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Roland The Headless Thompson Gunner by Warren Zevon

Album: Excitable BoyReleased: 1976
  • Zevon wrote this in Spain when he was playing at The Dubliner in Sitges, a bar owned by former mercenary David Lindell. Zevon and Lindell wrote the song together. In the booklet to Zevon's Anthology album, he had this to say about the song: "In 1974 I ran off to Spain and got a job in an Irish bar called the Dubliner, in Sitges, on the Costa Brava. The proprietor was a piratical ex-merc named David Lindell. He and I wrote this song at the bar one afternoon, over many jars."
  • This was the last song Zevon played live in front of an audience before he died. He performed it on The David Letterman Show; he intended on closing with "Mutineer," but Letterman wanted "Roland" to close the show, so Zevon sang "Mutineer" first, "Genius" and then closed with "Roland." Later, after Zevon died, Letterman did a tribute and re-ran the "Mutineer" segment, so Zevon did, indeed, play Mutineer last.
  • This song not historically accurate; there was a war in Biafra in 1966 and 1967, but Biafra is in Nigeria, not the Congo, and the Ibo were fighting, not the Bantu. It is, however, an excellent conception - maybe the only conception - of European mercenaries in Africa (including their assassinations by the CIA and hanging out drinking in bars). >>
    Suggestion credit:
    Karen - Brooklyn, NY
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Comments: 13

Do you suppose Roland kept tough by eating lots of lutefisk?Jennifer - Indiana
Sometimes our best entertainers achieve success after death. But the world *still* has not caught up with Warren Zevon, 13 years after his passing. High praise to his ex-wife Crystal, for keeping it together and putting out his biography. "I'll Sleep When I'm Dead" is not your average bio. Even if you know him only for the worn-out "Werewolves of London", give this book a read. You'll want to hear the songs once you've learned about them.
From "Renegade":
I'll be some old man in the road somewhere
Kneeling down in the dust by the side of the interstate

His life & times added up to so much more than this dreary image.
Jennifer - Indiana
There is an ancient poem about Roland: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Song_of_Roland , this could be an inspiration. As a Norwegian, I'm proud of him!Arne - Norway
I agree with you, Alek, I love those songs, but many lesser known songs are as good. "Tenderness on the Block" and the whole Excitable Boy album, plus his "come-back" album, Sentimental Hygiene. Great album.Eric - San Francisco, Ca
Since when was Che' considered a "freedom fighter?" Mercs are paid to do a job, regardless of the "rightness" of the side paying them.Rick - Hattiesburg, Ms
That's "swan-SONG," of course.
I don't think there is any such thing as a "swan-sing," unless maybe it's a rite of passage or a contest for waterfowl.
Smartalek - Boston, Ma
What Cody from PA said.
It's really ironic that such a phenomenal singer / songwriter is best known for a novelty song or three.
It's great that "Werewolves of London" was what first got the world's attention, and earned Mr Zevon a place in the musical firmament. It's great that he came up with brilliant tracks like "Lawyers, Guns, and Money," "Poor, Poor, Pitiful Me," and this one.
At the same time, it's a travesty that these remain his best-known works, and that most of the people who know him by these songs are largely (or completely) unaware of his more serious, and even more brilliant works, such as "Desperadoes Under the Eaves," "Tenderness on the Block," "Mohammed's Radio," "Accidentally, Like a Martyr," "Carmelita," "Hasten Down the Wind," "Backs Turned Looking Down the Path," "Mutineer," "Join Me in L.A.," and the most beautiful, heartbreaking, perfect swan-sing ever penned, "Keep Me in Your Heart."
Smartalek - Boston, Ma
When I hear this song. I think of any freedom fighter. Che Guevara stands out as one. A great song :)Devin - Anywhere, Pa
"I'm talking about the man." Roland is awesomeMaggy - Cincinnati, Oh
I wonder how many people remember who Patty Hearst was these days. Otherwise, Roland's a great song, knee deep in gore.Pat - Albuquerque, Nm
Zevon was clever with the twists and play of words but I was always confused on how a headless gunner could say a word before blowing away his enemy. Of course he didn't say a word! No head.Lalah - Wasilla, Ak
all of zevons songs are awesomazing he is way too underratedCody - Lititz, Pa
This song is amazingly awesome. It's awesomazing!Trey - Kalamazoo, Mt
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