"Haitian Divorce" as written by Walter Carl Becker and Donald Jay Fagen....
Babs and Clean Willie were in love they said
So in love the preacher's face turned red
Soon everybody knew the thing was dead
He shouts, she bites, they wrangle through the night

She go crazy
Got to make a getaway
Papa say

[Chorus]
Oh - no hesitation
No tears and no hearts breakin'
No remorse
Oh - congratulations
This is your Haitian Divorce

She takes the taxi to the good hotel
Bon march¨¦ as far as she can tell
She drinks the zombie from the cocoa shell
She feels alright, she get it on tonight
Mister driver
Take me where the music play
Papa say

[Chorus]

At the Grotto
In the greasy chair
Sits the Charlie with the lotion and the kinky hair
When she smiled, she said it all

The band was hot so
They danced the famous Merengue
Now we dolly back
Now we fade to black

Tearful reunion in the USA
Day by day those memories fade away
Some babies grow in a peculiar way
It changed, it grew, and everybody knew
Semi-mojo
Who's this kinky so-and-so?
Papa go

[Chorus]


Lyrics submitted by AbFab

"Haitian Divorce" as written by Walter Carl Becker, Donald Jay Fagen

Lyrics © Universal Music Publishing Group

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Haitian Divorce song meanings
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32 Comments

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  • +3
    General CommentI just want to say everyone had something good to say. Rare on songmeanings. Steely Dan brings out intelligent people.
    bkabbotton May 04, 2010   Link
  • +2
    General CommentDead on, Law. Just to go into some detail:

    Babs and Willie were very much in love, to the point where their kiss at the altar was a little much for the priest (Babs and Clean Willie were in love they said/So in love the preacher's face turned red)

    But, the marriage fell apart into one of domestic violence (Soon everybody knew the thing was dead/ He shouts, she bites, they wrangle through the night)

    So, babs decides she has to get away, but instead of divorcing Willie, with all the emotional and financial difficulties a divorce brings, she decides to run away to Haiti (She go crazy/Got to make a getaway, Papa say: Oh - no hesitation/No tears and no hearts breakin', No remorse/Oh - congratulations
    This is your Haitian Divorce)

    She runs off with all their money, and lives the high life "for free": Bon Marche = "good buy" (She takes the taxi to the good hotel/Bon marché as far as she can tell/She drinks the zombie from the cocoa shell
    She feels alright, she get it on tonight/Mister driver
    Take me where the music play/Papa say)

    So, she goes to The Grotto, and picks up a local and takes him home to REALLY get back at Willie. I love the fade to black reference, as if we are watching a movie...
    (At the Grotto, In the greasy chair/Sits the Charlie with the lotion and the kinky hair/When she smiled, she said it all/The band was hot so/They danced the famous Merengue/Now we dolly back/Now we fade to black)

    So, having gotten all this out of her system, Babs goes back to Willie, and theymove on with their lives together: (Tearful reunion in the USA/Day by day those memories fade away)

    But Babs is carrying a child. In denial, Willie comes up with all kinds of reasons to believe that the baby is his (Some babies grow in a peculiar way), although everyone else knows the real situation (It changed, it grew, and everybody knew: Semi-mojo)

    Until the baby is born, and Willie sees his kinky hair, and is confronted, and confronts Babs, with the truth (Who's this kinky so-and-so?)

    Fantastic song.
    hubofhipon June 15, 2005   Link
  • +2
    General CommentI think some of the other interpretations are most likely spot on. That said, I wanted to suggest a slight variation that could be wrong.

    I suggest that the line "So in love the preacher's face turned red" should be taken to mean that the woman was so pregnant that everyone, even the priest, could tell they were having a shotgun wedding (as in they were forced into it because she was pregnant).

    I take the "Soon everybody knew the thing was dead", to refer to the baby which could have died in childbirth or a miscarriage (or SIDS but that's not really the point). Once the baby is gone, the couple has no reason to stay together so she goes to Haiti for a quickie divorce.

    Burt Bacharach wrote a song called "Mexican Divorce" played by The Drifters (as well as Ry Cooder) which I imagine Fagen and Becker were familiar with, so I think they decided to put their own spin on it. I had initially thought the 2nd verse was about getting an abortion, but that doesn't seem consistent.
    jsaulon September 15, 2009   Link
  • +1
    General CommentI am inclined to almost totally with hubofhip, with a bit of a twist. In answer to mark36: My understanding is that a "Haitian Divorce" is actually another term for an uncontestable unilateral divorce which can be had in Haiti with a 24 hour waiting period (no joke). In the old days that was pretty rare. In most US locations, people had to wait several weeks to several months. In addition there was the issue of courts, lawyers and possibly meesy settlement issues. In California we used tohave what we called a TJ (Tijuana) divorce. ie: a quicky uncontestable divorce AND a cheap vacation for one low price. I don't see how issues as violent as theirs could be resolved by a few day break from one another. They have what we call out here "unreconcilable differences". I think the whole idea of "take me where the music plays" was an attempt to lift her spirits after the actual divorce. I think she came back unmarried, but pregnant with, presummably, Clean Willie's unborn child. But, suprise, those baby curls didn't staighten out over time at all, they got kinkier!!!! Now, that's irony. I don't know of anyone named "Babs" or "Clean Willie", except maybe high soicety preppy types. In social circles a bi-racial child would be, in my in my estimation social suicide. She thinks she putting on over on him, and it it turns out that she got stuck in a high-class situation with a bi-racial child. Hoo-rah!!
    thedurable1on October 11, 2006   Link
  • +1
    General CommentHere's the facts from the lips of Fagen himself, which also may muddy the waters of the whole daterape drug angle - The following article appeared in the December 25, 1976 issue of Sounds -

    "Well, the first few verses are plain enough. Babs and Clean Willy get married, right? But things don't work out somehow, and off they go to Haiti to grab themselves a quickie divorce. Then Babs heads off to some sleazy night club to drown her sorrows."
    "If you've been paying attention, you'll know she's in a drugged stupor by now and probably doesn't know anything about it. She is later... er... impregnated by this exotic gentleman. Later she is reunited with Clean Willy and they have some rather bizarre offspring ("Who's this kinky so-and-so")
    And then the chorus marks a second expedient divorce."
    tjstoneon January 10, 2009   Link
  • +1
    My InterpretationI think what is being forgotten here is what a Haitian divorce is...The reason people went to Haiti to get a divorce (back in the 50's and 60's mind you) was to get around US law, specifically State laws involving the need for both parties to agree to a divorce. A haitian divorce, which ironically was often accepted by US States afterthefact, is a uni-lateral divorce, meaning one party can divorce the other without their permission and/or signature. The woman goes alone in the story at the request of her father to get a quickee divorce in Haiti. She of course fails in that mission, but has an affair there and returns home to the States without haven gotten a divorce... but nine months later the woman has a child and it doesn't look at all like "Clean Willie"! The baby is half Haitian...The song ends with the babies background now clear and her father asing her to go to Haiti for a Haitian Divorce.

    Great tune, excellent beat, written in the 70's
    Newfrontieron March 08, 2009   Link
  • +1
    Song MeaningI think that this is probably one of the least obscure songs Steely Dan ever recorded. It's all out there. Haiti, like the Dominican Republic, offers quickie no-fault, single-party divorces to all comers. Babs and Clean Willie got married, got disenchanted with each other pretty rapidly, and so Babs's dad pays for a trip to Port au Prince so she can disentangle from a hasty mistake. Once she's out of City Hall with her Haitian Divorce, she decides she's earned a night out on the town. She drinks a Zombie (one of the most stealthily intoxicating cocktails known to man, with TWO different kinds of rum, as well as other liquors), goes dancing, finds a gigolo who spins her around the dance floor to the Merengue (one of those dances which resembles a pelvic exam in its various motions), then into bed. She comes back to a tearful reunion with her family (no mention at ALL of going back to Clean Willie) with a bun in the oven; as the baby grows, it's obvious that the child is "semi-mojo," or half-black. The refrain (sung by Babs's Dad) becomes mocking at the end, as her dance through life culminates in a little bittersweet humiliation. Folks, sometimes a banana is just a banana.
    loupgarouson September 09, 2010   Link
  • +1
    Song Meaninghubofhip is right on. I would add the implication is Bab's father paid for her excursion to Haiti. Also, while Willie may know the baby is not his from birth, the scandal doesn't erupt until it grows a bit, clearly becoming "semi-mojo" (It changed, it grew and everybody know).

    A work of art...one of The Dan's greatest tunes. The talkbox guitar solo is credited as modified by Becker. I'd like to know the details of this modification. Perhaps extended into the little fills?
    strangemanon March 13, 2011   Link
  • +1
    MemoryThis song always reminds me of the Eddie Murphy routine about how you have a fight with your woman and she goes on vacation to the Bahamas, smokes a big Bahama joint and fucks some guy named Dexter St. Jacques.
    mcshanesteveon February 03, 2012   Link
  • +1
    My InterpretationI agree with most of the comments. I don't however think the father was involved. I think "Papa say" is just a lyrical fill with no particular meaning. I think Babs went on a holiday to Haiti because her marriage was dead, and had a fling while she was there. She returned and got back together with her husband, Clean Willie, with whom once she had been so much in love. Sadly she had become pregnant while in Haiti, which became apparent as the child grew up semi-mojo. Everyone knew, so Clean Willie then divorced her which became her Haitian Divorce. I like the way we "dolly back" and "fade to black" before the fling. These are cinematic devices used by directors when everyone knows what is going to happen. The literary eqivalent is a series of dots. This is what marks out Becker and Fagen as master lyricists. There is a similar gem in nearly every Steely Dan song.
    cleanwillyon January 16, 2013   Link

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