Experience the LA Underground with Tony O'Neill's "Sick City"
City of Angels
We all know Los Angeles is called the City of Angels but author Tony O’Neill is here to tell you if you believe that, then he’s got a sex tape to sell you. His latest novel, Sick City, brings together everything we’ve come to associate with the city of dreams; sex, drugs and lots of money. But if it were that simple we’d all be high, multi-orgasmic, millionaires. Instead it’s the demons that take their pound of flesh. O’Neill delves deep into the underbelly of Los Angeles with a story that shows there’s no such thing as easy money but there’s plenty of hard dirty living. There’s a price to pay for every request and every request is hardcore. By the end of the book I needed a hot shower with a Brillo pad.
Jeffery and Randall
Jeffery and Randall are the two main characters who seem total opposites but you quickly realize they have plenty in common. Jeffery, a thirty seven year old junkie, is living off a sugar daddy and former LAPD cop who suddenly dies, leaving Jeffery alone and desperate. Before he heads off into the grime and grit of the LA streets he takes a few things with him. Going through a hidden safe he grabs cash, a gun, drugs and a 16mm film canister that contains the last performance of actress Sharon Tate; the Sharon Tate of Charles Manson fame. The never-before-seen film is of her and several movie stars and a singer engaged in a drug fueled orgy.
Randall is the typical outcast child of a legendary Hollywood family. His drug addiction and constant visits to rehab have been mostly ignored by his family except his brother, Harvey. With the family money and business in the hands of Harvey, Randall is given one last chance to clean up or get lost. His younger brother enrolls him into the Clean and Serene Rehab center. The center is run by Dr. Mike who also hosts a celebrity rehab show similar to Dr. Drew. It’s here that Randall and Jeffery meet.
Clean and Serene
The humor and despair in the rehab center are written perfectly with an eye towards modern day, absurdist, rehab television. O’Neill describes in a way that even those who’ve never been to rehab can relate. That’s because we’ve all seen at least one show of celebrity rehab TV. Dr. Mike though is just as much a low life as the patients he’s treating, but he has the cash and fame so he’s a high class junkie. But his addiction isn’t solely prescription drugs. He’s in love with a tranny.
While in the rehab center Jeffery confides in Randall. He tells him of the sex tape and some possible plans to sell it. Randall, seeing the mega dollar potential, offers some of his contacts in Hollywood. They make plans to sell the tape once they are both out of Clean and Serene.
But the trouble starts when Randall emerges from the rehab and has to wait two weeks for Jeffery to finish his time at the center. Randall is under the eagle eye of his brother and after two weeks never hears from Jeffery. After a month he figures it was all just BS and figures he better move on. But one phone call changes all that and Randall finds himself carrying a relapsed Jeffery out of a drug den and into a frenzied adventure as they put their plan into action.
But the simple idea to sell the sex tape becomes disoriented and clouded under a fog of crack smoke. Jeffery and Randall not only fight their own drug addictions but a psychotic dealer as well. Their desperation to get top dollar for this film leads them to a sure death or does it. Nobody is to be trusted and it all comes to an end fitting of a Hollywood B movie.
In between, O’Neill weaves in two bit drug dealers, pornographic flashbacks, necrophilia, crack houses and a murder that starts a huge ball rolling right towards Jeffery and Randall. The hardcore writing and vivid description of drug life made my veins hurt. But O’Neill never lets off the plunger and pushes the envelope between reality and what sometimes feels like grimy fantasy. Sick City is just that; on the gurney and flatlining. It almost makes you never want to visit Los Angeles; the City of Angels.
Tony O’Neill books include Digging the Vein, Down and Out on Murder Mile, and Hero of the Underground. He is also the co-author of Neon Angel: A Memoir of a Runaway by Cherie Currie. O’Neill’s essays, poems, and short stories have appeared extensively online and in print. He is a survivor of heroin addition, crack abuse, rehab, fatherhood, and stints in the Brian Jonestown Massacre, Kenickie, and Marc Almond’s band. He lives in New York with his wife and daughter.