Thursday, March 1, 2012

A tip o’ the tam o’ shanter to Nardwuar the Human Serviette

Nardwuar is Canada's greatest celebrity interviewer. Darryl Dyck photograph for the Globe and Mail.

By Tom Hawthorn
Special to The Globe and Mail
March 1, 2012

Brian Linehan is dead and Ben Mulroney is slicker than Zamboni ice, so that means our nation’s greatest celebrity interviewer is a squeaky-voiced interlocutor from Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.

He goes by the oddball name Nardwuar the Human Serviette, the origins of which are the least interesting thing about the guy.

Nardwuar is a radio deejay, music promoter, and frontman of The Evaporators, a surf punk band. His wardrobe features garish, thrift-shop fashions and a tartan tam o’ shanter.

A creature of habit, Nardwuar always spells rock as rawk; always places himself in “Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada;” always posts his interviews in wrestling poster fashion as Nardwuar vs. Whomever. He ends every interview with the salutation “Keep on rawkin’ in the free world,” followed by a sing-song call-and-response exchange in which he says, “Doot doola doot do...” and the interviewee is supposed to reply with, “Doot doo!”

His manic interviews involve a fast-paced battery of questions, showing deep research on his part and an obsession with connections, no matter how obscure. (Leave it to Nardwuar to draw a Pied Piper link between Montreal’s Arcade Fire playing music while leading audiences out of a venue to Toronto’s Shuffle Demons having done the same two decades earlier.) Nardwuar often brings along a rare LP or other prop to incite a response.

The sessions are not so much confrontational as performance pieces in which he succeeds (usually) in getting artists out of their message-track groove.

A Nardwuar interview is a Rorschach test. When it goes well, hilarity ensues. When not, mayhem ensues — to wit, Sonic Youth assaulting Nardwuar and shattering the seven-inch record he’d brought them as a gift.

He also does politicians, provoking Prime Minister Jean Chretien to respond to the pepper-spraying of students by saying, “For me, pepper, I put it on my plate.” Nardwuar also once asked Mikhail Gorbachev which world leader wore the biggest pants, but got the bum’s rush before the formerly second-most-powerful man in the world could answer.

Nardwuar remains a radio (CiTR), television (MuchMusic), and Internet ( sensation.

On Saturday, the indefatigable character will be performing at a free, all-ages gig with the Evaporators at 2 p.m. at Neptoon Records on Main Street in Vancouver to mark the release of his latest effort, “Busy Doing Nothing!” The compilation record — yes, it is a vinyl LP, like the old days — includes new releases from the American singer-songwriter Andrew W.K., as well as such popular English performers as The Cribs and Kate Nash, and Scotland’s Franz Ferdinand. Each covers a song by a local punk band.

“How did (these) people get turned on to the sugary pop of Vancouver rawk ’n’ roll? I knew once we’d get them the songs they’d love ’em,” Nardwuar said. “They were totally down with it.”

The LP also comes with a three-year calendar featuring the brilliant black-and-white concert photography of Bev Davies (about whom more in a future column).

Nardwuar inherited his writing and performance chops from his mother, the former Olga Bruchovsky, who died two years ago. She had been a court reporter in Toronto before moving to the West Coast, where she worked as a teacher. When Nardwuar was a boy, she hosted a television show on a cable-access channel called, Our Pioneers and Neighbours.

“I’d come home school and I’d see my mom on TV and I’d go, ‘Oh, god, my mom’s on Cable 10!’ because I knew when I went to the school the next day people would tease me. It was embarrassing. Now I think it was cool.”

His mother also co-wrote the first biography of pioneer Gastown saloon-keeper Gassy Jack Deighton, inspiring Nardwuar to write a song about Gassy Jack.

(Fun Nardwuar Fact: His mother’s co-author was Raymond Hull, who also co-wrote The Peter Principle with Dr. Laurence J. Peter, positing that in a hierarchy every person will eventually rise to a level of incompetence. Happily, Nardwuar does not work in a hierarchy.)

(Second Fun Nardwuar Fact: Since they were recording at a studio owned by Bryan Adams, Nardwuar took the three brothers of The Cribs and Alex Kapranos of Franz Ferdinand for Skookum Chief burgers at the Tomahawk Restaurant in North Vancouver, where Mr. Adams once laboured as a dishwasher.)

On Monday, BBC Radio Scotland host Vic Galloway opened his eponymous nightly show with an overseas tune.

“That is brilliant. Franz Ferdinand’s Real Thing,” he announced as the song played out. “It's a cover of a Vancouver punk band called Pointed Sticks.”

Uncle Vic, as the deejay styles himself, urged his listeners check out the compilation record and its curator.

“If you don’t know who Nardwuar is you need to search online and find out all about him.”

Don’t take my word for it. Listen to BBC Radio Scotland. Nardwuar is the real thing, a national treasure.

The Cribs and Alex Kapranos (far right) from Franz Ferdinand join Nardwuar for Skookum Chief burgers at the Tomahawk Restaurant in North Vancouver.


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