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Inductee: Nardwuar the Human Serviette

Courtesy Nardwuar the Human Serviette.
Courtesy Nardwuar the Human Serviette.

Reason for Induction:
For services to indie rock, and the ability to really wear a hat.

Citation:
Courtney Love, Paul Martin and Ernest Angley finally have something in common besides mediocre fashion sense: all have been accosted by Nardwuar the Human Serviette, Vancouver-based radio host, journalist, VJ and guardian of alt-rock ephemera. Less officially, some may know him as that maniac with the tam and the undulating squeal for a voice.

A Nardwuar interview could be considered just another form of guerilla journalism — Michael Moore, who calls Nardwuar “a national treasure,” is restrained in comparison — but really, it’s more like a big, sloppy hug from a relative with some kind of advanced ADD. Note to the accosted: best not to fight it. Expect your answers to be cut off by a wobbling microphone. Expect a showering of meticulously researched information. Expect silly questions. (To Mikhail Gorbachev: “Of all the political leaders [you have] encountered, who has the largest pants?”)

Nardwuar got his start in the 1980s as a DJ at the University of British Columbia’s CITR radio and on community television, spreading the cult of the Cramps and uncorking his teen-girl enthusiasm for bands old and new. His moniker is self-created, as he explains on his lovingly tended website: “‘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."

What to make of this strange creature? He’s knowledgeable – as one member of the Strokes said, bewildered: “How did you hear that I met [Lou Reed] at the movie theatre, man? I never told that to anybody!” – and egalitarian. He brings the boundless enthusiasm he has for music (he’s in a fairly lousy punk-pop band called Evaporators) to subjects other than music, and does it without fear. The only time he’s looked nervous was when, in 1997, he asked Jean Chretien about the APEC protests, eliciting the now infamous “For me, pepper, I put it on my plate” quote. Nardwuar doesn’t suffer fools, but he’s almost never insulting, even when being ridiculed by the likes of thick-necked punk Henry Rollins. He is unflappable, asexual, kind of repulsive, sort of huggable. When he had a brain aneurysm in 1999, the mainstream media reported from his hospital bed (he’s fine) as if he really were some sort of weird national treasure.

Though Nardwuar is now a staple on MuchMusic, he still haunts the less-travelled corridors of the media, writing for smallish Chart magazine and continuing to host a show on CITR. Much doesn’t seem to know what to do with a host who doesn’t look like a candidate for The Bachelor, so they package him as cute and have him play pranks. (On last year’s campaign trail, he bugged all three party leaders to do a game called “the hip flip.” Martin did, Layton might have and Harper refused.) But Nardwuar is best when he gets to show how much he cares about music — by charming a big star back to earth, or giving an eager non-star his first taste of attention. He has done more to promote the kind of Canadian music that doesn’t get promoted by corporate radio than almost anyone else in this country, but he doesn’t see our cultural product as separate from the rest of the world’s, or as an obligation. With Nardwuar, no record labels control the questions, nothing is off limits and no one is minding the store. Pop culture is fun, he reminds us, and it’s even more fun when the fans run the show. Doo doodle doo doo... doo doo!

Katrina Onstad writes about the arts for CBC.ca.

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