He died in his sleep, because men who live morally get to die in their sleep.
That’s not true at all.
John Perry Barlow was born in 1947, to Mormons. The West is full of Mormons, and Wyoming is in the West, and the Bar Cross Ranch is in Wyoming. You grow things on a farm, but you raise things on a ranch. The Barlows raised cattle. John Perry Barlow was a cowboy. He was first educated in a one-room schoolhouse, because you cannot tell a cowboy story without a one-room schoolhouse, and then his parents sent him off to a prep school in Colorado. There, he met a skinny kid named Bobby.
My father went that way, too. Sick, sick, sick, and then he woke up dead, having been no better or worse the night before.
I wonder if it happens during a dream.
The skinny kid, Bobby, comes out to the Bar Cross Ranch to spend the summer of 1963. He and Barlow ride horses, punch doggies, there are rope tricks involved. It’s the single most important summer in Bobby’s life; part of him is still there.
John Perry Barlow wrote this, while drunk at a party in Switzerland, in 1996:
Governments of the Industrial World, you weary giants of flesh and steel, I come from Cyberspace, the new home of Mind. On behalf of the future, I ask you of the past to leave us alone. You are not welcome among us. You have no sovereignty where we gather.
The Governments of the Industrial World, upon reading John Perry Barlow’s words, chuckled and said, “You’re adorable,” and sent the Secret Police to computer classes.
Those are the opening lines to A Declaration of Independence of Cyberspace. Takes balls to write a Declaration, plus a certain social status. If you write a Declaration in a shack in the woods, then everyone’s going to call it a Manifesto.
The boy shows promise. Wesleyan, where he studies Comparative Religion and writes poetry and serves two terms as Student Body President. Spends his weekends sitting cross-legged in mansions with Tim Leary. Accepted to Harvard Law, and wins a book contract based on a few chapters of a novel. Turns down Harvard, takes the advance, fucks off to India, never turns in the book.
The doctors can keep you alive if you are willing to let them hurt you.
It is 1971. John Perry Barlow, who was born and raised in the West, in Wyoming, is living in New York City. He is dealing cocaine. He is shooting cocaine. He is armed, and almost certainly wearing his cowboy hat. The skinny kid from the ranch has joined a band, and they are playing right outside the city in Port Chester, at the Capitol Theater. No one in the band could write lyrics, at least not well, and so they had given the job to a poet the guitarist knew. At first, the arrangement worked, but then the skinny kid started coming up with songs and needed words, but he and the poet didn’t get along. The skinny kid and the poet had an argument backstage at one of the shows, and then the poet turned to the coke dealer in the cowboy hat, who’d been hanging around all week getting on everyone’s nerves, and said,
“You wrote poetry in college, right?”
John Perry Barlow said that he had.
“Great. He’s yours.”
And he was.
He was engaged to a woman named Cynthia Horner, who died in her sleep, too. She was 29, and on an airplane. Some people are born with broken hearts.
In 1972, John Perry Barlow went back to the ranch. His father was dying. He had been to Wesleyan, and Millbrook, and India and Europe and Africa, and New York City. Hollywood, too, but he went back to the West, back to Wyoming and the Bar-Cross Ranch, and that’s where he stayed for a good long while. Don’t get me wrong: JPB would jet off to Paris to hang out with Jackie Onassis on the weekends, but he spent most of his time punching them doggies.
That the internet is a space ungovernable by fleshy authority, where one is guaranteed both inviolable anonymity and absolute freedom of speech, is not axiomatic. It is not mathematical. It’s precisely the view of the internet you might expect from a Wyoming rancher who identified politically–depending on who was asking–as Republican, libertarian, or anarchist.
I wonder what independence in cyberspace would have looked like to a city-dwelling socialist.
Well past the age when he should have known better, Barlow liked to punctuate his arguments by firing his pistol into the air (if he were outside) or into the floorboards (if he were inside). He still got invited to parties.
It would be a finer world had he been right about the internet.
There’s a band out on the highway. Everybody’s dancing.