John Perry Barlow (1947-2018)
There is no shortage of great songwriting partners throughout rock ‘n roll’s history; Lennon/McCartney, Page/Plant, Leiber/Stoller, John/Taupin, Jagger/Richards and Hunter/Garcia to name a few. That last pairing is of course Robert Hunter and Jerry Garcia, the authors of so many great songs from the Grateful Dead’s catalog. I’ve been happy to see that the Dead’s ‘other guitar player’ Bob Weir has been getting well-deserved accolades lately. I have always thought he is the best rhythm guitarist in rock. He is also a great songwriter who collaborated on many tunes with his childhood friend John Perry Barlow. Barlow died in his sleep on Wednesday at the age of seventy.
Much like Bob Weir was the Dead’s other guitar player, Barlow was the band’s other lyricist. For my money, Robert Hunter is as good as a songwriter gets. He set the bar high for the Grateful Dead lyrically, and John Perry Barlow was able to meet that standard and several times surpass it. Barlow began contributing to the band’s legacy in 1971, the year he wrote the Hunter-esqe “Mexicali Blues” and “Cassidy” both of which were included on Weir’s debut solo album Ace (1972). Other songs Barlow wrote for the Grateful Dead include “Hell In a Bucket,” “Estimated Prophet,” “Throwing Stones,” and “Let It Grow.”
I bet you think that’s about it. Barlow wrote some stoner jams along his long, strange trip and that’s the end of his story. You’ve never been so wrong. John Perry Barlow is often cited as the Thomas Jefferson of Cyberspace. He is even credited for coining the term Electronic Frontier Foundation to promote the freedom of expression in digital media. Pretty visionary stuff for the time.
John Perry Barlow was born and raised in Wyoming, met Bob Weir here in Colorado, became a hippie cowboy poet in California and died there last week. He rode both sides of the political fence and was the keeper of the digital gate as we crossed into the 21st century.
The easy route to take is to hit the highway and crank “Going Down the Road Feeling Bad” or maybe “He’s Gone”. Instead I’ll be enjoying the Grateful Dead at their funkiest with a great Weir/Barlow song from the great 1975 release Blues for Allah, “The Music Never Stopped.”