Mother American Night: My Life in Crazy Times

Mother American Night: My Life in Crazy Times

by John Perry Barlow, Robert Greenfield


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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.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781524760199
Publisher: Crown Publishing Group
Publication date: 06/04/2019
Pages: 288
Sales rank: 335,139
Product dimensions: 5.10(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.70(d)

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.

Read an Excerpt

***This excerpt is from an advance uncorrected copy proof*** Copyright © 2018 John Perry Barlow and Robert Greenfield

I am determined to learn how to accept love, which I think may be the secret of life. If you can accept love, you can do damn near everything else. Giving love is easy and so most people go about thinking that they’re fully capable in the love department because they can give it. But as I have learned, that is not the case, and how could it be? If you

don’t accept it, where are you going to get love to give?

My mentor in this regard is the only person I’ve ever met in my life who can seamlessly accept love: Gilberto Gil, the great musician and former minister of culture in Brazil. For him, it appears to be effortless. Since I would say that he is the most beloved person in the most loving country on the planet, it’s very lucky for him and them that he can accept it so easily.

On April 16, 2015, Gil was performing at Davies Symphony Hall in San Francisco. On my way back from Huntsville, Texas where I had been lured to give a speech, I spent hours tramping around the Atlanta airport in a brand new pair of cowboy boots while waiting for a flight that would get me back home in time for Gil’s show.

For years, I had been getting my boots from the Olathe boot company in Kansas. They were made of Norwegian elk leather, which is especially pliant and so could accommodate a bunion I have on my left foot that somebody once said should be in the Boone and Crockett big game trophy book of bunions if there had been one.

 I already had about ten pairs of these boots that had been kept in walking condition by a wizard in San Francisco who said he could re- store any cowboy boot that had ever been made and by golly, he could. But I had not been to see him for a while and in an act of desperation, I bought a pair of Norwegian elk boots from another company. Although they were not pliant, I said to myself, “How bad could they be during a short trip?”

 Although I arrived in San Francisco too late to see him perform, Gil and I did then go back to the Mark Hopkins hotel where the two of us sat up all night long talking in the lobby by ourselves. It was a rich moment, and an ironic one as well, because at the time, I had no idea whatsoever that I was about to embark on the greatest experience I could ever imagine in terms of teaching me how to accept love.

 Having worn a gigantic hole in the index toe of my left foot by walking for hours through the Atlanta airport in those brand new boots, I woke up the next morning, which also happened to be the twenty-first anniversary of the worst day of my life, with a raging staph infection in my bloodstream. One thing led to another and I then contracted a second bacterial infection that set up camp in some hardware in my back. Suddenly, I couldn’t walk. I was also not producing any red blood cells, and so they transferred me up to UCSF in San Francisco, where they stabilized my bone marrow.

 While I was at UCSF, the doctor who had installed that hardware cleaned out the bacteria that had attacked it. I had no way of conveying to him that I was on an heroic amount of blood thinners to prevent a pulmonary embolism, and in the process, he created a hematoma that put a large blood clot about the size and shape of two golf balls between my spinal cord and the epidural sheath. They had to open me right back up at four o’clock in the morning to get it out of there. I had gone under the knife with him several times before, so I just had to be positive and trust him.

Before he did this, he said, “John Perry, I gotta tell you. I don’t know what I’m going to find when I get in there, but I think unfortunately that there is a pretty good chance that I’m not going to be able to save any of your functions below T11.” In other words, I would be paralyzed from my belly button down. I said, “You mean I’ll never dance again?” And he said, “I’m not sure, but I think if you had one working eyelid, you’d still dance.” Which remains one of the best compliments I’ve ever received.

 So I went in there knowing there was a good chance that I was going to come out unable to walk again. When I woke up in the recovery room, my doctor was standing at the end of my bed and he said, “John Perry, move your toes.” I did. And he started to cry. Because he had no idea if I was going to be able to do that and there was the only way to find out.

 I was recovering from that when they decided they needed to be on the outlook for pulmonary embolisms, so they installed a filter in my vena cava to remove all the phlebitis-style clots from my blood- stream. In what I later learned was yet another iatrogenic failure, they displaced something that lodged itself in what had previously been my main coronary artery.

 Later that evening, I was in the middle of an extremely stressful phone conversation with my business partner, who had been instrumental in getting us the money for our pure water project, when I started feeling pain in my chest. I didn’t know what to do about it at first and finally said, “I believe I’ve got to get off this call, I may be having a heart attack.”

 And in fact, the lower two ventricles of my heart had just stopped dead in their tracks and I had no heartbeat. So they hauled me off from the company of my daughter Leah and several other folks who had a pretty hard time taking in this spectacle. They took me to a side room and hit me with the paddles. Just like on TV. Nothing. They hit me again with the paddles with twice as much voltage. Nothing. Then they hit me the third time with so much energy that they burned my chest. But it still didn’t start my heart.

Then an amazing thing happened. A young resident grabbed my arm, yanked me off the gurney, flung me to the floor, and jumped on my sternum with both of his knees. And my heart kind of went, “Well, if you’re going to be like that about it, I guess I’ll start beating again.” It was like the cowboy heart reaction. “You hit me, you son of a bitch!” If people code out for eight minutes like I did and then come back, they usually do so as a different person than the one who left. But I guess my brain doesn’t use all that much oxygen because I appeared to be the same guy, at least from the inside. For eight minutes, however, I had not just been gratefully dead, I had been plain, flat out, ordinary dead. It was then I decided the time had finally come for me to begin working on my book. Looking for a ghost writer was not really the issue. At the time, my main concern was to not be a ghost before the book itself was done.

What amazed me most about this entire incident was that after so many years of thinking I really understood what happened when you died, I had not seen a goddamn thing. No upwardly sweeping rivers of light, no angels, no cherubim, no seraphim, no celestial beings. It all just went black. I’d gone down the tunnel of eternity and it had turned out to be nothing more than a cheap carnival ride to nowhere.

 When I told my old friend and songwriting partner Bob Weir about this, he looked at me and said, “Well, it could be that you just weren’t dead enough.”


Excerpted from "Mother American Night"
by .
Copyright © 2019 John Perry Barlow.
Excerpted by permission of Crown/Archetype.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Prologue Not Dead Enough 1

1 The Little Red Bull 7

2 Norman and Mini 13

3 Home on the Ranch 17

4 Fountain Valley 23

5 Getting into College 31

6 Wesleyan 35

7 Good Old Grateful Dead 43

8 Summer of Love 49

9 Harvard Yard 55

10 Fair-Haired Boy 61

11 An Incredible Week 65

12 The Journey East 69

13 Coming Home 75

14 New York, New York 81

15 Mexicali Blues 89

16 Sugar Magnolia 93

17 Looks Like Rain 101

18 Cassidy 105

19 John F. Kennedy, Jr. 109

20 Heaven Help the Fool 115

21 Adult Behavior 123

22 Eminence Grise 127

23 Global Sociopath 131

24 Feel Like a Stranger 137

25 Word Processing 141

26 Welcome to Apple 145

27 A Little Light 153

28 The Ivory Gavel 157

29 A Call from the White House 159

30 Phiber Optik and Acid Phreak 163

31 A Visit from the FBI 173

32 EFF 179

33 Timothy Leary Redux 185

34 Who's NeXT 191

35 Meeting Cynthia 197

36 Living with Her 203

37 Losing Her 207

38 Rehab 215

39 A Gold Rush of the Heart 217

40 He's Gone 219

41 Timothy Leary's Dead 225

42 Kennedy-Nixon 231

43 Two Funerals 237

44 Brazil 243

45 The Pure Water Project 247

46 The Freedom of the Press Foundation 253

47 Hell in a Bucket 259

Epilogue Love Forgives Everything 265

Acknowledgments 269

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