John Perry Barlow (JPB) was an inspiration, he was my hero. I will never forget that he answered the phone for me once and he was in London and getting a back massage, late in the evening. His voice was changing as he spoke, from the pleasure he was receiving but he had the decency to take the call and this was in the days before caller ID. In 1999 I was the CEO of Rock-n-Roll.com and JPB had agreed to become the first advisor on our advisory board and he was advising us on how to set rock and roll free. Perhaps that the company failed along with Napster and hundreds of other free music download sites, just because you can’t own rock ‘n roll and to even try to capture it for re-distribution, in a purely artistic ideology, destroys what rock ‘n roll is.
For the following 20 years, after having met John Perry Barlow by telephone and through email correspondence, his ideas have never left me. The first question he asked us about Rock-n-Roll.com was “is it open source?” and I’d never heard the term but seen it on the content management systems (CMS) we were using at that time (pre-wordpress), everything we used for web development were plugins cobbled together on to an open source platform like a BBS (bulletin board system). Web development wasn’t turn-key back then, so we used open source software BUT that was not what JPB was asking and at that time I was too naive to understand what he meant.
I thought often about that call to London and other conversations I’d had with this incredible intellect and I thought that I was among the few who admired the mind and ideas of this cool dude and was able to reach him. Also, I felt that he gave me a chance because I was a BC cattle country red-neck that was way out of my league in the digital download music space. Anyone could tell my love for rock ‘n roll but we did share that also, plus I was the webmaster for the Bob Marley Movement in Miami at that time, so I had enough kudos to grab his attention. What we were attempting to do was create a global free search engine of rock music to identify where are the free lyrics and legal cover tracks, of each and every rock song in each and every genre. Years later I learned that JPB was so beloved that there was a thing called a “Barlow frenzy” which was an instant viral message blast of his whereabouts at 4:20, so fans could join him for an impromptu happy-hour, or even late night party. It was a big deal to be on that mobile phone message list, especially in San Francisco but it worked the same, anywhere in the world – press send and “poof” instant party!
Needless to say that the death of Napster killed almost every other digital download website and the domains of Rock-n-Roll.com (rockandroll.com & rocknroll.com) were sold off and the company was disbanded but not before we had built a subscriber list of 1 million double opt-in subscribers. Also, I was invited to speak at a recording industry event at Bilboard Live in Miami Beach a few days before the Latin Grammy’s were to be held in the same the building and interestingly at the same time that the rock band “The Stripes” were launching their careers from the very same venue. I was given 10 minutes to speak to a room full of the top music industry executives at which time I frisbee’d a whole stack of CD Roms and told them this online is a dollar download, a dollar, a dollar, a dollar, as I tossed the disks all over the floor I explained that on that day 3 billion illegal downloads would happen and they were wasting time and money with the disks.
John Perry Barlow made me understand the concept of the idea economy, he never to me for long but what he did say, aside from that he also liked Bob Marley’s music, was that if you created an idea that was good and you gave it away enough times, and kept improving both the idea and how you were giving it away, that eventually your ideas would become valuable and that there are more ways than can be imagined to make value from ideas. Our limitation is our imagination.
God Bless John Perry Barlow and may he rest in peace.