:: Article

Walking the Wild Side

By Mikael Covey.

Tony O’Neill, Down and Out on Murder Mile, Harper Perennial, 2008


O’Neill has done it. All the young writers looking to score that knock ‘em dead bestseller, poetry with punch, words with wisdom. It’s all here…on murder mile. Not another one, you say; another sad tale of down and out junkies on the skids. But I’ve only read one like that, O’Neill’s Digging the Vein, which is great stuff. Power words, real, meaningful, truthful, honest and raw. Down and Out on Murder Mile is the sequel, or part of a trilogy, which includes the poetry of Songs From The Shooting Gallery.

I finished Down and Out on Murder Mile rather quickly, and thought, damn…this is even better than Digging the Vein, and that’s saying something. Even to dissociate the context, dying junkies, slip sliding away. There’s an honesty, a simple truth to narco-realism. Disengaged from all thoughts of the past, or the future, you are left absolutely clearly in the moment. Knowing that whatever you’re doing right now, is the only thing that has meaning.

The zen-calm realization that everything else is façade. The nine to five, the hustle, your life’s work. Doesn’t mean anything, doesn’t get you there. Is nothing more than your own personal Jesus.

In a society that’s falling apart while we watch, a planetary wasteland, or even a broken-down old human like me, we read Tony O’Neill and Dan Fante to understand ourselves. What we are all going through, individually, collectively; what we is. And where to go from here. That’s the main difference in Down and Out on Murder Mile and Digging the Vein. There’s a way out.

O’Neill always approaches this when he writes about family, but it’s very rare. There’s a powerful scene at the end of Digging the Vein where he compares his hands to those of his father. Very moving, very real. A longer passage in Down and Out on Murder Mile where he goes home, finds his parents, the life left behind, the hydrocodone in the kitchen cabinet.

But like Dan Fante’s book Mooch, there is a way out. And it’s there for all of us. Granted, it’s never enough; but when you know that, when you experience the all-pervading calm of understanding that, it’s like…you there. Thanks, Tony; more than you’ll ever know.


Mikael Covey is a devout citizen of the world with an irreverent attitude. His writing has appeared in a number of on-line and print magazines. He’s editor of Lit Up Magazine.

First published in 3:AM Magazine: Monday, October 13th, 2008.