Lines I wish I'd written #1

It occurred to me as I was walking past Melbourne General Cemetery today that I have taken nothing very seriously since years ago I stopped calling myself a writer, and that it was unlikely that I would take anything seriously until I did again.

Such a decision will not be made soon, because subscribing to Seriousness is something that can only be done in earnest, and there are many bottles of wine between now and that moment.

But it put me in a mind, perhaps, to reflect on what would be my professional jealousies if I forsook my comfort zone. (Or possibly I'm trying to justify this post after the fact.)

I want to present you a short and whimsical list of lines I wish I'd written. They are all penned by men, which troubles me, but not enough (or perhaps too much) for me to offer tokens.

In no order:

If man is 5, then the devil is 6. And if the devil is 6, then God is 7.

This is the only line in my list that is objectively brilliant. No-one can meditate for long on this truism without losing touch with reality. I don't need to tell you that it is from The Pixies' song, Monkey's Gone to Heaven.

America how can I write a holy litany in your silly mood?

I said before that I stopped taking things seriously when I stopped calling myself a writer; around the same time this line finally connected with me. Plus it is endlessly applicable. Allen Ginsberg wrote that, in a poem called America.

Come wish beside me.

This, and "Here we are now, entertain us" were the refrains of my adolescence—but the latter doesn't really withstand scrutiny. I don't wish like I used to, and I miss that. Still, the offer remains open. By Lee Ranaldo of Sonic Youth, in Wish Fulfillment, on Dirty.


This is the line that means least out of context. I only read it recently, but it knocked me sideways. Peter Carey is the greatest writer this nation has ever produced, and though I'll forgive you for not believing it on the basis of this meagre evidence, still, this is why. The story is Life & Death in the South Side Pavilion.

This world, after all our science and sciences, is still a miracle: wonderful, inscrutable, magical and more, to whosoever will think of it.

How many times do you read something 170 years old that makes your hands shake? I will never win the argument, but nonetheless I'm telling you that Thomas Carlyle is the great-great-grandfather of the naturalist counter-culture you call Hippiedom. Rousseau, set beside him, is nothing more than a false prophet. From Heroes and Hero-Worship, which couldn't be more aptly named.

Evil don't look like anything.

Hollywood's evil, black and furrow-browed, is seductive but too easy. Fact is I'd kill you as soon as short-change you, and you me. Okkervil River are the bards of bad ends, because they know where bad ends start. This is from the song West Falls, which you haven't heard yet, but should now.

I wish I was the one who was dead and gone. 'Cos she would have made a better speech.

When you hear Sime Nugent sing it in some smoky, beer-drenched pub in Fitzroy, and you feel like crying and laughing, you realise how elusive and how extraordinary it is to mix grief and irony. This song is about a funeral; it's called The Funeral.

He would fade into something impalpable under her eyes and then in a moment, he would be transfigured. Weakness and timidity and inexperience would fall from him in that magic moment.

This is my candle. It flickers a lot. Sometimes I still pretend I was the one who wrote it. James Joyce, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.

I invented adventures for myself and made up a life, so as at least to live in some way.

There are people who don't live this way, I really believe that. I only read this recently actually, and I didn't finish the book, which was Notes from the Underground: Dostoyevsky.

Outside your window, something grows in your garden. Is it Content?

Peter Carey is the greatest writer this nation has produced, and Glenn Richards is the greatest active Australian songwriter. I could have picked a line at random. Augie March, Asleep in Perfection.

Is a dream a lie if it don't come true? Or is it something worse?

I am tempting fate, which is to say I'm laying my credibility on the line, by citing Bruce Springsteen in this forum. Nonetheless. From The River, one of a handful of songs I can recognisably play on my guitar.

Joseph | 28 Nov 2004

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