Tag Archives: Harry J Anslinger

LYRICS // Harry J (Gunslinger) (2000)

Harry J. Anslinger was first Commissioner of the US Federal Bureau of Narcotics (FBN) for 32 years, and is widely considered to be America’s first ‘drug czar‘. He is best known for his extreme campaign against cannabis, which followed in the wake of the collapse of prohibition. He is a very significant figure in the history of the development of not only America’s domestic and international drug policies, but also on the drug policies of many other nations.

His position on illicit narcotics and its users often reflected the endemic racism prevalent across the US at the time. Key quotes from him include “[Marijuana is taken by] musicians. And I’m not speaking about good musicians, but the jazz type…”, “Marihuana leads to pacifism and communist brainwashing” and “Reefer makes darkies think they’re as good as white men.”

During the nineties, as my reading lists grew in scope and scale, I became interested in what’s generally termed as ‘drug literature‘. I regarded writers such as William Burroughs (see also here) and Aldous Huxley as literary outlaws and explorers, pioneering across the wild frontiers of human consciousness. Naturally, I also came across Anslinger’s name a number of times during this period.

This song contains a number of allusions to the contradictions of a prohibition-inclined America which was founded on the principles of liberty and the freedom of the individual and which was also had a history of travelling medicine shows and a hemp-growing president (George Washington). It also links these themes with a childhood true story of mine about witnessing the evacuation of a local circus during a Christmas-time flood (the idea coming from the similarites between medicine shows and circuses).

‘Homing stool pigeon’ was another pun that I’d been waiting to use for ages and it seemed to fit in this song. Harry catching ‘it all on video’ refers to surveillance culture, more developed nowadays than in Anslinger’s time, but not exactly something new. The chorus paraphrases the chants that were used by the anti-Vietnam War protesters against President Johnson, originally being ‘Hey, hey LBJ! How many kids did you kill today?’

This is my favourite of all the songs that were written and recorded by The Zamora. It was one where all the musicians made a significant contribution to the creation of the song, I was proud of the lyrics and also had an interesting effect put on my voice during the recording which made it sound a little ‘not of its time’. I’ve always been most impressed with Steve and Justin’s guitar work on this track too.

In the version that was put on the ‘Pigeon Souvenirs‘ anthology, I also included a number of samples from Alfred Hitchcock‘s ‘North By Northwest‘, which fitted well with the slightly paranoid noir feel of the song. ‘Pigeon Souvenirs’ can be listened to in full when the site for The Zamora is redeveloped to include an online jukebox. In the meantime, the original version can be downloaded here.

Photo of Steve by Dan Paton.

Harry J (Gunslinger)

When I was just a boy, I looked out of my window during floodtime.
And watched the animals pass, down the street past my house, in a straight line.
Although I’m older now, I still look out with the same eyes,
If they evacuate the circus again, I won’t be surprised.

Hey hey, Harry J, how many guys d’you bust today?
Hey hey, Harry J, you’re living on in us today.

The other day Sonny got his hands on a homing stool pigeon.
Turned out to be the wrong king of place to hide his pills in.
He got it off the back of a travelling medicine show,
And Harry stuck around to catch it all on video.

Hey hey, Harry J, how many guys d’you bust today?
Hey hey, Harry J, you’re living on with us today, so come on.

The other day Sonny got his hands on a homing stool pigeon.
Turned out to be the wrong king of place to hide his pills in.
He got it off the back of a travelling medicine show,
And Harry stuck around to catch it all on video.

Hey hey, Harry J, how many guys d’you bust today?
Hey hey, Harry J, you’re living on with us today, so come on.

When I was just a boy, I looked out of my window during floodtime,
And watched the animals pass, down the street past my house, in a straight line.
Although I’m older now, I still look out with the same eyes,
So if they evacuate the circus again, I won’t be surprised.

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Filed under 2000, Lyrics, The Zamora