Do Every Thing Wrong!: XXXTentacion Against the World (We Heard You Like Books, 2018)
cw: contains discussion of intimate partner violence, structural racism and other biographical details of XXXTentacion as Kobek depicts them in his book. Also usual cw apply for suicide ideation, mental illness
Seriously seriously for real for real, I would be genuinely offended if Kobek hasn’t sold at least one more copy of at least one of his books over the past few months since I’ve been regularly slobbering over [the currently in print[on demand?] parts of] his oeuvre on this mess of a mental health scrapbook that I a-historically continue to maintain as a “blog”…
(((right, y’know? Who blogs? I mean I don’t know, I’d never read a blog, of course I wouldn’t, it’d be like listening to music via a record player, it would be like driving a non electric car, or thinking that centrist economic policies could ever offer the meaningful societal change that is desperately needed by the world; it’d be weird, old fashioned and would seem like a bleak and bizarrely chosen affectation, right???
-(((if you, reader of a blog, feeeeel insulted by those comments then I am so so sorry you feel that way but maybe read on and forget about your own little life for a while, y’know?
(((You clicked the link! I didn’t ask you to be here (it’s been a long time since I’ve ever directly requested someone read my blog irl (it used to happen sometimes in the small hours, remember those?), but it’s been a long time since I’d’ve wanted to))))
I read another book by Jarett Kobek and, of course, it was important. They all are, tho (of course) to varying degrees of importance.
Only Americans Burn In Hell is a perfect, flawless, raucously experimental and contemporary version of a post (“post” as in “in the time of”, obvs) internet novel.
I Hate The Internet is that, too, but slightly less and also less recent.
Soft and Cuddly is a fascinating piece on censorship and early personal computers and the rise of tech giants and the destruction of the internet as a result.
The Future Won’t Be Long is a less ambitious – technically – text, but remains the greatest example of a particular type of novel (“the great American novel”) I have read for many years (tho I don’t read many of that type of book any more and maybe Kobek’s wasn’t actually that great and I just undersell myself and actually I’d love shit mainstream realist novels if I only gave them a chance again?);
ATTA is hard to describe in a sentence but is perfect and brilliant and devastating and deals with terrifying recent history in a pointed yet far from simple manner.
Kobek’s books on the Zodiac Killer are a pair and are great, though less about the internet than his other books are about the internet (because the Zodiac Killer predates the internet, dorks) but similarly about knowledge systems, archives, study, pop culture, cruelty and the pursuit of fame. They’re all good. There are also some other books that I haven’t yet read, but not many (not enough).
kinda stalking jarett kobek
For a long time I have been trying to work out if We Heard You Like Books, the publisher of the vast majority of Kobek’s books, was a self-publishing venture or an entity that was distinct yet a big fan of Kobek (like this blog (i.e. Jarett Kobek does not endorse these comments)), but I finally got my answer while reading this book: in the adminny page of legalese type detail at the front of Do Every Thing Wrong!, Kobek includes a phrase I had yet to see in any of his other texts, informing me that We Heard You Like Books Inc is a division of a different company.
And that company had a legal name and a legal address.
Immediately (I was on a train at the time, so the reception was ropey; I was travelling between a meeting and an office and so I was bored and stuck and feeling the need for some spice, some friction, some potentially regrettable decisions (god I’d love to have the pleasing nuance of a fresh regret rather than the colossal and unanalysable mass of a life I wish wasn’t mine, whoops) I hit up an off-brand American version of Companies House and located said company’s personnel details.
There was a phone number (I didn’t call it… I haven’t called it – yet) and the name of a sole company director.
That sole company director was none other than my favourite writer – and yours? – currently working in the English language: one Jarett freakin’ Kobek.
Now, of course, the next thing I did – inspired by the investigative processes Kobek used to – potentially – locate and prove the identity of California’s own Zodiac Killer – was ascertain whether this address – tied to Kobek by the legal parent of We Heard You Like Books and by that weird business directory I found online – was a domestic address or just a PO box (or whatever those are called in America) where Kobek happened to have registered his business.
This is a screenshot of the exterior of the building as shown on Google StreetView:
It is a UPS.
This is not where Kobek lives (unless he lives in a tiny tiny room above a UPS which is home to around 40 other businesses), but it is a legal and postal address associated with him.
The next thing I did – because I’m working full time at the moment (I know, I shouldn’t be, it’s poison for the soul) so I have no qualms about potentially wasting £30 (inc. postage and packaging) – was hit up brokensleepbooks.com and make a package of my acclaimed essay collection the pleasure of regret and my woefully underread masterpiece hip-hop-o-crit and send them – as fast as the web store’s postage options would permit – to the address I now had linking We Heard You Like Books and Jarett Kobek.
Will my works make it into the hands of my (current) favourite writer (I remain my own favourite poet), or will the package just be incinerated as standard among a pile of bills, physical spam and the other indie books that weirdos like me send to Kobek through the mail at this publicly available associated address???
I didn’t add a note or a description or a dedication.
The books aren’t signed, there’s no personalisation.
Does Kobek still check this mailbox? Did he ever check it? Do Every Thing Wrong! was published in 2018, so five years have passed and maybe the lease on that mailbox, that “suite”, has elapsed…
Maybe my beautiful books will be binned, burned, recycled, those copies never read, never glanced at, never opened.
Buuuuut – and it’s a £30 (what’s that in USD, maybe like $32 or something, we’re basically at dollar parity, right?) gamble I felt worth it in every sense…
maybe, just maybe, the greatest living prose practitioner currently working in the English language might read one – or two! – of my books, and he might tolerate one (or both), enjoy one (or both), and unless Kobek explicitly reaches out to contact me (I’m easy to find – I’ve been here at least once pretty much every week for almost exactly ten years (I know that’s nothing to brag about!)) and tells me that he thought they were shit, he hated them, he thinks I’m the worst writer the world has ever seen and he hopes I never read a word of his prose ever again because it isn’t for scum like me – unless that happens, then I can live forever (tho I hope forever isn’t that long (I would love to be dead)!) knowing that maybe – just maybe – Jarett Kobek, the greatest writer currently working in the English language, might have read and, maybe, liked some of my work.
I was not familiar with the work or life of XXXTentacion before cracking open Kobek’s book, and all I knew about this text was what I’d read about it in Kobek’s later masterpiece, Only Americans Burn In Hell, i.e. that the subject of the book was “controversial” and that by discussing him in a nuanced – or at least non-damning – manner, Kobek had done his own career no favours.
I’m guessing you, reader (i’m presuming you’re here because of kobek rather than his subject?), are even less familiar than I am with contemporary hip-hop.
I’m guessing you’re either too young to have learned that blogs aren’t cool, or too old – and this is the one I really think you are – too old to notice and/or care that the world has moved on from the way you used to engage with the internet, prior to the invention of streaming, broadband, fibre optic broadband, mobile internet, 5G, whatever, and that you still think blogs are hip.
(((I bet you still have a blu ray player plugged into a television, right? I bet you remember floppy disks, don’t you? I bet you think I’m relatively young, don’t you? I worry you think you’re hip because you read this ongoing mental health diary from a younger-than-you poet?
(((I’m not hip: I’m old, over the hill, rusted, busted, done, dead in every way that matters but not the one that counts, useless, pointless, empty, haunted. I didn’t even know who XXXTentacion was until I read a literary essay about him. He’s one of the 100 most played artists on Spotify! And I knew nothing! (I don’t know if that’s most played this week, this month, this year, all time on the Spotify platform? I don’t know and I bet you don’t either!))))
So, ok, roight,
XXXTentacion was a “SoundCloud rapper” – like Chance the Rapper, who we have all heard of (we don’t, we don’t, we don’t, we don’t write the same blogs no more, or something like that?) – but unlike Chance the Rapper, XXXTentacion was, in his free time, a serial abuser of women, possibly a rapist, someone who stabbed multiple people, someone who beat others to a pulp and who was, eventually, shot in the neck by someone else from the disorganised crime scenes he was involved with.
His violence against intimate partners, friends, peers and strangers is documented in video, photography and statements/affidavits given to police and lawyers, both directly and secondhand.
He filmed himself committing violent crimes and he filmed and recorded and published himself admitting to violent crimes.
That he was violent, that he was aggressive, that he was deeply unhappy and frustrated and angry and that this heavy and significant and never-controlled emotion caused him to hurt others and himself is undisputed and indisputable.
XXXTentacion was not “nice”, he was not kind, he was not warm hearted and he was not safe to be around, especially not for the women he was involved with.
He was also a prodigious and compulsive poster.
As in he posted.
All the time.
Everything he did, everything he thought.
He used all of the social media apps available to him and tho he sometimes exaggerated the extent of his criminality and violent past for effect, he didn’t exaggerate by much and the violence of his actions – and his pursuit of fame (famy?)/infamy – led to their being far more legal consequences for his “criminality” than many other people would potentially encounter for the same – people he assaulted would see him on the news, on the TV, online, and report him to the police. He’d even upload the evidence himself.
The kid – and he was always a kid, he died before he reached legal drinking age in the freedom-loving United States – had no boundaries.
He lashed out when he wanted to and he fucking hurt people, doing serious physical and psychological harm. (There are likely people who suffered violence at the hands of XXXTentacion who will be processing trauma for more years than he was even alive.)
He also took this not caring about consequences to his online persona and also – and this is the crucial thing and the thing that arguably makes him a worthy topic of a book length essay by the greatest writer currently working in the English language – into his music, which is as raw, as unpredictable, as varied, as emotional and as open as you would expect.
do every thing wrong!
Kobek’s book, tho, isn’t a simplistic and French-sounding treatise on the separation of art and artist, and nor is it dismissive of the musician’s very real violence. It is, instead (and of course) a far more nuanced and complex text that explores the limits of escape and expression when growing up under the many pronged state-sanctioned and state-run assaults on poor and Black people in the United States.
Kobek explores how XXXTentacion was used as a poster boy for the trope of the violent Black man and was treated by the mainstream media – and “liberal” voices in particular – as someone whose history of – and continued accounts of – violence negated his success.
No one should – though I’m sure there are right wingers who do – argue that intimate partner violence is anything other than a moral wrong, and Kobek documents that the violence XXXTentacion punched, beat and stabbed outward was just the continuation and circulation of a violence that has been ongoing since America was founded.
The crack epidemic, the war on drugs, the poor funding of education, the absence of universal public healthcare (which is more harrowing the more you think about it (and the closer the UK is moved towards the same model by the cunts and morons that cunts and morons keep electing to govern here)), the prevalence of guns, the “me first” socio-cultural landscape, the “shoot first, ask questions later” attitude, the “get rich or die trying” American dream, the country built by enslaved Black people on the mass graves of massacred indigenous peoples: it’s bones with signs of violence on them all the way down.
XXXTentacion was a product of America, and his commercial success is evidence enough that the way in which he expressed himself – and the things that he expressed – chimed with a lot of people.
Music and lyrics were an outlet for this person, born in a time and a place where the odds were stacked – and had been deliberately and aggressively so for hundreds of years – against him.
But it wasn’t enough, and it wasn’t meant to be enough.
Make someone miserable, keep someone poor, and it is not long before they will do something that can be “criminalised”.
XXXTentacion was in and out of institutions his whole life, and probably would have continued to have been so had he not been killed.
He was not somebody destined for the drudgery so many of us accept at the cost of our souls.
As Kobek writes explicitly in the text:
The belief that he should have no reward in life contains its own unasked and unanswered question: what measureable social good could have come from XXXTentacion not having a successful career?
And that’s key, right? There’s no happy ending and no acceptable unhappy ending, either.
No one is born bad, right, but some people aren’t born “right”, right?
The violence perpetrated by XXXTentacion wasn’t spectacular or even that unique – it just happened to be conducted in the public eye, it just happened to be public information.
Expression – and expression of emotions, especially emotions other than violent rage – remains something most of us are encouraged to never do.
XXXTentacion expressed his emotions in his artistic output, but he also expressed them less eloquently and less safely against other people’s bodies, and against his own. As we all know, John Lennon was a domestic abuser, adult David Bowie had sex with 14 year olds, and at no point has their music been banned from streaming platforms due to like morality clauses or something (XXXTentacion’s – whose music was removed from Spotify for a bit – is now back).
Kobek isn’t saying we shouldn’t see violence as a wrong, but he is saying – and he is right – that puritanical reactions to the crimes of musicians seem far more likely to be applied to certain people than they do to others.
Do Every Thing Wrong! is a provocative book, and tho, yes, it’s not as digressive or as entertaining (because intimate partner violence and structural racism aren’t fun) as some of Kobek’s others, it is equally as devastating as a novel like Atta–
we like to apply narratives of inevitability to the things we witness in the world because we, as humans, are weak, and seek signs of patterns and planning and consistency and skewed self-serving notions of fairness where they don’t exist because to accept that the world is a fucking mess is hard for us to do.
XXXTentacion wasn’t destined to have a short, violent, life.
He wasn’t destined to be shot in the neck as soon as he hospitalised a lover, as soon as he quite probably pushed another into suicide, as soon as he first stabbed someone, first robbed a house, first whatever.
There is no destiny at work, there is no cosmic fucking balance.
Like Andrew Hankinson depicts in You Could Do Something Amazing With Your Life [You Are Raoul Moat], quite often violent men who leave a legacy of violence, also leave behind a paper trail evidencing attempts to get help that were ignored, rejected or otherwise dismissed. XXXTentacion certainly did this, too.
XXXTentacion was responsible for his actions, yes, but he wasn’t responsible for his circumstances and he wasn’t responsible for society.
What can someone do to atone for their indiscretions when they’ve done things that many of us, most of us, view as unforgivable?
If XXXTentacion had lived another sixty years and dedicated the rest of his life to fundraising for shelters for victims of intimate partner violence, had become a thought leader on emotional expression and healthy ways to deal with pounding anger that leads otherwise to violence, would that have been enough to atone for the violence he did?
Not to everyone, no, but surely a compassionate person doesn’t believe a lifetime in a cage is a humane life to offer anyone? If violence is held to be unforgivable, then one presumes the death penalty is off the table, too?
What could he have done to make right?
There’s no answer quick to mind, is there, because we quite deliberately as a society don’t have solutions, we don’t have progress and development as that’s why we’re all so stuck and why we’re all so miserable.
Realistically, if XXXTentacion hadn’t died in 2018, maybe he’d have died in the half-decade since, maybe by violence, by car crash, by overdose, by misadventure.
Emotional support and the opportunity to reflect and rebuild and atone and seek redemption isn’t there, in the world, in popular culture or in private lives, for the vast majority of people; it is nowhere but in a handful of particularly progressive and particularly affluent families where engagement with the criminal justice system as it exists can be side-stepped and meaningful personal growth can be sought. Who gets both, though? Being able to afford to not care about consequences tends to engender a disinterest in them, which makes sense even though it’s bad…
What did XXXTentacion need?
Therapy, lots of it, you might say, but when the world is built to keep you small, is it wise to be peaceful and quiet and is that not what therapy teaches people to be?
The people this musician hospitalised and abused were not the people who made and maintained the world we live in, they were just the people proximate to him, the people he had access to and the people who had access to him.
The ” justice system” exists to punish, not to help.
We are meant to see incarceration, punishment, as deserved and as right, when in reality it’s a gross cruelty and nothing other than true restorative justice, increased widespread community-building, shared understanding of the importance of mutual aid and care, and the destruction of the capitalist competitive mindset will actually make things OK…
without these things, more creative and talented and sensitive people are going to end up destroying themselves and others.
That is how members of our society have been trained: we must suffer, but we must never lash out.
We must be ground down so much that the urge to snap is constant, but when that snap occurs, it must only occur in a direction that creates no sympathy and affords no change.
People like XXXTentacion beat their kids, beat their partners, beat their friends, and then they “lose the right” to sympathy.
But that violence did not start with them, and it won’t end with them either. That does not forgive or excuse or diminish the harm caused by an individual. It contextualises it. And context is important.
Kobek’s book is a mature and yet deeply serious exploration of the hypocrisy of the world we live in and how, without significant change, we all lose, and we will all continue to lose.
Over and over and over and over and over and over again.
Order Do Every Thing Wrong! from We Heard You Like Books if possible
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