It is Sunday midday, I am on the road. The car radio brings news, the first I hear since Friday. The cult author Douglas Noel Adams has died. Much too early, as always. It's unlikely though that Elton John will rewrite one of his texts in honour of Adams. The Billy Joel in all of us will pull a piano out of an almost empty cigarette package and start singing with me »Only the good die young«.
I dry my tears while stopping by the side of the road to text-message to my best friend, sharing grief in the 21st century. With the advent of the year 2001 the era of science fiction has caught up with us. Nowhere do we see vacuum cleaners sporting the number 2001, the icons of the Nineteen Eighties can leave us, and also Adams. How else other than with Adams' »A Hitchhiker's Guide To the Galaxy« could I have survived the Weltschmerz of the Middle Eighties, how possibly?
Weltschmerz is a short sharp pain. I am suffering, Adams' death is tragic – he is only an author, not a friend or family member – but I am not so sure.
Douglas Adams was part of my youth like no other writer. Of course, there were others like Salinger, Duerrenmatt and Remarque, but they were part of school lessons. Adams was something my teachers could not understand. Monty Python, »The Rocky Horror Picture Show«, then different, and then better than others. So far removed from reality and yet so close to life, and so darn poetic. What about those scenes where Arthur Dent flies with Fenchurch through the countryside, is it not wonderfully poetic?
In the Late Eighties, I took Adams' stories too seriously but then so did many of his readers. But then one morning I realized that the world had not improved through his books after all. But in retrospect, his writings contained an important message: »Don't take life too seriously«.
Adams' books and the values he conveys in them and, last not least, the occasional utter nonsense are all part of this world's cultural inheritance. Not only after his death. In his books and also in his many speeches and in his work with his company »The Digital Village« Adams always designed scenarios for a better world.
This was also attempted in different ways by Max Goldt and Joseph von Westphalen, but after having gotten to know Adams, there was just no other writer for me with such cult potential. He is such an excellent story teller. I had the pleasure of listening to him many years ago in Hamburg – listening to such true words, spoken either casually or panic evoking, making me forget my own powerlessness and filling the vacuum in my head, with a pile of strange ideas which balanced between politics and poetry. That was my way to survive the Late Eighties and the Early Nineties.
The fact that he had not written any more books for 10 years made it necessary for those of us who could not survive without more of his reading material to reach for the old dusty copies of his well read stories. I would rather do that than I would order the tenth Harry Potter from amazon.
Adams often emphasized that he actually hated the writing of the »Hitchhiker« series of books and how he much rather spent his time dreaming about visions and technologies of the future. In particular he dreamed of the computer and the internet and the possibility of one day being able to have unimaginable amounts of information literally at your fingertips. In the past years Adams had talked about his dreams, often to a disbelieving public. Adams probably would have wished the audience had brought less towels. But they would rather hear about Marvin, the melancholic robot, than about the fact that one day we will all regulate our lives via the watch on our wrist.
Adams died of a heart attack, not in a car accident or from an infected telephone. Today I saw a man on television with a »heart mobile phone«. The first GPS mobile with ECG electrodes. You just hold it to your chest and all medical data will be transmitted to medical personnel. In an emergency a rescue team is alerted and rushes to the patient whose location is ascertained by satellite. »This is possible thanks to military mapping systems, accurate to the smallest footpath.«
To me this sounded like another one of those crazy contraptions that lurk in the »Hitchhiker« books. I am sure Adams would have been delighted in thinking up all kinds of mishaps with this new invention. And as far as the infected telephone goes, even that future invention has caught up with us as soon as the next email virus arrives.
Douglas Adams was a time traveler who paid dearly for his visions of the future by dying far too young.
Douglas Noel Adams was a laughing giant with heart. The five part trilogy which will grow no longer, no doubt will experience a renaissance, perhaps packaged together with Billy Joel's album »The Stranger?«.
The good thing about men with visions, the visions usually survive the death. I should pull myself together and play the computer game for the book »Starship Titanic«. I will read again his travel book »Last Chance To See«. And I will laugh and cry again about the mating call of the Kakapo male. That is the secret: even if Adams (together with his co-author Mark Carwardine) saved even a few of the animals from certain death with their book about the dying species, more important, Adams packaged the dark mood into his British humour which alerts the readers to vigilance.
But what will I do when, while reading, the presence of death overcomes me?
That's easy: throw myself to the ground – but miss!
Thank you, DNA.