John Perry Barlow, a lyricist for the Grateful Dead and cofounder of Electronic Frontier Foundation and Freedom of the Press Foundation, has died. He was 70.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), the non-profit digital rights organization Barlow cofounded, said in a statement on its website that Barlow died in his sleep on Wednesday.
When Barlow was 15, he attended Fountain Valley School in Colorado where he met fellow student Bob Weir and they became friends. Barlow began co-writing songs in 1971 with Grateful Dead founding member Weir, a teaming that would last until the Dead disbanded in 1995. “Cassidy,” “Mexicali Blues,” Black-Throated Wind” and “Looks Like Rain” are among the dozens of songs Barlow helped pen. He contributed four songs to 1989’s Built to Last. The 2004 reissue included additional contribution, “We Can Run.”
In a statement to Rolling Stone, Barlow’s friend and former Grateful Dead guitarist Bob Weir said, “I’m relieved – for both of us; it wasn’t easy watching him in the last couple years. We used to wake most mornings thrilled with the prospect of a new day’s adventure, and that wasn’t happening for him any more. 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.”
Barlow was also an advocate for civil liberties. In 1990, he cofounded the Electronic Frontier Foundation with John Gilmore and Mitch Kapor. He published a number of essays, most notably 1996’s A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace, which advocated for an independent internet, void of government rule.
“It is no exaggeration to say that major parts of the internet we all know and love today exist and thrive because of Barlow’s vision and leadership,” EFF executive director Cindy Cohn wrote. “He always saw the internet as a fundamental place of freedom, where voices long silenced can find an audience and people can connect with others regardless of physical distance.”
In 2012, he cofounded Freedom of the Press Foundation, a non-profit that supports free speech in the press. A lyricist, poet and essayist, Barlow’s work has been published in Wired, The New York Times and Nerve.
Barlow’s memoir, Mother American Night: My Life in Crazy Times, will be released on June 5th. Co-authored by Robert Greenfield, Barlow’s memoir traces his varied career, from his work with the Grateful Dead and running his family’s cattle ranch, through his political involvements and dedication to defending internet freedom.