… (for now) is ‘The road to God knows where’. When this phrase is Googled, the first return is a 1990 documentary film on Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. A ten-star (out of how many?) review describes it as ‘evidently a fan’s piece’. Like all of old Nick’s output, then, but that’s OK when being a fan is mandatory for rock journalists.
There is a 1988 documentary film of the same name by the Irish director Alan Gilsenan, comprising interviews with young people and apparently epitomizing ‘a general sense of disenchantment with Irish society’. I don’t think I’ve seen it.
In fact I associate the phrase with a song called ‘We’re on the One Road’ popularized in Ireland by the Wolfe Tones … I can’t stand the band, which made a career out of simple-minded Anglophobic tribalism, but there was a time when I loved the song.
I was about fourteen years old, and on a camping holiday with the Boy Scouts in Spanish Point, Co. Clare. The food was bad and monotonous (canned corned beef, cold beans) but the craic was good … we fished in the river, used metal plates as dangerous downhill frisbees, and expressed our camaraderie by belting out the song in question at every opportunity. ‘We’re on the one road, it may be the wrong road, but we’re together now, who cares?’ we sang as we walked the miles to Milltown Malbay and back in the pitch dark, and we certainly hadn’t a care in the world.
On the last night of our holiday we sat round a campfire with some older Germans we had met, and talked and sang for hours … they had guitars. We sang pop songs and Irish songs, ‘We’re on the One Road’ and the Irish national anthem; they refused to sing the German national anthem as they said it was fascist. I was clueless about politics; when I recounted this to a more worldly American friend back home he laughed and said ‘Trust you to hook up with some commies.’
Apart from all that, ‘The road to God knows where’ seems propitious to me. ‘God knows where’ is ambiguous, and I like ambiguity … I don’t like things to be cut and dried, or defined too rigorously. I like the places in between. ‘God knows where’ means that nobody knows, but also means that there are higher powers to guide us: that the path is meaningful. The road is what matters, not the destination.
I had not a dispute but a disquisition with Dilke, on various subjects; several things dovetailed in my mind, & at once it struck me, what quality went to form a Man of Achievement especially in literature & which Shakespeare possessed so enormously – I mean Negative Capability, that is when man is capable of being in uncertainties, Mysteries, doubts without any irritable reaching after fact & reason. (John Keats, 1817)