THE LEGEND OF JOHN PERRY BARLOW

 
I had heard about them [acid tests] and was deeply offended along with everybody else in my sort of Eastern Orthodox Church of LSD. We thought it was a very serious sacrament and should not be handed out in bathtubs for people to drink as much as they want.

-John Perry Barlow

 
Photo of Bob Weir and John Perry Barlow

Around 1971, Weir started trying to write songs with Robert Hunter, but they couldn't get along. By this time, Barlow had fallen in thick with the Dead and had been bumming around with them for several years. Caught in the middle of a songwriting battle between Hunter and Weir, Barlow found himself in an unlikely position.


John Perry Barlow by Stefan Krempl
"Hunter turned to me and said, 'Why don't you take him? He's your friend!' I said, 'Well I'm not sure I know how to write songs." He said, 'Well you know how to write poetry,' which was more-or-less true because I had been a poet in college, mostly because I felt like I could ride around on a motorcycle to the women's colleges in New England and recite poetry of my own composition and do OK. I told [Robert Hunter] that I would give it a shot, went out, and tried to write a song, and it was 'Mexicali Blues.'"

"Mexicali Blues" was the first of over twenty-five songs he would go on to pen for the Dead, a majority of which were co-written on his ranch in Wyoming. This was a time when the Dead were going through a cowboy period, so a good cowboy song seemed to fit in just fine. But sometimes the songwriting was more of a struggle, literally.

"Weir and I actually got into a fist fight over one song - 'Feel Like a Stranger.' I was really against that song. It just seemed like (laughs)... like nothing I wanted to write a song about when it started to come, but he was encouraged by the beginnings of it and wanted to make it kind of... Well, he actually turned out to be right, as he was just enough of the time, so I should have known to oppose him as strenuously as I did when I thought he was absolutely dead wrong."

Barlow's catalog of incredible memories with the Dead is more than a book's worth of material, but he opted to share a couple of songwriting memories that stood out as some of the most memorable, for various reasons.


John Perry Barlow
"There was one written in Wyoming, well in large part, which was a song called 'Cassidy.' The chords to that song were written in Marin County in this funny little ranch that we had up in West Marin. There was a girl living on the ranch who had a child the night that Weir was coming up with the chords, and the child was named Cassidy. And subsequently, Bobby came out to Wyoming where we were trying to write songs for his solo album called Ace. We were in an isolated homestead house on another part of the ranch from the main operation... my ranch... and snowed in and kind of crazy, trying to write songs together really for the first time. We fooled around with some words for 'Cassidy,' and nothing much came. Then he had to leave and start recording some of this stuff because he had a tight studio schedule, and we didn't have that one done.

"I found out that my father was dying... took him down to the hospital in Salt Lake. I had to go out with the Caterpillar and plow out a bunch of stack yards so that they'd be able to get the hay sleds in and out while I was gone if I had to be down there with him for a while. While I was out plowing, I kept running those chords around in my head thinking about the girl Cassidy that had been born and also about Neal Cassidy who had died not long before, who had been a great hero of ours. He's one of most remarkable human beings I have ever met. And thinking about how we come in to the world and go out of the world and how there's a kind of continuity. While I was out there plowing snow, the words just formed themselves into a melody that went with the chords and there it was. It just appeared. Then I headed out to watch my father die."

Not only was Barlow writing tunes for the Dead in the 1980s, but he was also starting a family, ranching, and teaming up with Dick Cheney on a number of environmental issues for Wyoming, including passing the Wyoming Wilderness Act and ridding the Wind River Mountains of acid rain. Yeah, that's right - Cheney, but the co-conspirators didn't get along on all of the issues, which eventually led Barlow to write "Throwing Stones."


Barlow, Barraco, Mountain Girl, Haynes
By JC Juanis
"That's the only explicitly political song we ever wrote. And the story behind that was that I was having a serious argument with Dick Cheney at that point, who I'd helped get elected and been a pretty good congressman for the stuff that I was interested in, which was environmental stuff.

"Then he got into this obsession with the Russians and this conviction that we had a clash of cultures that had to be resolved by whatever means, and so he helped base the MX Missile in Wyoming. And I got so freaked out that somebody was so determined to win a political battle that he was literally willing to endanger all the life on planet Earth that I felt like I had to say something, so I wrote that song. And like I say, I owe Dick a lot for that song."

These days, Barlow is a busy man, working as a consultant and software designer for a British company while also finding time to write some tunes for String Cheese Incident and to hang with his three daughters at Cheese shows. Questioning his experience with SCI brought mixed emotions to the surface.


John Perry Barlow
"They unilaterally changed some things that I wasn't comfortable with having changed, so I'm not sure that I want to do that anymore. But I probably will. I love those guys."

Barlow seems to be as close to Weir as he's ever been. They've spoken about penning more songs together, but their friendship is the first priority.

"The last time we tried, neither of us were happy with the results, and it jeopardized our relationship. At a certain point, you decide whether it's more important to preserve an old friendship than to write a song. Given the various kinds of trouble we've had with one another over the years, I don't know if there's much we could do to destroy that friendship. But nevertheless, it's like being married. It's actually a lot like being married. Bobby has a very interesting mind; it's irregular. Sometimes it can seem like he's just being perverse, and sometimes he is just being perverse. But sometimes he really is on to something and it will take quite a long time for it to be visible."

Aaron Davis
JamBase | Worldwide
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[Published on: 8/25/05]

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Comments

alltimepanic starstarstarstar Thu 8/25/2005 07:51PM
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cool story. Some things you never think would be brought to light....Throwing Stones and dick cheney....who knew...?

TennJedEye starstarstarstarstar Fri 8/26/2005 05:12AM
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I met Barlow at 2004's Bonnaroo. He was hanging between the Cheese's tour bus and the Patron tour bus. We were camped in the VIP section right next to this but between us was a fence. I saw him and called him over, really nice guy, we chatted a bit and he let me take our picture together. It's been cool knowing he wrote songs with my longtime favorite band - The Dead, and now he's hooked up with my new favorite band - The Cheese. Great connection!

Him starstarstarstarstar Fri 8/26/2005 06:14AM
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Him

Wonderful artical ! Very interesting, and I Loved the mention of his new found relationship with the String Cheese Incident Family also! Barlow has been a inspiration to many over the years and his songs will touch generations to come.

deadhead7 starstarstarstarstar Sun 8/28/2005 11:41AM
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Great article! I would love to read more like this! He is such an ecclectic man with a brilliant mind and I am glad he is being recognized! Amazing tidbit about Cheney and Throwing Stones!

cosmicbrian starstarstarstarstar Mon 9/12/2005 09:48AM
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Rock on Barlow....it would be cool to read a story about Robert Hunter as well.

thesaxophonist starstarstarstarstar Thu 9/22/2005 05:44PM
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thesaxophonist

keep this stuff coming, its great to hear about what was happening 20-30 years ago. really amazing stuff you guys went throught. good stuff

chrisG1 starstarstarstarstar Sun 10/2/2005 02:11PM
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nice..I love His story...legends ON THE ROAD