Some aspects of Nardwuar the Human Serviette are easy to explain. Ask about the origin of his name, for example, and he'll pause one of his Gatling-gun monologues long enough to break it down for you: "'Nardwuar' equals a dumb stupid name, like Sting. 'Human' equals 'Human Fly,' from the Cramps song. And 'Serviette' equals something you can't get in the States - down there they call them napkins." Getting his real name takes a little more work. "Ummmm, I'd rather not say - I like to preserve the mystery," he demurs. "If people are really curious, I'll give them a hint - I'm named after an English social critic who lived from 1823 to 1875."
As you might expect, the idiosyncrasies don't stop with the moniker. When Nardwuar - Vancouver's foremost celebrity stalker, college radio host, rock 'n' roll frontman, and undeniably strange thirty-one-year-old man-child - shows up at concerts, he's often clad in retina-searing plaid leisure wear, complete with a tam. Get him to list his Top Ten favourite activities, and he'll rank "smelling things" right at the top. Check out his record collection, and you'll find LPs by such unlikely artists as John F. Kennedy, Mae West, Colonel Sanders, and the Munsters.
But what's really made Nardwuar infamous is that, like those who read America's leading white-trash tabloid, he has an enquiring mind and he wants to know. With his high-pitched voice which doesn't sound so much like nails on a chalkboard as a chalkboard being dragged though a nail factory - he's become North America's pre-eminent guerrilla journalist, storming press conferences to ask Mikhail Gorbachev which worldleader wears the biggest pants, rocker Iggy Pop about his proclivity for exposing his penis, and director Oliver Stone which cheddar he prefers: American or Canadian
."I work hard as I can to dig up interesting facts about people," says Nardwuar, whose battles are chronicled on his www.nardwuar.com Web site. "And I get truly excited when I'm doing an interview. That's the reason that my voice goes up. I guess it's a nervous thing." Some appreciate his preparation. Others simply don't get it. After Nardwuar persistently pressed televangelist Ernest Angley for an answer as to whether or not there's a cure for the summertime blues, an enraged Angley warned that God would strike Nardwuar down.
Which may, in retrospect, have been prophetic. Nardwuar awoke one morning last June (1999) feeling like his arm had been shot full of Novocaine. He shrugged it off - after all, as the lead singer for The Evaporators, his beyond-garagey garage band, Nardwuar had two major events to prepare for: a rare Vancouver club date with Bratmobile, pioneers of the "riot grrrl" movement, and a show at Yo-Yo-A-Go-Go, an annual music festival held in Olympia, Washington. And the excitement didn't stop there - Courtney Love, the Hollywood actress, generational icon, and notoriously opinionated leader of the band Hole, was headed to Vancouver, and Nardwuar was obsessed with getting an interview.
So, for the next day, he ignored the fact that his arm felt like it was going to fall off. Then, on July 10, ninety-six hours before the planned ambush of Love, Nardwuar collapsed in the basement of his home. The official diagnosis was a cerebral hemorrhage, which led to a two-week stay in the hospital. Nardwuar the Human Serviette is, however, feeling much better now. He's back at home with a simple set of instructions: keep calm and avoid stress - which, considering his triple-caffeinated personality, is a bit like telling Homer Simpson to stay away from donuts.
Nardwuar Audio Demo REAL AUDIO Nardwuar Video Demo REAL VIDEO Nardwuar on Big Life REAL VIDEO Nardwuar on Friday Night REAL VIDEO CiTR Profile (1988) w/ Nardwuar REAL VIDEO Nardwuar's Favourite Restaurant Media Resources Nardwuar's Bands: The Evaporators Thee Goblins "Because of what I do, I sometimes end up getting kicked out of places by security. That used to get me down," he says excitedly, perched on the edge of a beaten-up armchair in his basement, his hair looking like a rat's nest that's been run over by a lawn mower. "But security isn't going to win now - I've had a brain hemorrhage. That makes me more determined than ever." Five feet away sits a huge stack of get-well cards including one from former Van Halen frontman David Lee Roth. "When I missed the Yo-Yo-A-Go-Go festival, they made up a huge card for me that a lot of people signed," he says. "One guy wrote 'Nardwuar, you are the litmus test for humanity. Anyone who gets upset by you is a jerk. Those who find you wonderful, magical, and hysterical are all those things inside.'"
One of the most magical things about Nardwuar is that, even after you've spent time with him, it's difficult to determine where Nardwuar begins and the guy who was once student-council president at Hillside Secondary School ends. Whether that's a bad thing depends on how enjoyable you find anti-celebrities like Howard Stern, Michael Moore, or Tom Green, who've parlayed their personality tics into stardom. Of course, the aforementioned are also handed obscene amounts of money to act like smartasses. The Nard's interviews usually run in low-profile magazines like Seattle's The Rocket, or on CiTR fM 101.9, the University of British Columbia's radio station. The lack of a steady paycheque may partially explain why he still lives in a small basement suite; asking Pierre Trudeau whether Maggie was allowed to play rock 'n' roll at 24 Sussex Drive may get you headlines, but it doesn't, unfortunately, help you make a living.
But any time he gets discouraged he thinks back to his most infamous interview ever. On November 25, 1997, at a post-APEC press conference in Vancouver, Nardwuar stepped up to the mike - having crashed the conference with university press credentials - and asked Prime Minister Jean Chrétien: "Do you think, if you were forty years younger, that you would be writing punk songs and protesting against APEC?" When Chrétien replied that people have the right to protest, Nardwuar asked him what he thought about people being maced with pepper spray. The prime minister delivered his now-famous line: "For me, pepper - I put it on my plate." Such responses are what keep Nardwuar convinced that, for him, there's no better job than being the Human Serviette.
"Even now, I open the paper and still see that quote. That alone makes me realize that I can't stop doing this - even if I wanted to. You can throw a brain hemorrhage at me, kick me out of from backstage, or ban me from the press conference, but I'll still keep on asking questions," he says, yelling loud enough that you start worrying that he's about to blow another blood vessel. "It may only be interviewing some sixties has-been who put out one single no one cares about, but I'll still be doing it. So look out, motherfuckers! Here I come!"
Story © Mike Usinger
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