years.
John Perry Barlow, who died on February 7th, was a Grateful Dead lyricist, cyber-pundit, cattle rancher and idealist. He embodied a vanishing America. His lyrics, like his lifestyle, were a world of cowboys, nature and passions. He was a literary heir to Walt Whitman, depicting a rugged American individualism, romanticism and freedom as wide as the Lower 48, with his boots pulled up and his hat worn low. “I have seen where the wolf has slept by the silver stream/ I can tell by the mark he left you were in his dream/ Ah, child of countless trees/ Ah, child of boundless seas/ What you are, what you're meant to be” he wrote in the song “Cassidy” in 1972 with his childhood friend Bob Weir, a guitarist and singer for the Grateful Dead. His words depicted the freedom of the outlaw. Or it was the honour of the farmer in nature? Or it was hints of the Vietnam War laced within the Biblical story of Esau?
To the middle-class suburban teenagers who tuned in, turned on and dropped out, it seemed otherworldly. It was an era where the cowboy was replaced by the long-haired hippie, riding a chopper instead of a steed, dangling a joint rather than a revolver. But it was freedom all the same. The frontier was no longer beyond the horizon, but found by grace of LSD, exploring the wilderness within.
As a student on the East Coast, Mr Barlow dropped acid with Timothy Leary, and introduced the Dead to that professorial father of psychedelia. He resisted the call of Harvard Law School for a jaunt across India in search of a different form of enlightenment. He fell into songwriting like he fell into most things. In the 1970s he took over the family’s Wyoming ranch (and took in a rowdy John Kennedy Jr as a cowpoke to straighten him out). To stay in touch with friends in the coastal cities in the 1980s, he plugged a computer into a modem and the modem into a phone line and dialed up the internet. It changed his life. The WELL (for “Whole Earth 'Lectronic Link”) was a precursor to the World Wide Web, where people could exchange written messages. It offered a new frontier, new freedoms. He didn’t coin the term “cyberspace” but used it to anoint the net.
By 1990, groups that hosted online content were getting raided by the feds because of hacking or copyright infringement by their users. The Wild West looked like it was becoming less free. Mr Barlow co-founded the Electronic Frontier Foundation, now a major advocacy group. The rancher and staunch Republican (he helped coordinate Dick Cheney's first congressional run) was now the first internet activist.
As the internet mushroomed Mr Barlow was its prophet, invited around the world to explain the new frontier to the suits. On February 8th 1996 in Davos, Switzerland, he wrote his most famous and controversial canticle: “A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace”. To many youths just logging on, his words were electrifying—a rallying cry to keep the new medium a pristine Eden, an unsoiled frontier free of the wretchedness of “meatspace”: governmental and commercial interests. It began:
"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...I declare the global social space we are building to be naturally independent of the tyrannies you seek to impose on us...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."
The media dubbed him “the Thomas Jefferson of Cyberspace”. Harvard Law School made him a fellow. FutureBanker, a magazine, named him “One of the 25 Most Influential People in Financial Services” despite his having nothing to do with financial services.
Yet to the more polished wing of the technorati, his declaration was plain looney. They had spent years serving on commissions, testifying before Congress and speaking to boards of directors about the importance of bringing law onto the network so that the internet could become a mainstream medium. And here was Mr Barlow, the barrel-chested space-cowboy dressed in black and trailed by groupies, spouting his poetic, juvenile pap.
Several years later The Economist dubbed it, perhaps unfairly, “a well-meaning stunt that captured the spirit of the time” (see article). In an interview with this newspaper on its 20th anniversary, he stated: “I will stand by much of the document as written.” He mused: “Over the decades, it has been continuously fashionable to make a straw man of my declaration, to hoist it up as the sort of woolly-headed hippie nonsense you’d expect from techno-utopians like me...It’s hardly the best thing I ever wrote and suffers many flaws, both cosmetic and substantive. But I’ll live with it. And die with it, I guess.”
He mellowed in later years. A heart attack in 2015 unleashed predictable puns on Twitter riffing on “grateful” and “dead.” After being prodded to write his life’s story—“Mother American Night” is scheduled to be published in June, co-written with Robert Greenfield—he joked to your correspondent that he suffered from déjà pas vu: memories that he can recall that never actually happened, as far as he and friends could deduce.
His critics could never see past his idealism. His fans, perhaps it can be said, took him seriously not literally. He was a poet of frontiers and of freedom, in whatever form they took. As he wrote in “Cassidy”: “Faring 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.”