Pete's picture
Pete from Detroit is reading Red Dragon September 1, 2015 - 5:47am

'Gun, Needle, Spoon' by Patrick O'Neil

Discussion has officially started!

Synopsis: This memoir follows a punk rock pioneer on his slide into drug abuse and life as an armed robber, all the way through life in recovery and what it's like to look back on those times, knowing all the while that he is still under the threat of three strikes, a twenty-five-to-life prison sentence waiting. He has no choice but to deal with it all drug free.

Author: Patrick O'Neil is the author of the memoir Hold Up, which was published in France. During punk rock's heyday (1979–83) O'Neil worked at the legendary Mabuhay Gardens, San Francisco's premier punk venue. He then went on to become a roadie and eventually the road manager for Dead Kennedys and Flipper, as well as the Subhumans (UK) and T.S.O.L. (Los Angeles). But that was before his life got totally out of control. O'Neil was a heroin addict for eighteen years, incarcerated for two and a half years, went to two long term residential rehabs for a total of three years, worked as a substance abuse counselor for six years, and has been clean off drugs for the last thirteen. He holds an MFA from Antioch University Los Angeles, teaches at a community college, and splits his time between Los Angeles and San Francisco.

Discussion has officially started!

It's funny with this book - the synopsis does less justice for the book than the author bio. I got this book a long time ago and I keep picking it up and reading pages here and there. I've been fighting so hard not to just start reading it because I wanted it to be fresh for the discussion. The little writing that I've read is so good though. And, really, it's been a while since we've discussed a good memoir. I can't wait to see what you guys think of this one. I'm sure it's gonna be a killer discussion.


Get to reading!

Humboldt Lycanthrope's picture
Humboldt Lycanthrope from California is reading Sing, Unburied, Sing September 3, 2015 - 1:35pm

Oh, snap, I can't wait!  

Flipper and T.S.O.L. are bands notorious for their debauchery and mayhem.  Of course Dead Kennedys shows at the Mabuhay Gardens are legendary.

I'm a huge punk fan and used to run amuck myself back in the day.  

It's funny I just posted a question to the community the other day about Thorn Kief Hillsbery's What We Do Is Secret, afictional account of the early L.A. hardcore scene, and T.S.O.L (their original name is Vicious Circle)  is in that book.  I can't wait to ask him if he read it and what he thinks.  I also just read a memoir by Jack Grisham, original punk bad boy and lead singer of T.S.O.L called An American Demon, which I highly recommend if you are interested in the history of L.A. punk and the formation of a violent hooligan.


ReneeAPickup's picture
Class Facilitator
ReneeAPickup from Southern California is reading Wanderers by Chuck Wendig September 21, 2015 - 10:57am

Wow did no one pick this convo up?! This is a great book!

Pete's picture
Pete from Detroit is reading Red Dragon September 21, 2015 - 11:51am

Discussion starts October 1st. But if you want to start posting now - feel free!

Patrick ONeil's picture
Patrick ONeil October 1, 2015 - 8:08am

Hello everyone,

Checking in on day one to get this thing started. Really looking forward to engaging in a discussion with all of you.

Humboldt Lycanthrope, I have not read Hillsbery's book. Looks interesting. Thanks! 

Humboldt Lycanthrope's picture
Humboldt Lycanthrope from California is reading Sing, Unburied, Sing October 4, 2015 - 3:14pm

Hi Patrick, I am just finishing up your book, bro.

That was a gnarly and intense memoir. Very powerful. Let me just say how glad I am that you are still amongst us. We lost so many talented and legendary figures, like your friend Will Shatter, a definite icon of the early hardcore scene.

So, I really enjoyed the non-linear narrative construction you employed, how the book jumped around in time. When you first started writing were you aware that you were going to take this approach? Or did it come about later?


Blossomingiris's picture
Blossomingiris from New York is reading The Motivation Manifesto October 4, 2015 - 6:36pm

Hey, Patrick.

Your book is intense.  I love the fact that you didn't shy away from revealing the "ugly truth" of your actions.  How did you deal with that while writing your book?  I congratulate you on your courage.  It is that courage that has allowed so many readers to be a part of and understand your experience, without really having to be in that situation ourselves.  I've been stuck with my memoire because of fear of being judged, so I applaud you.  

I also loved your non-linear narrative, as Humboldt mentioned, and am considering it for my format.


Patrick ONeil's picture
Patrick ONeil October 5, 2015 - 3:51pm

Hi Humboldt Lycanthrope,

Thanks for the kind words. Yeah, losing friends and folks from the scene was extremely hard. Will’s death was devastating. It’s sort of strange to be a survivor. But then the alternative… yeah, stoked to still be here, and at times even grateful.

The original structure for GNS came out of initially writing memories without a real plan or concept. I had all these “stories” I told people about crimes and drug use and I began to write them and then because I’d be thinking of those times I’d remember another “event” and get that one down on paper as well, and then that memory would trigger another, and soon I had a bunch of short “stand alone essays” that were only tied together by the fact that they were about me at a certain time in my life. But when I put them all together they were a body of work that was somewhat coherent and felt like, well, how I remember that part of my life – disjointed and confusing – not that that was what I was going for, but it felt organic in how memory actually feels. So later, when I began to write the memoir, I took all those short pieces and put them in a somewhat chronological order, and used that as the basis for the first half of the book. Eventually I added more to the short “pieces” fleshing them out, and then wrote the “childhood” and “pre-bank robbing” chapters – then with the second half: the courtroom(s) and the incarceration flashbacks, that section I wrote as one continual piece of work as a “reaction” to the first half of the book. I wanted it to be much more coherent with a definite narrative arc to portray actually being present in my life and not completely loaded and insane. So that was definitely planned, as opposed to the looser process of constructing the first half.          

Patrick ONeil's picture
Patrick ONeil October 5, 2015 - 2:02pm

Hey, Blossomingiris

Thank you for reading and commenting.

Writing the “ugly truth” was the only way to go. You can't sugar coat that shit. And really if I’m telling that part of my life how that hell could I make it look good? Yet, with some of my early drafts I saw that I was trying to present myself in a better light by omitting facts or by trying to justify some of it, and it felt disingenuous, and when I let go of worrying about how I looked to the reader and wrote what really happened then it didn’t. And from a content point of view, being honest was a better read. I think we’ve all probably read those “tell all” books from mafia thugs or cops and they’re not taking responsibility for their actions or worse bragging about the horrible stuff they did and you end up hating them and if you’re like me, you stopped reading and tossed the book across the room. It’s not always easy to tell the truth. I seriously look at some of my past and think, “who was that guy.” And I totally mean that. Amazing what can be accomplished by the need for a fix and the determination of a junkie. But who that guy was, is not who I am today, so if someone wants to judge me for my past actions, there is very little I can do about that. Some of it I regret (like the violence and negativity I inflicted on others, and going to prison), but I am who I am today because of my experiences. And because of that I have put in some major work to make amends for all of it. And yeah, if someone can read my book and not have to follow down that same road because they read it, so much the better, that’s like a bonus.

Humboldt Lycanthrope's picture
Humboldt Lycanthrope from California is reading Sing, Unburied, Sing October 5, 2015 - 8:05pm

Any plans on writing a book about the punk scene? (I'd buy it)

Patrick ONeil's picture
Patrick ONeil October 6, 2015 - 10:23am

I’ve been writing a book about touring with all the bands I worked with: Dead Kennedys, TSOL, Flipper, Subhumans, Dickies, etc. I have a very rough first draft. Unfortunately, and I have said this countless times over the years, this project is taking me a long time to write. There’s dates and times and places that I need to confirm, so I am interviewing other folks that were there. I mean I remember most of it, even though I was loaded 99% of the time - I was on the road for six years and that was thirty years ago, I was a heroin addict, I drank a lot, and shit gets blurry. So, long story short, yes. I’m writing a book about the American punk rock touring scene in the ‘80’s.

Humboldt Lycanthrope's picture
Humboldt Lycanthrope from California is reading Sing, Unburied, Sing October 6, 2015 - 8:01pm

Fuck, yeah! Can't wait to read it. Take your time, brother. Make that bastard shine.

You know, I really love that oral history of S.F. Gimmie Something Better.

So, since you are an obvious music lover, I'd love to hear (and no promoting your friend's bands just for promotion sake, even if it means admitting you like Fleetwood Mac) your:

Favorite band?

Favorite song?

Favorite album? (Whoa we're old, aren't we? What the fuck is an album?)

Favorite album cover? (Yeah, we're old)

Favorite show flyer?

Favorite live act?

Craziest shit you've seen happen on stage?

If you can't think of one, name a few! Fucking chaos.

Thanks for letting me bug you with this stupid ridiculousness.  Love your book, bro!

Patrick ONeil's picture
Patrick ONeil October 7, 2015 - 11:46am

I speak a little stupid ridiculousness, so here goes…

Favorite band:
Dude, this is very un-punk, but not quite “I fucking love Fleetwood Mac” (which by the way my girlfriend does and it is a bone of contention between us because I fucking HATE Fleetwood Mac). But my all time favorite band is The Rolling Stones. Yup, I’m that old. I grew up with the quad-fecta of perfect Stone’s albums: Beggar’s Banquet, Let it Bleed, Sticky Fingers, Exile on Main Street – and those albums have staying power, still listen to them.

My favorite punk band is Flipper, and yeah, they’re friends, but so what.

Favorite song:
“Sacrifice” by Flipper. It’s an anthem call to punk set in a very un-punk slow dirge wall of noise – brilliant.

Favorite album:
Like listening to the Stones when I was a youngster, to various stages in my life and musical tastes, my “favorite” has evolved and changed: I could cite albums by The Stogies, Johnny Winters, MC5, ESG, Alice in Chains, Patti Smith, Funkadelic, Public Enemy, Suicidal Tendencies, Butthole Surfers, NWA, Alice Coltrane, Ministry, Flipper, Soundgarden, TSOL, the list is endless. Recently I was on heavy rotation listening to The National’s Boxer, and wondering what the hell happened to me that I was listening (and liking) such calm and totally melodically emotional music – but then that’s the beauty of choice and taste and where a person is mentally and how the music they listen corresponds. 

Favorite album cover:
Dead Kennedys: Bedtime for Democracy – I drew the lettering across the top of Winston Smith’s cover drawing, back when I was the Art Dept. for Alternative Tentacles

Favorite show flyer:
Couldn’t say, there’s way too many. Maybe some of Raymond Pettibon’s work for Black Flag, or Winston Smith’s collage posters. 

Favorite live act:
Ministry: A Mind is a Terrible Thing to Taste Tour (1990) – pure anarchy.

Craziest shit you've seen happen on stage:
Dead Kennedy’s stage any night 1982-1987.

Here’s a link to a playlist of songs to accompany GUN NEEDLE SPOON that I compiled for Lighthearted Boy:

Olga Gerrard's picture
Olga Gerrard October 7, 2015 - 1:50pm

~ i'll catch up with the rest of the pack in a couple of days...i need to "crack" open the book first. (did you see what i did there ;) )

Humboldt Lycanthrope's picture
Humboldt Lycanthrope from California is reading Sing, Unburied, Sing October 9, 2015 - 6:50pm

Just like the white wing dove, sings a song, sounds like she's singing, oh baby, oh baby oh. . .

Holy Crap! So sorry about that, man.

Yeah, the Stones are, in many ways, the epitome of rock and roll. I love them, too, and my list would be very similar to yours (though some Butthole Surfers shows I saw in the eighties would be the craziest shit I've ever seen, I'm sure I don't need to elaborate).

That is so fucking cool that you drew the lettering for Bedtime for Democracy. Stan Winston is such a great artist. As is Raymond Pettibon. I love the Charlie Manson fliers he used to draw up for Flag shows.

It's been great talking with you. Thanks. I am looking forward to listening to the playlist. Maybe I'll pop back up again before the month is out. 


Pete's picture
Pete from Detroit is reading Red Dragon October 16, 2015 - 8:05am

I wasn't sure if I was going to participate in this discussion because I was going on vacation right after the discussion started. But, shit, I cracked open the book a couple days after getting back and finished it in two days. It sucked me in and I couldn't put it down. Not what I was expecting.

What was I expecting? Well - I had obviously flipped through and read some of the writing. I knew the writing was solid. But I was thinking the stories were going to be all drugs and ODs and depressing stuff. And, yeah, there was some of that. But the inner monologues - realizing that life sucks if it's just a never ending string of drugs and then searching for money to buy more drugs - and the robberies, that stuff blew me away.

It's kind of like Jax from Sons of Anarchy - he's on this downward spiral and he sees that he's on it and everything that he does to get out of it, it all just makes it worse.

I know it sucks that it took incarceration for you to claw your way out of it, but good on you for doing it. I've watched too many people get stuck in that trap to never get out, always believing their own excuses.

Patrick ONeil's picture
Patrick ONeil October 16, 2015 - 11:29pm

Hey Pete, thanks for jumping into the discussion, and for the kind words. I think that vulnerability that Jax showed in SoA was what made his character more believable and ultimately more interesting. Most good characters do have a degree of introspection to round them out. Although I'm not saying I'm a good character (laughs) but I totally get your comparison/observation. Sadly it did take incarceration to get me out of that life - but the alternative would've been death, or like you said, stuck in that lifestyle forever. Totally stoked you came away with something unexpected from GNS. Hope you had a great vacation. 

Pete's picture
Pete from Detroit is reading Red Dragon October 19, 2015 - 6:17am

My vacation was amazing! Thanks for asking.