Douglas Adams, a Man of Thirty Guitars
When Douglas Adams created “The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide To The Galaxy”, he wanted it to look like more a rock album than a more classical radio series. He was in fact an accomplished guitarist and his life and works were marked by his love for music.
Douglas Adams often said that to be able to write he had to eat an impressive amount of sandwiches and soak in a just as considerable a number of baths. “There’s also a lot of playing the guitar very loudly involved as well. This used only mildly to irritate the neighbors when I just had an acoustic guitar which i would practice intricate finger-picking styles on when suffering from writer’s block. However, since I bought a Fender Stratocaster a couple of years ago even a mild case of searching le mot juste can now cause pain and anger along most of Upper street ”
His friend Geoffrey Perkins explained that Douglas was a very good guitarist, but a very bad singer. Along the years, Douglas collected between 24 to 35 left handed guitars, acoustic and electric. Enough to anger a whole neighbourhood! He had probably one of the biggest left handed guitar collection in the world.
When stuck in front of an empty page, Douglas also often listened to music to help him along. “It was only an illusion,” he would admit several years later. Nevertheless, it was while listening to the Paul Simon track “One Trick Pony” in repeat mode that he wrote his second novel “The Restaurant At The End Of The Universe”. He also wrote the first Dirk Gently book whilst listening to the Schubler Choir No 5 by J.S.Bach “Ach bleib bei uns, Herr Jesu Christ”. The great musician even appears in the book.
Moreover, Douglas Adams often used music to find ideas. The restaurant at the end of the universe comes from “Grand Hotel”, a track from British pop group Procol Harum.
His tastes are incredibly varied and eclectic. They go from Bach and Mozart through to pop rock’s The Beatles and Pink Floyd. Marvin even sings a little Pink Floyd tune, “Shine On You Crazy Diamond”, in the third episode of the radio series as he arrives on Magrathea. Unfortunately, for copyright reasons, this passage was not kept on the CD and cassette versions.
In the book version of the galactic adventures of Arthur and his cohorts, many references are made to music. How can we forget the infamous Disaster Area, the loudest rock band in the universe and its front man Hotblack Desiato who died, temporarily for a year, due to fiscal reasons? And how about their loudest concert in which the hitch-hiking heroes almost lost their lives? Reality frequently seeps into Douglas Adams novels, for example Paul McCartney often appears in the third Hitchhiker’s Guide novel.
Douglas wanted “The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide To The Galaxy” to sound like a rock album : “Though it was now ten years since Sergent Pepper had revolutionized the way that people in the rock world would thought about sound production, it seemed to me, listening to radio comedy at the time, that we still hadn’t progressed much…”
He directed “The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide” soundtrack (most of the music used came from his personal records collection), and he imposed the instrumental “Journey of The Sorcerer” by The Eagles as musical theme. Other composers used in the series go from Eno and Terry Riley to Ligeti and Louis Armstrong.
If the Guide managed to revolutionise the radio phonic play, it is in great part due to its musical conception.
It is of no surprise to learn that Douglas Adams had a great many musician friends, albeit that the short Paul Simon (a major influence when he learnt to play the guitar) always refused to meet him because of their great height difference: over one foot-30 centimeters! But amongst those who knew Douglas well are David Gilmour (Pink Floyd), Gray Brooker (Procol Harum), the singer Margo Buchanan (Adams even directed an amateur music video for her “I Wanna Be A Rock Star” track, starring his own daughter), and… Robbie McIntosh. The Digital Village (the company co-created by Douglas) produced Robbie’s acoustic album in 1999 : “This was a collection of compositions and arrangements that I just played for fun at home to amuse myself. Douglas insisted that I record them. This collection became the album Unsung, which was to be my second album,…” wrote Robbie on his website a few years later.
All of these sang in homage to Douglas during the ceremony that took place on the 17th September 2001 in London. Among his other musical friends, we should not forget Paul “Wix” Wickens who was Paul Mc Cartney’s keyboard player. Wix has made the music for the new radio series.
Douglas on stage with pink floyd His musical talents even allowed him to be a guest star at one of Pink Floyd’s concerts in Earl’s Court, London, on the 28th October 1994. He played acoustic guitar on the tracks “Brain Damage” and “Eclipse”; his appearance was a 42nd birthday present from friend David Gilmour.
Douglas also went on stage with Procol Harum, hence becoming the only fan ever to play with the band. Procol Harum and Pink Floyd apparently asked him to write lyrics for them, but Douglas said he never felt comfortable with song writing. He nevertheless found the title for Pink Floyd’s 1994 final album “The Division Bell”.
Musicians are rarely ungrateful. Many of them paid homage to him during his lifetime by inspiring themselves from his works. A jazz record was composed from the the Hitchhikers book ( “At the end of the Universe “, Klaüs Konig Orchestra, ENJA Eecords, 1990), and many bands took their names directly from Hitchhikers : an American jazz band called Beeblebrox, a Norwegian pop quartet called Babel Fish and of course the great Radiohead named one of their best tracks “The Paranoid Android”, inspired directly by Marvin of course.
Finally, Stephen Doc Wallace from Procol Harum paid a final tribute by remixing samples of Douglas Adams’s voice into his favourite track “Holding On”. This remix is available as a free download on their site.