9.17.09: I KNOW IT, POET, JUNKIE OR NOT

Tony O'Neill, junkie poet/novelist extraordinaire

Tony O'Neill, junkie poet/novelist extraordinaire

You gotta dig this guy, Tony O’Neill. A fab musician, he was on Top of the Pops age 18, also a serious junkie headed for long and trashy flameout. You think junkies are glamorous? That means either you are so junked out you don’t know any better or you a snot nosed idiot. But despite all the ways that Tony should have died and halfway did die, he’s still got more talent left in his little finger (needle scars and all) than you’ll find on the average street of dreams. Check out Down and Out on the Murder Mile, his latest full length novel of drug abuse and other sick lifestlyes and, yes, redemption. It’s his third novel and all the others have been about junk and depravity, too. He’s a young, hip Bukowski and I say that without irony. Dig it. His next book will be called Sick City.
I met Tony when a French publisher, 13e Note Editions, bought a short story of mine called “Moral Hazard” for an upcoming Noir anthology. (The same story, by the way, will come out first in Lone Star Noir, an anthology from Akashic, edited by another favorite poet of mine, Bobby Byrd.) I gave them a taste of Austin Noir. I humbly submit that I am the guy who could give to them. Why? I am the guy who loves “Touch of Evil” by Orson Welles more than anyone you know. I read “The Girl From Hateville” by Gil Brewer three times and I have four copies of “Kitten with a Whip,” two of the original Tuesday Weld cover and two with the Ann Margret, playing with tiger kittens, no less. I used to have twice that many.
And maybe all the foregoing, my love for noir, that is, helps explain my extreme fondness for the work of Tony O’Neill. Because while the junkie life is not glamorous, there can be a terrible beauty in the truth it brings out, particularly in the hands of a gifted artist.
Perhaps it’s also relevant that I am getting ready for my gig at Ruta Maya, where as a blues and murder ballad troubadour I will be outnumbered by the poets, wordjazz bohos and other performers, so perhaps that’s one reason I have my favorite junkie poet (ex-junkie, that is) in mind. I love Garcia Lorca, Michael Ondaatje and Denis Johnson, too. Hey. I write a poem now and then that I don’t set to music. More on that later.
Tony O'Neill, Down and Out on the Murder Mile

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