10. No shirt, no service. No woman, no cry.

“No, woman, no cry” is not a happy song. It’s based on the time that Bob Marley spent in a housing project (the Government Yard) in a ghetto called Trenchtown, in Kingston, Jamaica. The singer is comforting a woman (no-one has ever worked out who). He’s using an isolated, intimate moment to highlight the deprivation and hopelessness and grind of poverty. It’s sad and it’s haunting, and coupled with the soaring melody, it should strike a chord in the hardest of hearts.

Well bugger Bob Marley . That’s not what it was about where I come from. Where I come from, an entire generation sat down and listened to the song and didn’t hear “No, woman, don’t cry.” We heard “If you don’t have a girlfriend, you’re never going to be sad!” Excellent! It was happy song! Bob Marley was a witty little jokester!

He was all about the funnies.

He was all about the funnies.

And so a curious phenomenon arose. When “No, woman, no cry” came on late at night in a pub or a club, everyone paused whatever they were doing and sang along in raucous, boozy voices. And when they got to the chorus of this hauntingly personal protest song, the decibels rose a little; “NO WOMAN NO CRY” and every time Bob reached the end of the line, comforting his mysterious companion and challenging the world with her pain, we assembled worthies would echo back with a rumbling crash “BullSHIT!”

Sorry Bob. We’ve all grown up, and we know what you meant now. We’ll never do it again. But a quiet little part of me hopes that we have been replaced; that another generation of ignorant buffoons has shuffled in behind our dusty old bars and plonked down on our sticky naugahyde chairs and sit there still, raising their faces to the sky and echoing through time “BullSHIT!” The world needs its harmless buffoons.

South Africans tend not to be sing-alongy people. We’re not really into standing in groups, left arms wrapped around each other’s shoulders, right arms swinging foaming beermugs as we belt out drinking songs. That’s just not who we are. So the chance to let go, and loosen up, and feel an odd sense of camaraderie with a bunch of strangers is invaluable, and justifies our delayed understanding of old Bob.

He wasn't about the funnies! He was all about marijuana and equal rights for suburban white boys. We had the posters to prove it!

He wasn’t about the funnies! He was all about marijuana and equal rights for suburban white boys. We had the posters to prove it!

We need have no such concerns for Smokie. Smokie is an English rock band who were big in the 70’s. Their biggest hit was a song called ”Living Next Door to Alice”. The singer has had a lifelong crush on his neighbour, and now she’s leaving. It’s not a great song. It’s not even a good song. By rights, it should have disappeared into the dustbin of music history. Except for a rather curious phenomenon.

Smokie. I'm always a little jealous when I come across people who have an instinctive understanding of cool.

Smokie. I’m always a little jealous when I come across people who have an instinctive understanding of cool.

If you play the song to a bar-full of South Africans, or Australians, or New Zealanders, something odd happens. You have to wait for the chorus to see it. As the band hits the line “and for 24 years I’ve been living next door to Alice”, the entire bar will turn around and shout “Alice? ALICE? WHO THE F*CK IS ALICE?”

I have no idea why we do this. I was a bit too young when the song came out. Maybe there was some incident or a parody version or something. Or maybe it’s just one of those things. What I do know is that we love doing it so much that it has kept the song alive. Smokie still comes out here on tour. It must be a surreal experience, creaking up onto stage nearly forty years later to crank out the same damn song while a mass of hoarsely ragged voices screams back “Alice? ALICE? WHO THE F*CK IS ALICE?” I suppose it’s a living.

One shouldn't judge by appearances, but the guy in the hat has the smug look of one who knows who the f*ck Alice is.

One shouldn’t judge by appearances, but the guy in the hat has the smug look of one who knows rather too well who the f*ck Alice is.

All these years later, they’re going to get me into trouble. I don’t have a CD player in my car, and the radio is tuned into a talk station so I can listen to the news, because I’m middle aged now, and when the music shows play Skrillex I think there’s something wrong with my brake-pads.

Skrillex. I'm always a little jealous when I come across people who have an instinctive understanding of cool.

Skrillex. I’m always a little jealous when I come across people who have an instinctive understanding of cool.

Which is all very well, but on the weekends they turn themselves into an easy-listening music channel. It’s horrific. They play stuff like Barry Manilow and Englebert Humperdink. And they play “Living Next Door to Alice”. One of these days, they’re going to play it when I’ve got my kids in the car. And like one of Pavlov’s dogs, I’m not going to be able to overcome years of conditioning, and will belt out the unofficial refrain.

I just hope I’m not there when my little four-year-old runs in and tugs her mother by the dress and and blurts out “Mommy. Mommy! MOMMY! Daddy wants to know who the f*ck Alice is!”

19 thoughts on “10. No shirt, no service. No woman, no cry.

  1. We have our own version. Not shared with the kids, even though they are 21 and 19 and 14. The middle one came home at xmas in his 1st year at uni, going on and on about someone apparently very inspiring called ‘Boof’. Eventually I said ‘who is Boof?’ and thus unwittingly inspired a late-teen meltdown for (a) mocking his inability to speak and (b) not knowing who his famous lecturer Dr Booth was. Ever since then, when he regresses at odd moments (he’s actually a really nice boy most of the time) one of us will wait till he’s out of earshot/vision to roll our eyes, then we both break into ‘boof, boof, who the fuck is boof?’
    I’m a late developer. Hadn’t heard the chant when I was young, find it entertaining now I’m 42…

    • 23thorns says:

      Oh god! Are you telling me the meltdowns go on for that long. I thought all we had to do was last through the early teens!

      • BwahahaHA
        Or as one of my friends puts it, ‘well, they do say the hardest years of parenting are the first 27’.
        We found the older 2 got ever so much nicer at 19 but I’m not sure if that was the age or the fact they’d lived away from home for more than a year and had a new appreciation of what we’d done for them and how much nicer we were than some of the parents of their new friends.
        Everyone is better with different age groups, though. I was in my comfort zone with 7-11.

  2. TamrahJo says:

    Wow – so great to hear the backstory of Alice’s life before she opened her restaurant…

  3. […] of views doesn’t change according to subject or category. I’ve written about my children, art, Bob Marley and naked Winston Churchill. My most successful post was about Land Rovers, of all […]

  4. Who the fuck is Alice?? Kevin Bloody Wilson, 80s master of the crude comedy swearing song, did a parody version called “Living next door to Alan”, I had an old recording where he got all the audience to participate with the chant “Alan? Who the fuck is Alan?”, maybe it came from that

  5. dcmontreal says:

    Great post! Brought back memories of trying to figure out just what Marley meant. The no-girlfriend-don’t-be-upset concept was common in my circle as well. What a difference a comma makes!

  6. narf77 says:

    I think you are talking about the ubiquitous “Aussie Male” who reaches maturity (did I say “maturity?” I think another word needs to be used for Aussie Males before they hit about 35!) at 15 and mental maturity at about 35. “The Pub” is their natural gravitational home and no matter what their real names are, they shorten them all and add the letter “Y” or “O” at the end of them…”HEY Barnsey (Farnsey, Thommo, Jacko, insert name here…) I was SO PISSED the other night I fell off me chair and the barmaid chucked the bar cloth over me and woke me up the next day with a schooner in me face…best bloody night out EVER!”… No-one would ever DARE to question the masculinity of a group of Aussie “blokes” on a night out (at least if they like how their faces look…) but just watch them and they are all patting each other on the back, holding each other up, dragging each other around and generally making a lot of physical contact with each other that they wouldn’t dream of outside their pub life. The average Aussie male has a HUGE personal space when not at the pub. Oh…and the football/rugby field. You are allowed to hug, pat on the bum, kiss, cuddle and generally fondle your team mates if you play football or rugby in Australia ;). You had “Alice? ALICE? WHO THE F*CK IS ALICE?!!!” Now I am garnering some genuine respect for your generation sir! That was our sterling cry back in the day!

    We also had an Aussie band called “The Angels”. They weren’t angels, they were reprobates. Here’s a little article about our own quintessential version of what you were just talking about…
    The Search Is On To Find Who Came Up With The Angels Famous Chant
    “Am I ever gonna see your face again, no way get f*cked f*ck off”. The chant in the classic Angels song has become as well now as the song itself.

    Doc Neeson and Rick Brewster are putting out the challenge to find the person or persons that first came up with the line.

    At Undercover today, Doc and Rick said they have no idea who first started it.

    They know they first heard it in Mt Isa. “I was a bit shocked the first time. I didn’t know why we were being told to f*ck off,” Doc said. “After the show I jumped down into the audience and asked a guy why he was telling me to f*ck off. He said they were singing along to the song with the chant that started at a Blue Light disco. The DJ would stop the song and the crowd would sing the chant”.

    The “no way get f*cked f*ck off” chant has become legendary. Slash even wears a T-Shirt with the phrase.

    So, Doc and Rick would like to find out who started the whole thing. Who was the Blue Light DJ in Queensland all of those years ago who first started the chant? Are you out there? It is time for you to make yourself known and carve your name in Australian rock history.

    So you see…Aussies and White African’s seem to have developed (again…”develop” is most probably the wrong word in this context…even “evolved” is somewhat inappropriate and the conitation is that the participants are actually moving “forward” to somewhere when this is most certainly NOT the case and the 15 to 35 year old male is quite content to fall backwards, to drop sideways and to lay prone at any given time 😉 ). I guess that is why the quintessential “Aussie Bloke” is still alive and kicking in these politically correct times. We all have a distinct soft spot for them ;).

    • 23thorns says:

      We have the “y” and the “o” thing here too, especially in cricket. I’ve always loved the idea that these parragons of manly endeavour spend a healthy day outdoors calling each other stripper names and focusing all their attention on balls, before nipping off for a shower together.
      but we’re kind of fond of ours too.

  7. You are really good at getting people to lighten up. And one thing I noticed in NZ: they recycle our American music, and its not even our good music! AaaaaaaaHhhhhhhh! The one thing I hated while I was there. Other than that I loved NZ.

  8. How very recognizable!
    Alice, who f is Alice… Made it over to the Netherlands as well! We have some Dutch songs that get an extra Dutch refrain added to it when played in bars. And after a while, yes, you get so used to it that upon hearing these songs they don’t sound complete without shouting an answer.

  9. Marcia says:

    You are too cool for school, 23! And who the f*ck IS Alice? Maybe that should be the title of your book?

    • 23thorns says:

      Can’t do it. My mother will want to read it. And I’m already expecting a call about this post.

      • Marcia says:

        That’s what Moms are for. I know. I ARE one.


        Oh, well. It would have been an eye-catcher for sure. Now you’ll have to put zombies or werewolves on it to attract attention. Oh, wait. I guess that would just blend in with the crowd. Back to the drawing board.

  10. Harold Rhenisch says:

    Absolutely brilliant and sly!

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