Roland was a warrior
From the Land of the Midnight Sun
With a Thompson Gun for hire
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
The 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
Time Time Time for another week of war

Norway's bravest son
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 bar room drinkin' Gin
Roland aimed his Thompson Gun
He didn't say a word
But he blew Van Owen's body
From there to Johanasburg.

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 wanderin through the night
Now it's ten years later
But he still keeps up the fight
In Ireland, In Lebanon
In Palastine and Berkley
Patty Hurst
Heard the burst
Of Roland's Thompson Gun
And bought it.

Lyrics submitted by palmdogg10, edited by Thisbear, RockyMcNut, Loraqs

Roland the Headless Thompson Gunner Lyrics as written by David Eric Lindell Warren William Zevon

Lyrics © Universal Music Publishing Group

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Roland the Headless Thompson Gunner song meanings
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  • +4
    General CommentHow do these stories with just the slightest grain of truth get started? Warren was not a mercenary. In the mid '70's, he moved to Sitges, Spain. He wound up living and playing regularly at a bar called "The Dubliner". It was owned by a character named David Lindell. Now, Lindell was a former mercenary. Together they wrote , "Roland The Headless Thompson Gunner". As far as the final line that reads, " Patty Hearst
    heard the burst of Roland's Thompson Gun and bought it. I believe "...and bought it" means that after she was kidnapped by the guerrilla group "The Symbionese Liberation Army", she literally "bought it". She "bought it" in the sense of adopting the SLA's beliefs and philosophies. She definitely had not "bought it" in the sense of "buying the farm" or "dying in battle" as some have alluded to. She took part in a bank robbery at the Hibernia Bank in San Francisco. She wielded a M1 carbine during the robbery. Later she assumed the pseudonym 'Tania' after Che Guevara's closest female confidant. Psychiatrists said she was a victim of Stockholm Syndrome. She was sentenced to 35 years in jail, but her sentence was commuted by Jimmy Carter and she was released from jail after serving a mere 22 months. She was later given a full pardon by Bill Clinton. Most of all, what a great song.
    Skitrow8on January 29, 2013   Link
  • +4
    General CommentThis song is black comedy like so many Zevon songs. It contrasts the heroic image of soldiers and war that his generation received from their WW2 generation parents with the ugly realities of modern dirty proxy wars. Remember that the country is completely disillusioned in 1978 with the CIA and the cold war proxy wars in Vietnam and other "third world" countries. The story of the the life and death of a single mercenary soldier. Was he defending his country? Why did he want to go to Africa and kill for money? Very dark. the heroic tone of the music is ironic, yet we are drawn into a sympathy, especially when the CIA beheads him and he becomes a legend. Roland is just a bit of a psychopath who wanted to kill and he ends up dying at the hands of larger mor organized psychopath group, the CIA.
    jedkuon April 14, 2013   Link
  • +2
    General CommentWZ co-wrote this song with an ex-mercenary he met while he was living in Spain.
    SunKingon May 07, 2005   Link
  • +1
    General CommentMy favorite song of his! The classic historical fiction.
    Defyenceon January 16, 2005   Link
  • +1
    General CommentI like this song, It's another genius work of a genius musician. Most of the things that they talk about did happen, but I’m not sure if the years on the Congo war or the timeline in general works out. The events do, the mercenaries being hired to fight and bring about political action through fighting. The cia being in it's most whacked-out "do anything to stop the commies" phase, which led it to do at least a little just about everywhere in the world. so on the first level it is about politcal change via violent revolutions. That would be the "Palestine” and so on. On the second level I think that the song owes something to the "headless horseman.” I think that this is intentional because the Thompson fires a .45 acp round, which has a lot of head hurting potential, but not enough to blow your head all the way off. So in “the headless horseman” the horseman was a hessian mercenary fighting against people that weren't his enemies, and fighting for a country that wasn't his. Besides that I think it stops though. The mercenary of Roland and van Owen just about all do what they do for profit. "They fought to earn their living" and van Owen presumably didn't just do the cia a favor in killing Roland. So if it's money that they are fightin for, what fight does Roland carry on? The fight to get rich in war? Or just the fight of soldiers and mercanaries fighting because they can and they can help themselves by doing it? They fight to bring about political change, that is true, but really they just fight for the pay. And that patty hurst, the most notorious picture of her on the public record is her robbing a bank. Sure, robbing a bank for an organization that was trying to bring about violent change, but in robbing a bank she is still just trying to get rich while fighting the political battle.
    flamingamoon May 04, 2009   Link
  • +1
    General Comment"That son-of-a-bitch Van Owen blew off Roland's head."
    For some reason that is one of the funniest verses I have ever heard and seems like a good example of Zevon's macabre wit. The conclusion of the song, about violence as a way to achieve their goals.
    forpson September 14, 2009   Link
  • +1
    General CommentAlthough the deal was made in Denmark, Roland was a norwegian! (Norway's bravest son.) Her is a translation from Norwegian to English of the ancient Roland Poem:…
    This ancient poem exists in many variations around Europe. I think Zevon's song is inspired og this poem. Why WZ chose Norway as Rolands homeland I'm not shure, but maybe it is a comment to the Nobel Peace Prize that Norway has the responsibility for giving out. All the other Nobel prizes has the Swedes responsibility for!
    arnkalon August 02, 2012   Link
  • +1
    General CommentCoulda sworn "Poor Poor Pitiful Me" was Warren's second-best-known song, but that's not important. What *is* important is that Warren was a mercenary in his youth, and songs like "Jungle Work" are semi-autobiographical in nature. Roland wasn't a real person, but is a mixture of several people, as was "that SOB Van Owen." Lots of supposedly educated people like to read things into songs and books that just aren't there. This is one of those cases. This is a simple story of warfare and revenge, to the tune of a Thompson submachine gun. And the term "bought it" refers to "buying the farm," or dying in battle. Seems Roland still doesn't like Commies, even after death. Save the overly erudite nonsense for Wikipedia -- I understand they love that kind of thing over there.
    DukeWon September 21, 2011   Link
  • 0
    General CommentThis is a great song someone tell me what it means!!!!!!!!
    travelerbird123on January 22, 2005   Link
  • 0
    General CommentIt's an ode to the Thompson (machine) gun.
    Even Patty Hearst (kidnapped and brainwashed heiress) used one in SLF bank heist in the '70's.
    I wonder if his acid trips prompted these nightmarish visions.
    chrisb1on January 30, 2005   Link

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