Driftin’ And Dreamin’

by Max Sirak

John_Perry_Barlow_(1)John Perry Barlow (JPB for short) died earlier this month.

And, in honor of his passing, but more in remembrance of his life, I want to dedicate my little sliver of cyberspace, a realm he was passionate about, to highlight three pieces of his writing and thought. First, a political document; second, a code of conduct; and lastly some lyrics.

A Child Of Boundless (Digital) Seas

JPB was a pioneer of an open, free-range internet. He, along with others, founded The Electric Frontier Foundation (EFF) (here), a "nonprofit defending digital privacy, free speech, and innovation" in 1990. He literally wrote the Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace (here) in 1996.

For those who don't want to read it, it is what it says it is. It begins with, "Governments of the Industrial World, you weary giants of flesh and steel, I come from Cyberspace, the new home of the Mind. On behalf of the future, I ask you of the past to leave us alone."

The Declaration goes on to lay out the foundational premise of what the internet should be. A "global social space" independent of past tyrannies and a natural emergence of human creativity to serve as a self-regulating web of communication free from commercial enterprise and regulation.

Idealistic? Sure. Naive? Quite possibly. But don't those two usually walk, arm-in-arm, like sunshine and daydreams?

An Estimated Prophet of Adulthood

While EFF and the Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace are quite possibly his most notable technological accomplishments, JPB was polymath. At the ripe age of 30, while working on some artistic pursuits (more later…), he penned a list of 25 Principles of Adult Behavior (here).

Some of my favorites are…

2) Don't badmouth: Assign responsibility, not blame. Say nothing of another you wouldn't say to him.

It's as if he foresaw the anonymous hate culture of internet trolls…

8) Laugh at yourself frequently.

If you can't laugh at yourself, I'm not sure you should be allowed to laugh at anyone else.

10) Never forget that, no matter how certain, you might be wrong.

Like Leonard Mlodinow says in his book The Drunkards Walk, "… no finite number of partial proofs will ever add up to a certainty…" Given the multiverse and our limited vantage of it, have we anything other than "partial proofs?" And, if that is in fact the best we can ever do, how wise is our certainty?

15) Avoid the pursuit of happiness. Seek to define your mission and pursue that.

Sage advice. "Happiness," much like "success," isn't a target to aim at, but more a wonderful traveling companion you meet on the way to getting where you need to go.

25) Endure.

Life isn't always full of fireworks, calliopes, and clowns. Sometimes it sucks. A lot. And in those dark hallows of life, it's important to carry on and keep moving even when it hurts.

As easy as it would be to effuse the virtue and wisdom of all 25 Principles – it would be doing JPB, and his impact on my life a disservice. Not because they aren't worthy and wise or because the world would likely be a better place if everyone adopted them, but because there's a better gift John Perry Barlow left us.

The music he helped create.

The Grateful Dead IMG-0008

Talk to any Dead fan and most of what you hear is, "Jerry, Jerry, Jerry, Jerry. Hunter. Jerry, Jerry, Jerry."

For the uninitiated, this translates into Jerry Garcia, the bands enigmatic, paternal frontman with the sweet, off-key voice and soul-walloping guitar licks, being lauded as the darkstar at the center of the Grateful-verse. "Hunter" is a quick nod to Jerry's song-writing buddy, Robert Hunter, who wrote the words Jerry sang.

Lost in this all too common (and reductionist) refrain, are the contributions of Bob Weir and his song-writing partner, John Perry Barlow, to the compendium of Grateful Dead songs.

(The best way for a non-Dead fan to get a sense of what I'm talking about is to watch the Family Guy clip below. It's about the Beatles.The patronizing tone Paul takes with Ringo? Yeah. That's about what you can expect when you talk to a Dead fan about the merits of "Bobby" songs.)

But guess what, I'm going to stand here, free and unfettered, on my cyberspace soapbox and tell you this – Lost Sailer>Saint of Circumstance – is my favorite Grateful Dead suite. (By "suite" I mean two songs which flow into one another without a break in between).

It's better than China>Rider. Or Scarlett>Fire.

Lost>Saint

Like listening to any recorded music, headphones are the best. It's near impossible to beat the emersion earbuds or the like affords. Bonus points if you can find yourself a comfy chair and time to close your eyes while you listen.

For those who don't get down on music, but would like to follow along at home, the lyrics are in italics. My own inner dialogue, inspired by the mood of the music, appears in quotations marks.

(Lost Sailor begins mournfully in despair and confusion. Slowly the atmosphere lightens and gives way to a whimsy before finally settling into the optimism and possibility of Saint of Circumstance.)

"Lost Sailor"

Compass card is spinning

Helm is swinging to and fro

Ooh, where's the dog star?

Ooh, where's the moon?

You're a lost sailor

You've been too long at sea

"Wanna know what sucks? This. I don't know where I am. I don't know where I'm going or how I got here. All I do know is I'm lost. I'm so over this…"

Some days the gales are howling

Some days the sea is still as glass

Ooh, reef the mainsail

Ooh, lash the mast

You're a lost sailor

You've been too long at sea

"And here I am. Stuck. At the mercy of the elements, floating along. Yeah, sure. I respond and survive, but is that really living?"

Now the shore lights beckon

Yeah there's a price for being free

"I see everyone around me, all their choices, all their comfortable lives, and I'm jealous. I want that. Why did I think I could Fleetwood Mac this and Go My Own Way?"

Yeah the sea birds cry

There's a ghost wind blowing

It's calling you to that misty swirling sea

Till the chains of your dreams are broken

No place in this world you can be IMG-0007

"All those romantic notions I had about adventure? Yeah. They were fantasies. Because the reality of my choices ain't what it's cracked up to be. Everything I thought was wrong. I miss ‘home.'''

You're a lost sailor

You've been too long at sea

Now the shore lights beckon

Yeah there's a price for being free

"Hello my old friend, Regret. Oh, and who's that with you? Crippling doubt? Welcome aboard."

Drifting yeah drifting

Yeah drifting and dreaming

"Sigh."

‘Cause there's a place you've never been

Maybe a face you've never seen now

You can hear her calling on the wind

Drifting and dreaming

Go on and drift your life away

Drifting and dreaming

Drifting and dreaming

‘Cause there's a place you've never been

Maybe a place you've never seen now

Drifting and dreaming

Yes I'm going on a dream

Maybe going on a dream

Maybe going on a feeling

"But…but…wait. What was that? I thought I heard something. What if this is a test? What if everything I've ever wanted is ahead and waiting for me? I mean, I think if I listen hard enough, if I squint my ears, I can hear a voice…"

"Saint of Circumstance"

This must be heaven—

Tonight I crossed the line

You must be the angel

I thought I might never find

Was it you I heard singin'

While I was chasin' dreams?

Driven by the wind

Like the dust that blows around

And the rain fallin' down…

"Oh my God. YES! This. Here. The voice. The whispers. It was you."

But I never know,

(Sure don't know)

Never know

Never know

(Sure don't know)

"Right? I'm not making this all up, am I? This is what I wanted, wasn't it? Shut up, Max. Go to sleep. Stop trying to ruin a good thing."

This must be heaven—

‘Cause here's where the rainbow ends

At last it's the real thing… IMG-0012

Or close enough to pretend

When the wind blows

When the night's about to fall

I can hear the siren's call

It's a certain sort of sound

In the rain fallin' down

Rain fallin down…

Rain fallin' down…

Rain fallin' down

"Being here with you is what I was searching for. Yeah. Totally. 100%. But then – why am I laying awake with a head full of questions while you sleep so soundly and breathe so easy? Is this right?"

Holes in what's left of my reason

Holes in the knees of my blues,

Odd against me been increasin'

But I'll pull through

"I….I don't know. I thought this was exactly what I wanted. But, now…I don't know. It's just like what happened last time. And the time before that. Is the deck is stacked against me? Seems so. Oh, well. Nothing left to do but smile, smile, smile…"

Never could read no road map

And I don't know what the weather might do

But hear that witch wind whinin'

See that dog star shinin'

I'e got a feeling there's no time to lose

No time to lose!

"Yes. This bed is cozy and warm. But what am I waiting for? I know I won't be able to shake the feeling inside, growing. It's time to go. Embrace the possibilities. Get back to Mystery."

Maybe goin' on a feelin' maybe goin' on a dream

Maybe goin' on a feelin'

"Yes. This is crazy. I am crazy. I am willfully leaving behind all I was sure I wanted in the name of feelings and fantasies."

Well I never know

(Sure don't know)

Never know

Never know

(Sure don't know)

"Yep."

Well its been heaven

But even rainbows end

Now my sails are fillin'

And the wind's so willin'

That I'm good as gone again

"It's been fun. This. You. Everything. It was all I wanted. But, now I want different things. Things that aren't here. Things that are out there."

I'm still walkin', so I'm sure I can dance

Just a saint of circumstance

Just a tiger in a trance

In the rain falling down

"I'm healthy. I'm on this side of the dirt. That's all I really need, I guess. Time to see what's next and make the best of it."

Rain fallin' down…

Rain fallin' down…

Rain fallin' down…

"Oh, right. This again. Feels good, don't it?"

Well I never know just don't know, just don't know

"Nope. I don't. But it's that not-knowing and it's inherent potential which pulls me."

Sure don't know

What I'm going for

But I'm gonna go for it

For sure

Maybe goin' on a feelin'

Maybe goin' of a dream

Maybe goin' on a feelin'

"You know what? I feel good about this…"

***

As a man who's heard the call of adventure, wrestled doubt, laid many a lonely night awake, chased dreams, followed hunches and hopes in the fantasy of finding, fought against feelings and tried to wish them away, all the while remaining somehow hopeful in the brighter days and calmer seas ahead…there have been moments when JPB spoke to my soul.

John Perry Barlow – thank you – for letting the words be yours and sharing them with us.

May your music never stops.

Rest in peace.

***

Max helps other people write their books. You can learn more here

***

Photo Credits

JPB – By Joi – https://www.flickr.com/photos/joi/835394449/sizes/o/in/photostream/, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=24313087

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