Yesterday, John Perry Barlow died in his sleep after a tumultuous three years of health issues following a 2015 heart attack. Barlow was a pioneer of the online world, who co-founded the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) in 1990, four years after joining the WELL and well ahead of the internet invading nearly every home the world. Yet, in the music world, John Perry Barlow was known for contributing lyrics to dozens of Grateful Dead songs.
In 1971, Grateful Dead co-founding guitarist Bob Weir was looking for a songwriting partner ahead of his going into the studio to record what would become his debut solo album, Ace. Bobby picked John Perry Barlow, a man with whom his friendship dated back to their high school days in Colorado. The Weir/Barlow partnership immediately yielded impressive results with the pair’s “Black-Throated Wind,” “Walk In The Sunshine,” “Looks Like Rain,” “Mexicali Blues” and “Cassidy” each making the cut for the 1972 LP. All but “Walk In The Sunshine” are looked back upon as great songs that were staples for long periods of the Grateful Dead’s live repertoire through Jerry Garcia’s death and are still played today by post-Jerry outfits featuring surviving members.
Yet Ace was only the start as Bobby and John Perry Barlow would also write such gems as “Let It Grow,” “The Music Never Stopped,” “Lazy Lightning,” “Estimated Prophet,” “I Need A Miracle,” “Saint Of Circumstance,” “Lost Sailor,” “Feel Like A Stranger,” “Throwing Stones,” “Hell In A Bucket” and “Picasso Moon” over the course of the next two decades. Barlow also found a collaborator in Grateful Dead keyboardist Brent Mydland as the two penned a handful of classics such as “Blow Away,” “Just A Little Light” and “I Will Take You Home” before Brent’s tragic death in 1990.
Some of the surviving members have weighed in on JPB’s death over the past 24 hours. Weir wrote, “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 – by their nature awakening and maybe even fun. He was to be admired for that, even emulated. He’ll live on in the songs we wrote…”
Mickey Hart added, “John Perry Barlow was a map maker extraordinaire. He paved the way for digital justice, wrote some cool songs with Bobby and lived one full life filled with as much fun as you can squeeze into 70 years. He was a cowboy, father and fancier of anything that made for a better world. Bon voyage John, may the winds blow you safely home.”
Hart’s fellow Rhythm Devil Bill Kreutzmann penned, “Rest easy friend. You are such a gift to the world. Have a blast up there with Captain Trips, until we all meet again. ⚡️” In addition, Cindy Cohn of the EFF confirmed Barlow’s death yesterday and wrote a poignant remembrance.
Listen to a Spotify Playlist put together by the Grateful Dead in honor of Barlow: