Douglas Adams was many things: a novel writer, a radio-maker, a sane man in an increasingly insane universe, but most of all he was a hoopy frood who really knew where his towel was.
For the uninitiated, Adams described in the Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy why a towel is: “about the most massively useful thing an interstellar hitchhiker can have.” As a result, every year since his death in 2001 fans have remembered him by celebrating Towel Day on May 25th. Which is today. I can’t think why people would still be quoting lines like:
“It is a well-known fact that those people who must want to rule people are, ipso facto, those least suited to do it… anyone who is capable of getting themselves made President should on no account be allowed to do the job.”
Pink Floyd also helped inspire Adams to create Disaster Area. As he wrote in The Restaurant At The End Of The Universe:
“The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy notes that Disaster Area, a plutonium rock band from the Gagrakacka Mind Zones, are generally held to be not only the loudest rock band in the Galaxy, but in fact the loudest noise of any kind at all. Regular concert-goers judge that the best sound balance is usually to be heard from within large concrete bunkers some thirty-seven miles from the stage, whilst the musicians themselves play their instruments by remote control from within a heavily insulated spaceship which stays in orbit around the planet – or more frequently around a completely different planet.
Their songs are on the whole very simple and mostly follow the familiar theme of boy-being meets girl-being beneath a silvery moon, which then explodes for no adequately explored reason.
Many worlds have now banned their act altogether, sometimes for artistic reasons, but most commonly because the band’s public address system contravenes local strategic arms limitation treaties.
This has not, however, stopped their earnings from pushing back the boundaries of pure hypermathematics, and their chief research accountant has recently been appointed Professor of Neomathematics at the University of Maximegalon, in recognition of both his General and Special Theories of Disaster Area Tax Returns, in which he proves that the whole fabric of the space-time continuum is not merely curved, it is in fact totally bent.”
They were a band with such an attuned sense for a spectacular show that they planned to crash a spaceship into a local star simply as a special effect (a reference both to Pink Floyd’s outré live show and their song ‘Set The Controls For The Heart Of The Sun’.) Their frontman and guitar keyboard player was the superbly named Hotblack Desiato (named, incredibly, after a real-life North London estate agents) who became so wealthy that he had to spend a year dead, for tax reasons. (A couple of years prior to the book coming out, the members of Pink Floyd had spent a year living outside of the UK for, you guessed it, tax reasons.)
By now, I’m sure your appetite is thoroughly whetted and you’re dying to hear what Disaster Area actually sounded like. Well, here’s their only recorded performance. Featuring Adams himself on electric guitar, here’s ‘Only The End Of The World Again’. Play it as loud as you possibly can:
Having been inspired by rock’n’roll, it’s only fitting that rock’n’roll continues to be inspired by Douglas Adams. Father John Misty’s Josh Tillman told me that his new record ‘Pure Comedy’ – which opens with a song seemingly written by an extraterrestrial anthropologist – was inspired in part by reading Douglas Adams. When I mentioned my favourite bit of Hitchhiker’s Guide is the Total Perspective Vortex, he replied: “I bring that up all the time! [Zaphod Beeblebrox] goes into the vortex, but he just happens to be literally the most important person in the universe at the time.”
For everyone beside Beeblebrox, the Vortex proves fatal. It is considered the most horrible torture a sentient being can be subjected to:
“When you are put into the Vortex you are given just one momentary glimpse of the entire unimaginable infinity of creation, and somewhere in it there’s a tiny little speck, a microscopic dot on a microscopic dot, which says, ‘You are here.'”
Tillman concurs with what Adams was telling us about the human condition: “It’s what makes us so absurd.”