A few years ago, Hollywood finally got it together to make their version of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy -- which I like to call "The Good Book" -- by Douglas Adams, a brilliant writer and thinker who was so steeped in irony that he dropped dead at the tender age of 49, after many arduous years of struggling to get the movie made by people who simply didn't get it, and just a bit shy of its production and release. Needless to say, he wasn't at the big press screening I attended in 2005 at Disney's El Capitan (right next to Jimmy Kimmel on Hollywood Boulevard) -- but Beck was there. Weirdly, I actually walked up to the balcony behind Beck, and he was wearing powder-blue sneakers. But I knowingly digress and name-drop to get your attention. Beyoncé.
Today would have been Douglas Adams' 61st birthday. I didn't know him, but I've read his every published word, some many times over, and I miss him. While he didn't fit into my elite squadron of Honorary Grandfathers (not old enough); nor the Surrogate Father slot (no clue who that would be), he -- like the Pythons, and David Bowie, and maybe Sam Cooke and Freddie Mercury had they played their cards a little better and stuck around -- fully lays claim to Awesome Substitute Uncle. Open one of his books, any book, to any page, he simply never disappoints. I consider Adams family (heh).
While some time has passed (if you believe in "time"; I don't), I still feel the void left by Mr. Adams' passing. His books -- and no offense, but I mean the ones actually written by him; not any posthumous sequel, however well-intentioned -- lit up the shelves, made you wonder how anyone could so adroitly open up your skull and flip and flop your brain about, then put it back in better condition than he found it. And funny: Oh, man, I've read some funny writers, but the sounds some of Adams' phrases have yanked from my corporeal frame: "chortling" and "honking" and "wheezing" don't begin to describe them. The best medicine.
Anyway, if you've used that little tool called "Google" today, you've no doubt noticed from its snazzy "doodle" that it's Mr. Adams' birthday, or would have been. Here I salute him 13 succinct times. (Why 13? I dunno. 42 would blitz my word-count.)
1. Douglas Adams' initials were and are DNA: Douglas Noel Adams. How cool is that?
2. Adams defined himself as a "radical Atheist," so people would understand, "that I really mean it, have thought about it a great deal, and it's an opinion I hold seriously." When questioned about the easier, loosey-goosey path of Agnosticism, he replied: "If it turns out that I've been wrong all along, and there is in fact a god, and if it further turned out that this kind of legalistic, cross-your-fingers-behind-your-back, Clintonian hair-splitting impressed him, then I think I would choose not to worship him anyway." (Note: small 'g,' small 'h'.) Truly it comforts me, in an often maniacally-religious world, that Douglas very firmly chose knowledge (and wit) over superstition. Bless him. Ha.
Where Douglas Adams, a "radical Atheist," may be today
3. There's a love scene in So Long and Thanks for All The Fish (my fave book ever) which crescendos with a Mark Knopfler guitar solo. Exactly.
4. Douglas Adams created what still stands, in my mind, as the greatest videogame ever: Starship Titanic. It's tricky but wonderfully character-rich, and really weird, and not (unlike many games) merely sadistic and horrible. Big plus: It was transformed into a crackling novel by Terry Jones.
5. Douglas Adams thought that the greatest song of all time was and is The Beatles' "Drive My Car." While infinite arguments may stem from this opinion, it is nonetheless valid as such, and may even make your face do that slight-frown-and-nod-of-concession thing.
6. "Every country is like a particular type of person," wrote Mr. Adams. "America is like a belligerent adolescent boy, Canada is like an intelligent thirty-five-year-old woman. Australia is like Jack Nicholson." (Genius.)
7. Douglas Adams was so good at what he did that other writers who are no small potatoes themselves kept trying to emulate him or strongly associate themselves with him -- which is kind of cute to watch, really. But we can all rest easy just by noting that, without Kurt Vonnegut (and a large dollop of Wodehouse), there probably wouldn't have been a Douglas Adams -- at least not one so remarkably pithy, trading primarily in science fiction. With this reflection, Adams simply becomes part of a tradition, albeit one of its most brilliant practitioners.
8. Mr. Adams was a major fan of computers, particularly Macs. Seriously, how glorious is it that his world-famous imaginary device -- the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (a tablet-like portable electronic repository of knowledge) -- has actually come to exist?
9. The (fictional) Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy's two-word definition of our planet: "Mostly Harmless." (Did you hear that, North Korea? We're collectively bupkis in the grand sweep of the cosmos. Calm down already. Behave.)
10. Dickens and Hugo would've felt envious of this paragraph by Mr. Adams:
If you took a couple of David Bowies and stuck one of the David Bowies on the top of the other David Bowie, then attached another David Bowie to the end of each of the arms of the upper of the first two David Bowies and wrapped the whole business up in a dirty beach robe you would then have something which didn't exactly look like John Watson, but which those who knew him would find hauntingly familiar.
(Again from So Long and Thanks for All the Fish -- which occasionally makes me wonder why there are other books.)
11. Once I was actually in a bar, which was in Southern California, and a couple of women actually started talking to me. The talk actually turned to literature. I actually felt a rare sense of hope. Then they started raving about The Notebook. I let them have their say, and listened, and nodded as if Nicholas Sparks interested me (he doesn't, except perhaps in terms of sales). Then they actually asked me to name a book I like, and I went with my concept of relatively safe and mainstream: The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. This brought a blank shrug and sign-off from one of the women, but actual hostility from the other. "I HATE that book!" she clarified. "The world gets destroyed in it! I just don't think that's funny!" I should have thanked her then that I didn't have to proceed and figure out how to afford an engagement ring. I guess I'm thanking her now. Thank you. Next.
12. So Long and Thanks for All the Fish (from the fun Disney movie)
13. The answer to the great question of Life, the Universe and Everything. (From the classic BBC miniseries.)
Happy Birthday, Douglas Adams. The world is smarter and funnier because you were here. Good wishes to your family and many, many, many fans.
P.S. I'll let you all discuss Last Chance to See and the Dirk Gently books and Dr. Who and Marvin and the radio shows and all the rest of it in the comments, below. Please do!