Jump to content

Roland the Headless Thompson Gunner

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

"Roland the Headless Thompson Gunner"
Song by Warren Zevon
from the album Excitable Boy
Songwriter(s)Warren Zevon, David Lindell

"Roland the Headless Thompson Gunner" is a song composed by Warren Zevon and David Lindell[1] and performed by Zevon. It was included on Zevon's 1978 album Excitable Boy, and while never released as a single became a fan favorite. It was the last song he performed in front of an audience, during an October 2002 appearance on The Late Show with David Letterman, before his death in 2003.[2]

About the song[edit]

Zevon met co-writer Lindell in 1973 in Sitges, Spain, where the latter was running a bar, the Dubliner, after a stint working as a mercenary in Africa.[3] Always interested in the darker side of life, Zevon decided to collaborate with Lindell on a song about a mercenary.

The fictional character Roland is a Norwegian who becomes embroiled in the aftermath of the Nigerian Civil War and Congo Crisis of the 1960s. The lyrics mention a "Congo war" and the years 1966 and 1967, which correspond to the mercenary-led Kisangani Mutinies after the Congo Crisis. He earns a reputation as the greatest Thompson gunner, and subsequently attracts the attention of the CIA. Roland is betrayed and murdered by a fellow mercenary named Van Owen, who blows off his head. Roland becomes the phantom "headless Thompson gunner" and eventually has his revenge, when he catches Van Owen in a Mombasa bar and guns him down. Afterward, he continues "wandering through the night". Other violent conflicts of the succeeding decade are said to be haunted by Roland, including Ireland; Lebanon; Palestine; and Berkeley, California, and the song concludes with the suggestion that the Patty Hearst controversy was inspired by Roland as well.

Musicians on the track were Zevon (vocals, piano, organ); Waddy Wachtel (guitar); Bob Glaub (bass guitar); and Russell Kunkel (drums). Backing vocals were provided by an ad-hoc ensemble called The Gentlemen Boys, which included Zevon, Wachtel, Jackson Browne, Jorge Calderón, Kenny Edwards, and J. D. Souther.

Film reference[edit]

The song is a favorite of screenwriter David Koepp. He named the big-game hunter in The Lost World: Jurassic Park "Roland Tembo" as a reference to the song, and then "thought it would be fun to make his nemesis' last name Van Owen, like in the song", thus leading to the name of the protagonists being Nick Van Owen.[4]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Leigh, Spencer (September 9, 2003). "Warren Zevon Singer-songwriter author of 'Werewolves of London'". The Independent. Archived from the original on April 23, 2009. Retrieved April 1, 2009.
  2. ^ "Zevon performs on Letterman". Late Show with David Letterman. October 30, 2002. CBS. Archived from the original on December 21, 2021 – via YouTube.
  3. ^ Marsh, Dave (November 2002). "Warren Zevon on the Loose in Los Angeles". Rolling Stone. Archived from the original on October 1, 2007. Retrieved April 1, 2009.
  4. ^ "Movie Answer Man, Roger Ebert / December 27, 1998". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved May 7, 2008.

External links[edit]