Warren Zevon – Roland the Headless Thompson Gunner

09.22.2007 § Leave a comment

Listen here: http://www.box.net/shared/nejbp9vo56 

I’ll just say right out, I am not thoroughly knowledgeable about Mr. Zevon’s body of work. If I was ever smoking fake pot with him on a movie set, I would have shit to say to him, and would be forced to quickly divert the conversation to safe and familiar ground such as toast and jam. Unfortunately, since the man has passed on, I only have smoking real pot with a guy who looks like him to look forward to (same goes for ole Mitch, too, come to think of it). This is just one of those many tunes that my dad often played for me when I was younger.

I do, at least, feel qualified to say that this song is uncompromisingly bad-ass, and a great sing-along. Whenever I hear the piano intro, I drop everything and begin to make an ass of myself. Except every once in a while I gotta shut the fuck up so I can remember how it’s properly sung. I mean, each and every line is delivered with just the right amount of dryness or passion or pride or contempt. And this man had a sexy voice, I will just go ahead and say that much, the way he lets out his breath after every line, like “gun-uh” “head-uh” etc. Inspiring.

And I could go on and on about the lyrics, so I guess I will! – from the first verse, “midnight sun” vs. “dark & stormy day,” both conflicting images of brightness and darkness, but inverted by time of day and characteristic of that time – the dry bitter sarcasm in “to help out the Congolese” – the incompleteness of the government’s logic in killing Roland, and then the analogous incompleteness of Roland’s revenge, like just yanking a weed – the amusingly obvious yet still ominous “he didn’t say a word” hahaha – and I love how the chorus evolves – how the second chorus, after his murder, is such a fanfare – yet the third chorus, after his revenge, is unsettlingly sparse and somber, with that lone organ in the distance – and, of course, the maddening abstracted contradiction and bleak historical commentary of the last line, which I used to hate, actually, but now I appreciate that it MAKES the song.

Incidentally this was the last song Warren ever performed, on the Late Show, at David Letterman’s personal request. I was fortunate enough to catch it that night, though this was, of course, before it was his last performance. If you’d like, here is the youTube link:


So, Zevon fans, where should I turn after Excitable Boy?


Roland was a warrior from the land of the midnight sun,
with a Thompson gun for hire and fighting to be done.
The deal was made in Denmark on a dark and stormy day,
so he set out for Biafra to join the bloody fray.

Through ’66 and ‘7, they fought the Congo war,
with their fingers on their triggers, knee-deep in gore.
For days and nights they battled the Bantu to their knees.
They killed to earn their living and to help out the Congolese.

Roland the Thompson gunner…
Roland the Thompson gunner…

His comrades fought beside him – Van Owen and the rest –
but of all the Thompson gunners, Roland was the best.
So the CIA decided they wanted Roland dead;
that son-of-a-bitch Van Owen blew off Roland’s head.

Roland the headless Thompson gunner, Norway’s bravest son!
(time, time, time for another peaceful war, but time stands still for Roland ’til he evens up the score)
They can still see his headless body stalking through the night,
in the muzzle flash of Roland’s Thompson gun…
in the muzzle flash of Roland’s Thompson gun.

Roland searched the continent for the man who’d done him in.
He found him in Mombassa in a barroom drinking gin.
Roland aimed his Thompson gun – he didn’t say a word –
but he blew Van Owen’s body from there to Johannesburg.

Roland the headless Thompson gunner…
Roland the headless Thompson gunner…
Roland the headless Thompson gunner… (talkin’ about the man)
Roland the headless Thompson gunner…

The eternal Thompson gunner, still wandering through the night –
now it’s ten years later but he still keeps up the fight
in Ireland, in Lebanon, in Palestine and Berkeley.
Patty Hearst heard the burst of Roland’s Thompson gun and bought it.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

What’s this?

You are currently reading Warren Zevon – Roland the Headless Thompson Gunner at cmloegcmluin.


%d bloggers like this: