Occupantsby Henry Rollins
For the past twenty-five years, Henry Rollins has searched out the most desolate corners of the Earthfrom Iraq to Afghanistan, Thailand to Mali, and beyondarticulating his observations through music and words, on radio and television, and in magazines and books. Though he’s known for the raw power of his expression, Rollins has shown that the
For the past twenty-five years, Henry Rollins has searched out the most desolate corners of the Earthfrom Iraq to Afghanistan, Thailand to Mali, and beyondarticulating his observations through music and words, on radio and television, and in magazines and books. Though he’s known for the raw power of his expression, Rollins has shown that the greatest statements can be made with the simplest of acts: to just bear witness, to be present.
In Occupants, Rollins invites us to do the same. The book pairs Rollins’s visceral full-color photographstaken in Bangladesh, Burma, Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Northern Ireland, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, and elsewhere over the last few yearswith writings that not only provide context and magnify the impact of the images but also lift them to the level of political commentary. Simply put, this book is a visual testimony of anger, suffering, and resilience. Occupants will help us realize what is so easy to miss when tragedy and terror become numbing, constant forcesthe quieter, stronger forces of healing, solidarity, faith, and even joy.
“Punk-rock icon. Spoken word poet. Actor. Author. DJ. Is there anything this guy can’t do?” —Entertainment Weekly
"A whirlwind of gutting impressions to global cultures, Occupants unhinges what we know about being citizens of the world while challenging our conceptions."
"It's an impressive collection built entirely out of Rollins' desire to expose readers to corners of the world they may otherwise never see." —Wired.com
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Photographs and Writings
By Henry Rollins
Chicago Review Press IncorporatedCopyright © 2011 Henry Rollins
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The enduring power of Father's love. Sometimes Father seems angry. It can at times be extremely difficult, if not impossible, to understand what demons and dragons thunder inside Father's head, but you must. Father struggles so you will not have to. Whatever pain and hardship you endure, you must know that Father has been subjected to much worse. No matter how bad things seem, you must understand that you are living in better times. You may never understand why Father did what he did. You will read things about millions starving to death, mothers slaughtering their own children to feed the rest of the family. Not genocide! Sacrifice. What greatness can come without it? Civilizations that were not prepared for great and sustained sacrifice were doomed. History bears this out. The monumental effort of Father, who has given so much, must never be lost on you. No matter how heavily the pain and sadness of the recent past may weigh on your heart, this all-consuming and overwhelming sorrow is felt more by Father than you could ever know. It is not for you to question. It is only for you to be thankful and ready when you are called. You owe Father everything. There is only one question you should ask: How can I do more?
Welcome, my friend. By the grace of almighty God, you have given me purpose. You have given me a reason to live and a reason to die just as your ancestors gave to my ancestors. I am sure that in your wide and wonderful America, you must have history books that tell of the thousands of men who have come to conquer this land, only to meet their deaths. These men who have come over the centuries were brave, and some could have even fought alongside us. These brave and rugged sons gave their all yet still their lives ended here. Their bones, now turning to dust, are littered all over this country. We are a nation of warriors. It is what we know. You are soft men who need to be trained to fight. We are born to fight. If you are lucky and your god smiles upon you, you will go back to your America to embrace the members of your trembling, tearful family and to tell them of my land — and of your bravery. You will not tell of the fear you displayed so abundantly here as you vomited from altitude sickness, exhaustion, and cowardice while on patrol. You will tell of the great cold and the scattered landmines and the ruggedness of the terrain, but all the while you will think to yourself that this is a land you could never live in, never tame, never conquer. You will admit that this wild and dangerous land is neither wild nor dangerous to us; it is merely our home. It is all we know. We pray for the opportunity to die while killing the invader. You will lie about your exploits as you belittle the people of my land. You will call us filthy and insane, fanatical and animalistic, but you will also know that we are stronger than you are. You will admit that this land that you find so uninhabitable — as did Alexander, the Mongols, the British, the Soviets, and other would-be conquerors — this land that I have called my home for centuries, was too much for you. When you kill a dozen of us and we kill one of you, we consider it a victory because one invader has been vanquished. As for the warriors of ours that you kill, they were only born to meet your bullets. Their lives were perfect, and their deaths only inspire families to grow and our warriors to become even more courageous in battle. Someday, there will be history books in America that tell stories of how many brave men from your green and fertile country came here, year after year, to die. The books will tell of how thousands of our warriors met their deaths and how a much smaller number of your sweating, well-fed, terrified soldiers met theirs. The books will tell the reader of your great victory over my people. The books will not tell of how your soldiers screamed like women giving birth as they bled into our land, of how they begged for their mothers as stones smashed their skulls to pieces and their brains came out. But you know the truth is a much different story. After you claim victory and finally leave, we will still be here, stronger than before and waiting for your fat children to come here to be killed. Every day we survive, we are victorious; every day we die, we are victorious. If you kill us all, we will have achieved complete victory. This is why you will never win. You are not righteous. You are weak, as is your god, as is your purpose in life. You are invaders and you will always lose. We are history. We are centuries. We are thousands of warriors. We are endless battles and pain you cannot imagine. We are grief, the depths of which you can never fathom. We are loss you could never recover from. We are not leaving. You are. As soon as you arrive here, you have already lost. Your commanders know this but will not tell you. History knows this and begs you to listen, but you do not and so you come here to die. Your leaders who send you here know nothing of battle and apparently nothing of history. America's history is that of endless defeat, failure, and lies. Many is the time you have claimed victory when in fact you were not victorious. You not only lost the battles and the wars, but you have also lost the world. Everyone everywhere knows who their true enemy is. It is you. America wakes up in the morning, defeated, in debt, weaker and more frightened than the day before. Meanwhile, we are here. We wait for you. We pray to our god for the chance to kill you and the chance to die while doing so. Welcome, welcome my friend. We have been expecting you.
Futures, curses, silences. I load them into chambers and blow my brains out over and over, only to find my mind is in the same place it's always been. I am stuck in my life. I used to live it, now it lives me. My consciousness is a predator and I am its prey. Sleep is my enemy. I am unable to control the monsters. Sleep fights for possession of my mind every waking moment. I battle sleep. I resist hallucination. I want to put my brains in a bucket. I want to put them on the floor. I want to put them on the ceiling. I remember the screams of men. I remember them smashing their heads into the walls of their cells. Their screams have found me and have become my own. I can't stand what the quiet of the evening puts me through. I can't stay in bed. I can't leave the house. The lives I took have brought me here. If it were a lonely place, then I could think of someone to talk to, someone to beg for forgiveness. I can't. They're all dead. I'm so young. Life is so long. You will never see it in my face, but I am terrified of what I am. I am terrified of what I will do if you move too quickly. I told my wife that if she knows that I can kill her, that I will kill her in order to control a situation I don't understand, then we can stay together. She left three weeks ago. Meds keep me pretty straight, but I'm always ready.
Highway 80 is rock & roll. Things are quiet now. You're alone. The door is locked. You can put the gun down. You won. It's over. They're all dead. You are good. They were bad. That is why they all had to die. The dreams that rip you from your sleep, the hallucinations, the flashbacks — it will all pass. When you're feeling bad, just think of the desert. Think of the blond sand and blue sky. Imagine the warm wind washing over you. Feel better now that the screams have faded and the sand has covered the bones? It's been years now and, I know, it feels like yesterday. You have to think of all this as part of your past. You did what needed to be done. I know that sometimes it's hard to justify your existence and there have been many times when you thought of killing yourself. I know that sometimes you think what you did was wrong. Those moments of doubt will fade. You remember all the body parts strewn all over the road? Death from above! How did that feel? Laying down all that fire, knowing you wouldn't get so much as a scratch and that you would be back at base for dinner? That's how you win, son. You did good. I know that sometimes you don't feel so good about it, but that's OK. Sometimes you just take your orders and carry them out to the best of your ability. See what I'm saying, son? It wasn't you who killed the thousands who were retreating, running for their lives. It was the orders that killed them! And the people who gave the orders? They don't know your name and, believe me, they're not losing any sleep over some meaningless statistic from the sandbox! You might as well put it all behind you because it's too late to make it better and it really doesn't matter anyway. People have been throwing stones at each other for centuries, son!
Vigilance. In order to achieve victory, you need to shut down certain parts of your rational mind and focus on the objective. No matter how often you engage the element, neutralize the target, and minimize losses, there are many things you need to ignore. You may find this difficult at first. It's because you don't understand how vulnerable America is to attack and how fiercely her way of life must be defended, even if it means spending years in countries thousands of miles away from your home. As soon as you rise to that challenge, your orders are no longer orders, they are your life; the rest, as you will come to find out, doesn't matter to anyone but the bean counters and the elite. Now and then, you might wake up alone in some shallow hole or a bunk and it will hit you that everything around you is completely insane and you are losing your mind. It's just not true. You're fine. In fact, you're better than fine: you're good to go. You are because you were ordered to be so and therefore you are. See how that works? Good deal. You think too much out here and you could die. It's hard not to think about things as the hours pass so slowly by. In the quiet moments, it's almost too much to take. You can start to wonder why the hell you're here and what will this place look like after you have achieved victory. You may start to think of previous conflicts that soldiers before you fought and wonder if they ever wondered about these things. You wonder if people tell themselves they won a war just so they don't have to face the fact that they were merely cannon fodder. No. It's just not true. You are here for a reason. You are here to protect the freedom of your country, thousands of miles away. It seems a little suspect, the idea of a bunch of broke-ass citizens on motorbikes actually being a threat to your native country, but there you go thinking again, daydreaming when you should be furthering the spread of democracy, no matter how many doors you have to kick down or men you have to throw onto the ground as their terrified family trembles in the corner. They know that you're bringing freedom. They might not reveal their gratitude all at once. So don't worry about that. You've got bigger things to deal with. Do not listen to the talk about the increase in soldier suicides. Make no mention of the surge in divorces of enlisted Americans. Don't whine on the way to victory. We're so close. See that rainbow? March to the end of it. Victory is there. It is almost upon us. It will have been worth all of this.
As long as you're spending money, you keep the lights on. As long as the lights are on, the illusion of prosperity burns brightly. As long as someone is getting paid more than most, the rest will fight to preserve the illusion that one day their time will come. All you need to do is say that you know what you're doing and millions will believe you. They won't even bother listening to the entirety of your rap; they will scurry back to their daydream and let you steer. They will breed prodigiously and hurl their offspring into the gnashing gears of whatever war machine you want to start up anywhere you want to start it. All you need to do is tell them that this is the way and look good while doing it. Get a good suit and a haircut, make sure to shave, then get out there, scare the hell out of them, and sell them the way out. They'll buy it every time. How do you think Hitler got so many young people to join his army? He made the uniforms look really cool. You gotta learn to sell. Once you do that, the world becomes your biggest, most loyal, and most frequent customer. Graveyards are full of what they are willing to barter with.
The drift. Some were born to lead, some were born to follow. There is a natural order to things. Everyone, despite protest and intellectual vexation, knows this is true. Philosophers be damned to extinction for daring to even utter a word in disagreement. This is the one truth that cannot be disputed. It supersedes religion, spirituality, custom, and tradition. It is as old as life itself. Governments come and go as history repeats itself and mankind strives for perfection through mindless repetition. Armies fight and die, leaving their blood in the dirt to maintain this natural order. There are those who attempt to disrupt the order. They use propaganda to marshal their forces to do their bidding. The campaign to spread Democracy has worked for centuries. The propagation of this weak and hypocritical construct gives governments and the multinational corporations they so willingly serve the inspiration to do whatever it takes to enslave as many as they can. You do understand who is in charge here, don't you? I hope you are not so stupid as to think you live in a free republic and that your government serves you. Your government serves. It just doesn't serve you. Is it possible that the "tyrant" had more integrity than the benevolent guardians of Democracy? Makes you think, doesn't it? Imagine a country invading another country, then having the temerity to set up a makeshift courtroom to enact a charade of justice so grotesquely flawed that the proceedings play out like the worst television show ever broadcast. And then the "tyrant" is hanged and the whole country he oppressed, now in the jaws of Democracy, goes to complete shit. Read that again — COMPLETE SHIT. These global custodians, these deliverers of Democracy, stole from their own funds, lied, murdered, raped, tortured, and did everything that their beloved Democracy was supposed to protect against. And since they did it under the cloak of Democracy, they were never exposed to the justice they were there to instigate. Now, the world's population is not an unobservant group. They are cognitive beings, able to assess situations and come to their own conclusions, and often they are pretty spot-on. The world's population has seen what there is to see — well, enough of it — and they have come to their conclusions. Most of the world's population may be followers, but that doesn't mean they are stupid. There are no "covert operations" as there is nothing that is truly classified. The only people who think so are the ones still living in a James Bond film. The world is a very transparent place. The human story is not a new one. That is to say, there are no new motivations under the sun. There are no secrets.
Men beat their women and the women stay. People are held hostage and protect their captors, sometimes even joining them. Stalin killed millions of his own people and those who survived mourned his death. It's your country, right or wrong. Through good times and bad, you show your support. Through every coup, installation of a puppet dictator, assassination, and scandal — it's still your country. When it comes to your homeland, there is only do or die. OK, well, there is also do or have other priorities. There's also do or don't show up and have your father cover for your ass. Otherwise, it's do or die all the way.
Excerpted from Occupants by Henry Rollins. Copyright © 2011 Henry Rollins. Excerpted by permission of Chicago Review Press Incorporated.
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Meet the Author
Henry Rollins joined the Southern California band Black Flag as vocalist in 1981. Upon its demise, he formed Rollins Band, and has been making records, writing books, and touring the world ever since. Rollins has averaged over one hundred shows a year for over 30 years. He also performs in movies and TV shows and hosts a weekly LA radio show.
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