JOHN PERRY BARLOW
JPB in 2012, photo by Mohamed Nanabhay
Scattered Words and the Unnamed Counterculture
Tribute by Derek Pyle
As keynote speaker for the 2007 Southwest Popular/American Culture Association conference, John Perry Barlow told a room full of Deadhead scholars that he and Robert Hunter – the two lyricists for the Grateful Dead – once feared the Dead would become a cult. To protect against this, Barlow says, "we agreed we would never write anything that could be easily taken as dogma."
Barlow's remarks, now captured forever in Reading the Grateful Dead: A Critical Study, seem cynical. As a Deadhead, it is disheartening to think the band fears you. But perhaps the story contains a wisdom too. Because in the absence of dogma, Deadheads are left to find, or make, their own way. One might find the Kabbalah or the carnival – or just a mirror that hides and reveals.
John Perry Barlow leaves behind a spirit that wraps around the world. Footprints in the Wyoming snow, lyrics unpublished and forgotten, flames on the playa, deep web source code, laughter in the wings of Air Force One.
There is a quote I can no longer find. Before the christening of fake news – back when all we had were rumors – Barlow spoke of people losing themselves in the untrue conspiracies, meanwhile missing the blatantly real ones. Which one is which?
There's a riddle in the midst of his legacy, but each time you de-crypt it, the message changes. Shifting from prophet and protector of de-centralized upheaval to an aristocratic heir, cozy with military generals and intelligence communities. From the spiritual revelation of a Grateful Dead show to its excessive and downward debauchery. From poetic muse devotee to the Chuck E. Cheese of cheesy lyrics.
Barlow served as a guiding force, the kind of inspiration that becomes clearer through layers of potential meaning. To whatever would-be initiates stumbling upon this early online zine: type 'John Perry Barlow' into the search engine. Ignore the obituaries that focus only on his greatest hits.
This is tribute to a spirit serving the auspices of the Grateful Dead, now arrived in the digital age. A suggestion: do not fear the Brave New 1984; the soul is already compromised by its own demons. We will spread ourselves across the Planet so that no one can arrest our hearts.
People, like nation states, rise and fall – but the dream lives on. Rest In Peace.
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