I’m sticking with sort of a theme here. Just across the way from the Korova Milk Bar used to be the No-Tell Motel….
I fleetingly mentioned this particular watering hole last week in my round-up of favorite photographs by Hank O’Neal. Here’s his shot of the exterior one more time.
To be honest, I’m not sure how long the No-Tell Motel was in existence. I believe I first darkened its doors at some point in the early 90’s after attending a show just up the block at Brownie’s (which is now called HI-Fi).
It’s seems slightly laborious to point this out now, but at the time, this stretch of the East Village wasn’t quite the insufferable strip of fratty douchebaggery that it is today. That said, I’m sure long-time residents of Avenue A might have been equally annoyed by No-Tell Motel and Brownie’s patrons as they currently are by patrons of Diablo (what the No-Tell space is today) and Hi-Fi. I mean, loud drunks are loud drunks, regardless of their sartorial flair, sensibility and taste in music.
Yep, the No-Tell Motel dates back to the East Village’s dying-embers-days as an arguably more bohemian neighborhood (although Avenue A in the early 90’s was already a much safer and accessible place then it had been but a decade earlier). As such, much like the afore-cited Korova Milk Bar, the No-Tell Motel initially catered to the same indie and “alt.rock” set that would have crammed into Brownie’s. Though a distant cry from the lawless badlands era of A7, there was still a whiff of that punky vibe.
Said vibe might also explain why — in 1994 — the publicity department of Zoo records (a then-subsidiary of BMG) figured it would be the ideal venue wherein to conduct a set of interviews for the local “rock press” (of which I was a tenuous member at the time) with storied British post-punk stalwarts Killing Joke.
By 1994, I was gradually distancing myself from full-time “rock journalism,” but still kept my hand in for certain projects. Obviously, with Killing Joke being (and remaining) my all-time favorites, I leapt at the chance to interview them.
So, one appointed afternoon, I sped down to Avenue A with my trusty, hand-held tape recorder and into the No-Tell Motel, which was an odd place to visit during daylight hours.
At the time, the ranks of Killing Joke were filled by perennial mainstay and inimitable taskmaster Jaz Coleman, his effortlessly cool and regally bequiffed foil, guitarist Geordie Walker and prodigal bassist-turned-hotly-touted-produer Martin “Youth” Glover, back in the fold after over a decade away. After some rudimentary pleasantries with the publicist, I was sat with Youth, who was perched against the bar’s front window, sifting happily through a container of aromatic Indian grub.
To the layperson, the specifics of this interview probably aren’t of that much interest. Suffice to say, this was around the era of the release of Killing Joke’s excellent Pandemonium. Youth, easily the chattiest and most accessible of the trio, was characteristically affable, thoughtful and quite possibly very stoned. Geordie was intimidatingly cool and somewhat distracted by the No-Tell Motel’s video monitor over the bar, which was showing endless loops of vintage porn (“Oooh, she’s got a nice one!”). At some point in the course of my chat with Geordie, he started physically examining my tape-recorder. This is something worth remembering.
Frontman Jaz Coleman was late to proceedings, but entered the No-Tell Motel towards the end of my exchange with Geordie, cutting a strikingly odd figure in all denim. For my chat with Jaz, we were escorted to the back room.
Even if I hadn’t been the slavishly fawning fanboy that I was, Jaz is a formidable interview subject. Invariably sensing my nervousness, the singer swiftly assumed the reins of the discussion in suitably magisterial fashion and proceeded to wax rhapsodic about…well….pretty much whatever was on his mind.
When I look back at this incident now, I’m quite amazed that I managed to summon the sheer foolhardiness to do it, but at one point when Jaz paused in his sweeping narrative, I butted in with a question. “To some of your critics,” I began, “ it seems that you must be sort of a ‘Boy Who Cried Wolf’ figure, being that you’ve been predicting an apocalypse for some time now that patently refuses to occur…..” I could hear these words leaving my mouth as I watched Jaz Coleman’s already-piercing eyes bug out wide. I began to stammer as I saw all the humor drain from his face. I immediately started backpedalling furiously. For a few tense moments there, I started genuinely fearing for some sort of reprisal, but after some uncomfortable moments of deeply incredulous bluster, Jaz calmed back down and we finished up our interview.
I thanked one and all and ducked out of the No-Tell Motel, having just met, chatted with and — fleetingly — insulted my heroes.
Upon arriving home, I discovered that Geordie had slyly rewound the tape recorder after our chat — effectively erasing all of my exchange with him and Youth. The moral of this story: Never let go of your tape recorders, kids.
Anyway, I can’t help but think of that afternoon whenever I walk down that particular plot of Avenue A.
I’m not certain when it shut its doors, but the No-Tell Motel is long gone in 2015, replaced, as I said, by what is now Diablo (although I think it might have been something else in between, at some point).
After I posted that photo of Hank O’Neal’s last week, a reader name Steve T. wrote to me, and attached the photo of the No-Tell Motel’s business card below. “Sleazy Fun for Everyone” indeed….
Lastly, I tried to find more images, but came up largely short. That said, I did find this tiny shot of the back room from an ancient copy of New York Magazine. This is the room I played with fire talking with Jaz Coleman in, although I don’t remember it being this well lit.
Lastly, this is Killing Joke from that era….