Mother American Night
by John Perry Barlow with Robert Greenfield
If ever there was an American renaissance man, John Perry Barlow would be he. Raised in Wyoming on a cattle ranch, Barlow was, at various times, a Grateful Dead lyricist, a digital rights activist and a cowboy. His friends ranged from Jackie Onassis to Jerry Garcia, fellow Wyoming resident Dick Cheney (whom Barlow came to realize was a sociopath) to Steve Jobs, Brazilian musician Gilberto Gil to John F. Kennedy Jr, and hundreds more. He was quick-witted, outspoken and prone to misadventure.
Barlow’s account of his path from raising cows on the family ranch to Wesleyan and Harvard has a touch of the surreal about it, as does his befriending of Bob Weir in a Colorado high school for “troublesome types”. Together Weir and Barlow wrote of some of the Dead’s most memorable moments such as “Cassidy”, “Hell In A Bucket” and “Black-Throated Wind”, and Barlow took the Deadhead mindset into the digital environment, becoming an early defender of phone hackers such as Acid Phreak and establishing the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) to fight for the rights of online content creators, digital activists and early “cyberspace” game creators such as Steve Jackson, creator of “Chez Geek” and the “Illuminati”. He helped create Algae Systems, which “grew” crude biofuel from water energy. And he did it all in dirty cowboy boots.
His account of his near-fatal heart attack – well, actually fatal considering he was DOA for eight minutes, which prompted Bob Weir to chide “Well Perry, guess you weren’t dead enough…” is equally harrowing and hilarious. The book ends with his acknowledgments, written two days before he passed in his sleep at the age of 70. This memoir recounts a man and his life that is almost beyond comprehension, and we certainly will never see such a man again. America and the world have no time for such free spirits anymore, so ruthless is the profit margin, and so intolerant of those who don’t parrot the party line. John Perry Barlow will serve as an inspiration to all freedom loving outcasts that follow, and his work – from songs to digital rights and more will give comfort, strength and hope to all. What a man.