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John Perry Barlow’s wild ride with the Grateful Dead was just part of a Zelig-like life that took him from a childhood as ranching royalty in Wyoming to membership in the Internet Hall of Fame as a digital free speech advocate.
Mother American Night is the wild, funny, heartbreaking, and often unbelievable (yet completely true) story of an American icon. Born into a powerful Wyoming political family, John Perry Barlow wrote the lyrics for thirty Grateful Dead songs while also running his family’s cattle ranch. He hung out in Andy Warhol’s Factory, went on a date with the Dalai Lama’s sister, and accidentally shot Bob Weir in the face on the eve of his own wedding. As a favor to Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, Barlow mentored a young JFK Jr. and the two then became lifelong friends. Despite being a freely self-confessed acidhead, he served as Dick Cheney’s campaign manager during Cheney’s first run for Congress. And after befriending a legendary early group of computer hackers known as the Legion of Doom, Barlow became a renowned internet guru who then cofounded the groundbreaking Electronic Frontier Foundation.
His résumé only hints of the richness of a life lived on the edge. Blessed with an incredible sense of humor and a unique voice, Barlow was a born storyteller in the tradition of Mark Twain and Will Rogers. Through intimate portraits of friends and acquaintances from Bob Weir and Jerry Garcia to Timothy Leary and Steve Jobs, Mother American Night traces the generational passage by which the counterculture became the culture, and it shows why learning to accept love may be the hardest thing we ever ask of ourselves.
About the Author
John Perry Barlow was a cattle rancher, a former lyricist for the Grateful Dead, and cofounder of the Electronic Frontier Foundation. He was a regular contributor to Wired magazine for many years and one of the founding directors of the Freedom of the Press Foundation.
Robert Greenfield is the award-winning author of biographies of Jerry Garcia, Timothy Leary, and Augustus Owsley Stanley III.
"In Mother American Night: My Life in Crazy Times, a tender, scattershot memoir co-written with Robert Greenfield, the fact that Barlow, who died in February at 70, 'nearly became America’s first suicide bomber' is presented as a (thankful) near miss in a remarkably 'Zelig-like life.' It is probably time to retire that shopworn conceit, which invariably nudges biography toward name-dropping. Besides, the original Zelig’s curse was that he helplessly assumed the characteristics of whomever he was with. Barlow was always Barlow, whether he was out on the road with the Dead, teaching JFK Jr. to fly, silk-screening at Warhol’s Factory, helping manage Dick Cheney’s first congressional campaign, dating the Dalai Lama’s sister, or inventing the ways we think about the digital frontier that he christened 'cyberspace.'"
—WALL STREET JOURNAL
"Breezy, connected by ceaselessly mind-blowing anecdotes, and bubbling over with psychedelic wisdom, Mother American Night will become the crucial document for understanding the life and work of the internet pioneer and Dead collaborator. The fun is infectious... Where Mother American Night excels is channeling Barlow's restless, celebratory spirit, pulsing with a sense of constant movement. Any visions of, say, feeding this book and Barlow's many megabytes of text, abandoned manuscripts, and unmade screenplays into a neural net and generating a Barlow AI to reoccupy @jpbarlow are dashed by stories like these. John Perry Barlow was—and is—too real and too unpredictable to be reanimated by algorithm, a spirit in the system too lifelike to be a ghost in the machine."
"The first thing I noticed in reading Mother American Night was Barlow's voice... his incredible gift of language, combined with his habit of manicuring his anecdotes to carefully calculated rough-hewn perfection, shining through with unmistakable glory. Barlow is one of the world's greatest storytellers... This is an essential, beautifully written book that is full of humor and tragedy and revelation."
—CORY DOCTOROW, Boing Boing
“Barlow, a man of many identities (the single most famous of which is probably songwriter for the Grateful Dead), has lived the kind of life it would normally take a handful of people to live, and this autobiography… contains one fascinating story after another, a glorious exploration of America’s counterculture, its political underpinnings, its spirit of adventure. Barlow takes us behind the scenes of the Grateful Dead at the height of their popularity, Dick Cheney’s first gubernatorial campaign, the childhood of John F. Kennedy, Jr., and Andy Warhol’s famous Factory (among other things); his stories are full of laughter and bittersweet memories and—occasionally—some dark moments. Readers will be swept up in this man’s amazing life.”
“[Barlow] was a modern-day Renaissance man: Grateful Dead lyricist, cattle rancher, political campaign manager, digital rights pioneer, and much more. It also turns out that he’s a great storyteller… The most fascinating parts [of Mother American Night] turn out to be Barlow’s chronicle of his association with early hacker culture and co-founding of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a sort of ACLU for the Internet… Barlow’s memoir tells such riveting stories on a variety of topics that it’s hard to resist. Essential for Deadheads, fans of Wired, and Internet technology mavens.”
—LIBRARY JOURNAL (starred)
"Wondrous tales of the hippie highway by Grateful Dead lyricist and internet pioneer Barlow. The author died recently after a long series of illnesses that form a moody counterpoint to the general anarchist fun of his memoir. That may be a good thing considering that the statute of limitations may not yet have run out for various of the hijinks he recounts here... [Barlow] writes with rough grace and considerable poetic power... [Mother American Night] is a yarn to read, with pleasure, alongside Ringolevio and The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test."
“One of [Barlow’s] X-Men superpowers seems to have been to unerringly locate centers of the American zeitgeist and discover some pivotal role he could play in them… With the publication of Mother American Night (co-authored with Robert Greenfield, a veteran journalist and biographer), we now have [the narrative of Barlow’s life.] If it sometimes seemed to those of us who knew Barlow that he had a tendency to exaggerate, this book pulls together all the threads of his life in a way that suggests, maybe, he’d been understanding things.”
“John Perry Barlow was the dawn of digital rights for so many—including me. Mother American Night leaves no doubt why he is remembered as the first ‘Poet Laureate of Cyberspace.' Optimistic, beautiful, and often hilarious, this memoir not only recounts some of the most important battles in the first two decades of the internet, but also Barlow’s indelible footprint on American art, politics, and culture over the last fifty years."
“It is a privilege to read the story of John Perry Barlow’s life in his own words. The topology of his tropology was utterly unique; the man was part Socrates, part John Wayne, part Loki, part Lord Byron, part Tesla, part Kennedy, part Reagan, part Internet Guru and bonafide Acidhead. That his diminutive frame managed to contain the vast infinity of his being is its own kind of miracle.”
—SEAN ONO LENNON
“Mother American Night is one of those books where you sit down to read the opening chapter, but then can’t put it down until you finished it cover-to-cover. The colorful and (almost) unbelievable stories that John Perry tells, weaved together with his trademark prose, make you feel like you were there with him at the center of so many cultural touchstones since the 1960s. However, it’s his tales of fighting against injustice and fighting for free speech and privacy that I cherished the most. Reading Mother American Night reminds me of everything that made him such an American Original in the first place.”
“Imagine you are hitchhiking and an ancient Mustang pulls up and the most interesting guy in the world beckons you to hop in. He's driving 100 miles per hour all night long and for the next three days he’s telling you tales, each one bigger and badder and more profound than the one before it. This is a hilarious, rhetorical, and soul-prodding book. I never feel so alive as when Barlow is telling me a story, and here are a life’s worth.”
“John Perry Barlow unmoored us from the clay of Earth and delivered us into a place of digital freedom. He leaves us with this kaleidoscopic necklace of colorful vignettes painted in his unique and poignant way.”
—VINT CERF, Internet Pioneer
“Reading John Perry Barlow’s book is like a spirited visit with him. He was a Rebel, having almost mystical and cosmic gifts of communication, wisdom and awareness. Mankind was his cause. His book confirms the solace he found when he learned to love and be loved.”
—ALAN K. SIMPSON, United States Senator, Wyoming, retired
"I loved this book. I am a slow reader but I read it twice in three and a half days. I have since gone back and begun reading chapters in no particular order which seems fine to me as well. I first met John about forty years ago and we have been fast friends ever since."
—RAMBLIN’ JACK ELLIOT