Knee-deep in the pursuit of rock and roll dreams, I faced the ’80s like so many other pavement-pounding, hair-sprayed, idealistic artists of the era: driven, sartorially questionable and usually broke. Too many years on the road with various cover bands, covering not only the Top-40 of the day but most of the west, mid-west and southwest by car and van, had left me weary of musical circles headed for nowhere. It was clear the time had come to get serious about my destiny. I was to be a rock n’ roll star. I needed to get on with it. That meant an original band and a job to support it.
I landed back in my Art Deco one-bedroom on the infamous Argyle Avenue, a wide boulevard that, in the 1980’s, had the dubious distinction of being the only gang-infested ‘hood in the otherwise very tony hills of Hollywood. When I wasn’t dodging bullets or avoiding eye contact with various ethnically diverse gang members hell-bent on terrorizing us lily-white denizens living snugly (smugly?) at the foot of the Hollywood sign, I was writing my first songs, rehearsing with the first band that was literally being formed around my voice, my words and my name, and looking for that perfect job that would afford me rent and rehearsal space and still be time-flexible. That could only mean one thing: waitressing.
My guitarist’s girlfriend at the time, a gorgeous punk goddess from Scotland who worked at the Troubadour and wore torn fishnets and black eyeliner better than anyone I knew (and who would later mentor me in the fine art of “truly living rock & roll” – meaning I was in leather, belts (many), rhinestones and Spritz Forte from the minute I awoke to the weary moment I lay my head down to sleep…more on that in another entry!), presented a solution. Besides the very hip Troubadour gig she wrangled for all it was worth, she also had a part-time shift at a local pub; one she wanted to phase herself out of…was I interested? Not really, no, but…OK, fine.
Molly Malone’s, down on 6th and Fairfax, in one of the many hearts of Los Angeles; very casual, lunchtime menu, just cocktails at night. Small enough room, easy enough uniform, loose enough management style (i.e., lots of staff and management drinking shenanigans) and on most nights, plenty enough cash to pocket. As good as it gets. Nowadays Molly Malone’s is a bona fidedly hip music venue with an expansive stage area, an impressive dinner menu and a respectively spiffed-up decor; back then it was a smoky, scruffy, one-room pub where the hard-core drinkers came to suck down Jameson shots and Black n’ Tans and get into fist-fights that ended with sweaty man-hugs and often — to my mercenary delight — loose wads of cash knocked under sticky tables. It was a wild place filled with Irish immigrants, wannabe Irish (particularly on St. Patrick’s Day), off-duty (and occasionally on-duty) LAPD, and a contingent of rock n’ roll hipsters (a harbinger of the evolution to come).
Sidebar: one night as I bent over a table with beers and shots, one of those hipsters glanced up, looked me over and with a cocked head and squinted eye finally asked, “Has anyone ever told you you look just like Lorraine Devon?” No. No one ever had. I guess the tux shirt and serving tray were too great a disguise. Turns out they’d seen my band at The Lingerie or Sasch or Madame Wong’s or somewhere. Fans. “Thanks,” I gushed, delighted to be recognized. “I’m glad you liked the band. Actually, if you’re interested, we’ll be playing again at — what? Oh, yeah, sure, of course…one Harp, two Guiness, four Irish coffees, got it!” Yep. It’s only rock n’ roll.
Anyway, back to my story…Somewhat anomalous to all this rowdy, irreverent carrying-on was the almost daily presence of the esteemed “in-house” artist, Neil Boyle. Tall, white-haired and bearded, Neil, with his dignified mien, quiet, observant manner and ubiquitous glass of mineral water, somehow both fit the venue and stood outside of it. Always seated next to Molly’s owner, the late Angela Hanlon, either at the bar or a table near the stage, sipping his non-alcoholic beverage (surely an oxymoron in an Irish bar…and I can say that; I’m a quarter Irish!) while tapping his foot to The Mulligans (Ken O’Malley, Terry McCartan & Denis Murray) or patiently listening to some random, nonsensical chatter from a usually tipsy table-mate, Neil exuded grace. He was the classiest guy in the joint. Always. And it was understood that he was to be accommodated.
Angela would often request, even on the busiest nights – and I the only waitress – that I get up on stage and sing “The Rose” because Neil liked it. Despite the clear loss of income for both me and the cash register whilst I warbled that melancholy favorite in lieu of slinging drinks, she wouldn’t stop requesting until it became a demand and before she snapped in a fit of pique, I’d get up on that thumbnail stage with whoever was playing that night and sing “Some say love, it is a river….” like the quarter-Irish heartbreaker I am. It may as well have been “Danny Boy”…Angela would cry and Neil would listen quietly and smile as if he was genuinely moved by the serenade, which, odds are, he was. ‘The Rose” is a good song.
But beyond a kind, music-loving demeanor, Neil’s most profound contribution to Molly Malone’s was his art. His beautiful, evocative, incredibly special art. Over 70 of his oil paintings hang in that little bar to this day. How unexpected to find that kind of exceptional work in a dark, hole-in-the-wall bar but Molly Malone’s was – and is – literally wallpapered with it. For an artist whose pieces command phenomenal fees, who was always in demand for murals and commissioned work, and whose many pieces hang in galleries and museums around the country, the prestige of showcasing such valuable art was undeniable to Molly’s. Some patrons came in simply to view Neil’s paintings. It was a draw. Literally.
The largest painting was of Angela Hanlon. It hung in clear view over the entrance and depicted her in all her youthful, lovely splendor. Other paintings were of bar scenes, street scenes. But most were of the people and faces that came and went through the swinging doors of that pub; the regulars, the Molly Malone’s coterie. And everyone who walked through those doors wanted to be one of the faces Neil painted, everyone. Few were. And you had to be asked. There was no appealing to him, no requests, no hinting; no prancing around commenting on “how nice it would be to be up on these walls.” No one got up there unless Neil wanted to paint them and put them up there and to be asked, to be chosen, was an honor like no other.
Almost three years in, near the end of my tenure there, on the morning of a soon-to-be riotously busy St. Paddy’s Day, Neil quietly approached and said, “I want to paint your picture.” Stunned, I blushed pink and stammered something about “how honored I am to be asked” or some other such blathering nonsense but the truth was, I was…honored to be asked. I sat down at one of the booths, put my elbow up on the green and white checkered tablecloth, my white tux shirt and string tie neatly arranged, my big ’80’s hair properly fluffed and Neil took my picture. I can’t remember how long it was before the subsequent painting appeared on the wall at Molly Malone’s but at some point it was there. Dead center on the main wall. Lit with a pin spot. And immediately a conversation piece. Because while Neil painted most of the Molly Malone faces in palettes of brown and caramel and black and yellow, me, he painted in pink. Pretty in pink. And it was truly was one of the most beautiful paintings on that wall. Not because of my face (necessarily!), but because Neil imbued it with a color and glow that made it stand out from the earth tones surrounding it and that alone made it unique. Someone there suggested that it seemed to communicate his affection for me. Maybe so. Maybe because I sang him “The Rose.” Maybe because he liked my blonde hair. Maybe because I kept him in mineral water. Maybe it was just because he felt the wall needed some pink. Whatever the reason, it is a beautiful painting and, as far as I know, it still hangs prominently on the main wall of Molly Malone’s.
Neil died in February of 2006. Not too long after that, my brother, Tom Amandes, was acting in a TV pilot being shot, coincidentally, at Molly’s. At one point Tom called to tell me they had blocked one of his scenes and without realizing it, had placed him directly under the Neil Boyle painting of a woman in pink…yep, that one. He sent me the snapshot taken by the prop person. I can’t find that photo today but I do have a beautiful print of my painting. My friend, Tina Romanus (who Neil also painted at some point later…though not in pink), had asked Neil make one for me and he did. It’s hanging on my own wall. Still pretty in pink.
Included paintings and for more information on Neil Boyle: www.neilboyle.com; Ken O’Malley (The Mulligans): www.kenomalley.com; Tom Amandes: www.tomamandes.com. Visit Molly’s at www.mollymalonesla.com.
Visit www.lorrainedevonwilke.com for details and links to LDW’s books, music, photography, and articles.