30 for 30: Douglas Adams

30 for 30 – as I reach my fourth decade of being, I’m writing about some of the things that made the three that came before what they were. 30 – mostly trivial – things that have been a part of 30 – mostly trivial – years.

28. DOUGLAS ADAMS

Douglas Adams

I adore the works of Douglas Adams, and the man himself.

This 30 for 30 thing would not exist if not for Douglas Adams.

It was a thoroughly Douglas Adams moment in my life too. I was at my parents house, ready to leave for Paris for the first time. I was thinking, I need to buy The Salmon of Doubt, the posthumous collection of Adams’ writings found on his computer.

I had yet to read it, even though I was a huge fan (it was, after all, promoted as an unfinished novel. Who wants that?). So I decided I would rummage another book out of the boxes I had in my parents garage.

And there it was – a copy of The Salmon Of Doubt.

A perfect, unread, 1st edition paperback.

How?

I’m not the kind of person who buys something and doesn’t know it. No price tag marks of any sort to suggest it’s origin. No one else in my family would have bought it. It wasn’t even amongst the other books in “A”. It was in a completely random box – the first one I looked at. And I was just thinking about it.

The only Adams-esque explanation is this – The Salmon of Doubt has become a very important book in my life. It started on that day. And some time in the future, I will come across a pristine paperback 1st edition. And a wormhole. And I will know to throw the book into the wormhole, leading back to my parents garage circa 1996, ready for my 25 year old self to discover.

(Slightly odder still is I have no idea where the book is. I’m even less inclined to lose things)

As far as I’m concerned with things related to Douglas Adams, the most extraordinary explanation must be the one.

The Salmon of Doubt is not usually considered the most inspiring work by Adams. But, along with half a novel, there are a series of random writings. Wonderfully written, long rambling essays about certain subjects.

I remember reading these articles and thinking – this is exactly what blogs should be. Long, meaty, well written, point driven pieces. Adams jumps around and goes on tangents, always circling the same points. He usually write about technology too – something I love.

So since that time, I have been trying to write blog posts like Adams’ writings in The Salmon Of Doubt. If you are interested in reading a really great essay (Hooray! Essays!) you can find some on his site, and I would start with Frank the Vandal (http://www.douglasadams.com/dna/980707-00-a.html)

I discovered Adams through the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, much like everybody else. I’m guessing this was around age 11, and I was already discovering Monty Python, Red Dwarf and various absurd British comedies. I found it at Campsie Library, when I was devouring so many books. Then I found all it’s sequels – and loved them too.

Those books were, of course, and marvellously, surrounded by Adams’ other works. First was the Dirk Gently books, which I also loved – and the BBC have just announced they will finally make TV adaptations of the two novels. The Meaning Of Liff and the Deeper Meaning Of Liff – a dictionary for things that needed names.

Then there’s the one non-fiction book – Last Chance To See.

I absorbed it all. And I am not the only one. Every time I see the phrase ‘Don’t Panic’, I think of Adams. And ‘42’, yet another Adamsism that has broken through to the mainstream. The glorious Babel Fish. His popularity has never waned.

Hitchhiker’s is, of course, awesome. It is such a deep reflection on the interests of Douglas Adams as well.

I read and re-read the first four books many times. I waited patiently on the library waiting list to read the fifth book – Mostly Harmless. I bought a collection of the first four books, and I eventually found first edition paperback copies of all of them – going for almost £40 each now.

Around that time, the ABC screened the 1981 BBC TV version. Even better was the South Bank show special – a very absurdist take on Adams’ life story, intercut with recreated scenes from his novel. It’s the only time I’m aware that Dirk Gently has been portrayed onscreen.

It was easy to keep track of Adams’ works, because he was almost always first in the sci-fi books section. New stuff stood out. The ridiculous Illustrated Version to the weird and underwhelming Starship Titanic.

I kind of lost track of Adams’ by the time he died in 2001. Although I was really sad – I guess I was at an emotional age about my heroes.

One of the last things Adams worked on was to make the Hitchhiker’s movie. After mulling over a film version for decades, it finally happened in 2005.

I remember seeing it at the cinemas, and loving it. Even with the 1981 TV version, it felt like they mostly got what I imagined the book would look like.

The movie had some major flaws – it’s rambling plotline is just almost impossible to shoehorn into a movie. The wit in Adams’ narrative is missing. It seems they spent all the special effects money went to the last 30 minutes of the film.

But there were lots to love. The cast was mostly perfect. Martin Freeman – the man was made to play this role. Zooey Deschanel is great as usual. Sam Rockwell made a great Zaphod, except no-one’s managed to get the two heads thing right.

And it looked great. The Vogons were perfect. The showroom of planets is honestly breathtaking. In the end, they just nailed the strange humour, and lost none of the heart in the characters. And just that big screen feel. After 15 years and seeing that – it was amazing.

No one’s discussed a sequel, even though the movie made plenty of money. I would love to see it. A hundred scenes I would love to see. Milliways. The krikkitmen at Lords. And most importantly, Arthur and Fenchurch flying over London.

Maybe someone will reboot them again one day. It seems to be the trend. Special effects just get cheaper, and maybe we can get something that looks like the Harry Potter films, and a commitment to make all of them.

More than his work, I love Douglas Adams the person. It’s a side I first got to see when I read Last Chance To See. It’s a non fiction book, an account of Adams’ adventures with zoologist Mark Carwardine, searching for the planets most endangered and rare species. I didn’t finish it the first time, but years later returned to it and loved it.

Adams’ fell in love with these bizarre animals. In fact, they didn’t seem that far from Babel Fish and other weird creatures that came out of Adams’ imagination. In the book, he describes them like he would a Vogon. And he never loss his passion for protecting life on the planet.

In 2009, his good friend Stephen Fry recreated his journey with Carwardine for BBC2. The sequel, also called Last Chance To See, finally showed me a moving Kakapo. And great that this side of Adams’ legacy is getting it’s day in the sun. If he had lived, maybe he could have been a animal lover version of Michael Palin.

For me, it showed me that the amazing things I found in books were equal if not less than the amazing things you can see in life.

Adams had many other passions too. He was a big Beatles fanatic. He hung out with rock stars like Dave Gilmour and was one of the few outsiders in the Monty Python inner circle. He was an outspoken atheist before it became fashionable. He made a short but significant impact on Doctor Who.

He was also a Mac enthusiast, and a technology nut. He understood programming language, energy technology and computer science. According to Stephen Fry, Adams was the first person in the UK to own an Apple computer.

Adams loved technology. He loved the internet. He dabbled in video games in the mid 80s, and supported the advancement for technology. And for technology’s sake. He didn’t just love typing, or games, or graphics. He loved that these devices and how they can fit into our lives.

Imagine what Adams would make of the world today. He loved the internet, and prophesised we would live our lives on there. A comment that mirrors a line in the 2010 movie the Social Network. Imagine what Adams would make of Facebook.

Best still is the iPad. Let’s face it. It’s essentially the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy come to life.

Adams has a theory about progress, that works in three parts.

1) Everything that exists before you’re born is “normal”.

2) Anything created between ages 0-30 is very exciting, and hopefully you can make a living out of it.

3) Anything created after 30 is abnormal, abhorrent and against nature.

So it’s only an age thing that makes us scared of progress of technology (or movies, or music etc). And when new things occur in technology, I think of Adams, always pushing ahead to the front of the line to see what was happening. I hope I can be there too.

May 25th of every year is now Towel Day. It’s a celebration of Adams, of Hitchhiker’s and his other works. It takes his name and inspiration from, in the Hitchhiker’s Guide To the Galaxy world, the single most useful device ever – a towel. I’m aware of it every year, but I’ve not been brave enough to carry a towel with me in public.

But its’ something that is growing. A UK thing that is spreading out slowly to dozens of countries around the world, according to towelday.org. It’s yet another sign of how important and ahead of his time Adams was.

If you only know Adams for his sci fi humour, here is a great introduction to his activism.

30 for 30: Bill Hicks

30 for 30 – as I reach my fourth decade of being, I’m writing about some of the things that made the three that came before what they were. 30 – mostly trivial – things that have been a part of 30 – mostly trivial – years.

18. BILL HICKS

Bill Hicks

I love the comedy of the late Bill Hicks, the politics he stood for, the way he tried to live his life, and his awesome array of dick jokes.

Good evening, my name is Bill Hicks. I’ve been on the road now doing comedy for 12 years, so, uh, bear with me while I plaster on a fake smile and plow through this shit one more time.

I discovered Bill Hicks the same way all my friends discovered Bill Hicks – the Tool album Aenima. Everyone had that record and in the booklet was this guy – Bill Hicks.

There was no other way he would have come into my life if not for that album. I never spent any time in the ‘comedy’ section of the record shop. There was no YouTube, and there was no way to see him on Australian TV. So thank you Tool for scaring the shit out of me with your film clips and introducing me to Bill Hicks.

My relationship with Hicks, made up of many nights with my discman on in my teenage bed, was with his 5 Rykodisc albums. One best of – ‘Philosophy’, and 4 albums. They cover his career arc; bratty, shocking upstart to confident preacher to fiery nihilist.

I listened to those albums a lot, and so did many of my friends. I learnt all the lines. My interest, as usual, spiraled into obsession – bootleg DVDs, website downloads, several biographies, more albums, anything and everything.

The nice thing about this obsession was the world grew with me. Hick’s humour seemed more relevant in the GWB years. He is more famous now than when he was alive, or when I discovered him. There was always new stuff coming out. That legendary Letterman footage would emerge. Someone would find a tape of a new show in Oxford. A new box set and theatrically released doco came out ths year. His stature is still growing.

I want to see a well-laid Ted Turner newscast: “Hey, it’s all going to work out. Here’s sports.”

His best of on Ryko is called ‘Philosophy’. It’s a word that has lost it’s meaning in popular culture, but Hicks definitely has a philosophy. He has a strong world view, and would scream about it.

Poor Bill. I wonder what he would think of the world today. If anything, that celebrity culture he hated so much has covered the world. Fashion beat art. War has never stopped. Censorship and the right wing continues to grow. Pot is still illegal. Handguns are still legal. People are still stupid. I am sort of glad he’s not here to see it. And this was 20 years ago.

20 years ago!! I look at the world and see all the shit I hate, and I think Hicks would hate it too. And it’s the culmination of 20 years of bullshit. And no one’s doing anything about it now.

I can imagine what Hicks would say about Glee and crap like that. IT IS SHIT. Why be nice about it? Why be forgiving about it? The people behind that show should be killed for lowering our standards.

Did Hicks fail? Or did his audience just do what Richard Linklater call “withdrawal in digust”? Because there is a lot of us. And we’re growing. One day we will rise up and rip Lady Gaga’s arms off and beat her to death with them.

For me, I see it as my civic duty to play Bill Hicks to anyone under 20 that I meet. If not earlier. I hope kids are trading his mp3s all around the net. You gotta hear this stuff.

People pay lip service to saving the planet, but they don’t – they fail to make the big leap that if you want to save the planet, kill your-fucking-self. The planet will be saved without you. And what a delightful place it’ll be. Welcome. It’s a new thing I’m working on, called “The Comedy of Hate”. Join in.

Bill Hick’s influence is everywhere. Frankie Boyle calls him his favourite comedian. Dennis Leary pretty much stole his act. There’d be no South Park or Family Guy without him. Every comedian, really, loves him.

And he was a true comedian. He wasn’t in it for a TV pilot or a slot on a game show. His hated Jay Leno and the like, who sold themselves out.

It might seem odd now, in an era where nothing is taboo. But it was Hicks that knocked that wall down. Heck, people steal his jokes wholesale.

I don’t listen to him too much these days. He only really had variations of 4 or 5 shows – and I really do know the jokes too well. It is exciting to see others discover him, but I think at my age, I’m worried about repeating myself, and trying to find new things. I put Hicks solidly in a box called Early 20s.

If you have not heard Bill Hicks, then just start with ‘Philosophy’. Or look him up on youtube. So much to fall in love with.

People often ask me where I stand politically. It’s not that I disagree with Bush’s economic policy or his foreign policy, it’s that I believe he was a child of Satan sent here to destroy the planet Earth. Little to the left.

I agree with most of Hick’s philosophy. His view on politics (don’t vote with your wallets) etc. Some of my views have softened – especially when it comes to children.

I went through a pretty intense period of listening and worshipping Bill Hicks when I was around 23. I would smoke too much and get angry at things. But there was this beautiful postivity to what he was trying to say.

He wasn’t an atheist – he went on about Jesus and Satan in every show. But he believed in a world bigger than our own, a universe that is able to humble us, if we care to notice it. It is an idea that is at the core of how I feel about life, the universe and everything.

For a man so cynical, when I hear him spouting his gospel, I feel like we are going to be ok. It’s the power (and dangers) or preachers. But if I have to have one, I choose Bill Hicks.

I wrote a song for Hicks. It’s called “Carlights, Like Fireflies”, and I lifted a couple of his lines – especially the idea that life is just a ride.

Today, a young man on acid realized that all matter is merely energy condensed to a slow vibration – that we are all one consciousness experiencing itself subjectively. There’s no such thing as death, life is only a dream, and we’re the imagination of ourselves. Here’s Tom with the weather.