John Perry Barlow, the lyricist for The Grateful Dead, passed away on Wednesday. He was 70 years old.
Barlow's passing was announced on the website of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, an organization that defends and promotes digital expression and Internet access. Cindy Cohn, the foundation's executive director, wrote that the musician "passed away quietly in his sleep."
Barlow co-wrote songs for The Grateful Dead from 1971 until the group broke up in 1995. He is credited for some of the band's biggest hits, including "Black Throated Wind," "Heaven Help the Fool" and "Cassidy."
Barlow was born in Wyoming and raised a devout Mormon. He attended Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut, where he first encountered LSD — a drug that would become more or less synonymous with his band. Barlow graduated in 1969. He was admitted to Harvard Law School and contracted to write a novel, but chose to forgo it all to travel.
The Internet lost a hero today. EFF is mourning the loss of our visionary co-founder, John Perry Barlow. https://t.co/oaf7hgKsOL— EFF (@EFF) February 7, 2018
Barlow's legacy as a musician is dwarfed only by his career as an activist. The songwriter has been described as a cyberlibertarian activist, working to defend civil liberties online and help turn the Internet into a place where information is currency.
"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," Cohn wrote on the EFF website. "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."
"Barlow was sometimes held up as a straw man for a kind of naive techno-utopianism that believed that the Internet could solve all of humanity's problems without causing any more. As someone who spent the past 27 years working with him at EFF, I can say that nothing could be further from the truth," Cohn added.
"Barlow knew that new technology could create and empower evil as much as it could create and empower good. He made a conscious decision to focus on the latter: 'I knew it’s also true that a good way to invent the future is to predict it. So I predicted Utopia, hoping to give Liberty a running start before the laws of Moore and Metcalfe delivered up what Ed Snowden now correctly calls 'turn-key totalitarianism,'" Cohn continued.
Cohn continued, saying that Barlow envisioned the Internet as “a world that all may enter without privilege or prejudice accorded by race, economic power, military force, or station of birth . . . a world where anyone, anywhere may express his or her beliefs, no matter how singular, without fear of being coerced into silence or conformity.”