Written by Parisa Eshrati
After hearing the awful news about Nardwuar suffering a stroke, this writer went home and reflected on his legacy. This blog discusses the many lessons we can learn from Nardwuar, both from his interviews and his courageous personality.
Earlier this week, I was sitting in the lobby of a Nissan dealership sipping on stale complimentary Starbucks coffee and watching The Steve Harvey Talk Show from the corner of my eye. I was waiting to hear the inevitable bad news that my car is essentially a dead weight, so I pulled out my laptop and finally sent out an email I’d been meaning to send out for quite some time - an interview request for Nardwuar the Human Serviette. For those of you who have never heard of Nardwuar before, he’s a musician, radio host and interviewer known for his guerilla-style approach and extensive research. I’ve been following Nardwuar’s interviews for several years, and I’ve always wanted to pick his brain about his career and the more bizarre interview experiences he’s conducted. Just after I sent out the email, I came across the news that Nardwuar was in the hospital having suffered a stroke. My heart sunk. I went back home and started doing some serious thinking about Nardwuar’s legacy.
I think we’ve all learned a thing or two from Nardwuar about the artists that we love. There’s no doubt that he’s one of the prime examples of true journalism in a time where we’re inundated with clickbait articles and gifs serving as replacements for original thought. However, I think one of the most amazing lessons to learn from Nardwuar, at least for me personally, is how to be courageous and independent.
After graduating from college, I found myself in a bit of a rut (though I feel that goes without saying for any college graduate). I could no longer work for the University’s radio station, so I ended up writing for a couple of websites. The experience was honestly pretty mind-numbing. I was just pumping out strictly review articles for new albums, and half the time the publisher would forget to post them anyway. During this dull phase, I came across Nardwuar’s Tedx Vancouver Do It Yourself talk. I’ve always been a fan of Nardwuar’s interviews, but this Tedx talk really made me realize how inspiring this dude is for aspiring journalists and music nerds alike. Upon watching that video, I quit working for all those other publications and made this goddamn website for me and my music nerd friends to do what we love.
Nardwuar has interviewed some huge names in his day, including Kurt Cobain, Jay-Z, and even Prime Minister Jean Chretien. But Nardwuar doesn’t work for a major publication like Time magazine or Rolling Stone. He doesn’t have a boss setting up these tasks for him and requiring a certain type of content. So, how does he do it? How does someone who just hosts a weekly radio show get interview access to such prominent artists? The big mystery is revealed in that Tedx talk….he just asks. That’s it! One of the world’s best music journalist paved his way just by asking and doing things on his own terms.
I think the most impressive story that shows Nardwuar’s determination is how he landed that Nirvana interview. He showed up super early to a forum that Kurt was attending and tried hiding in the bathroom of the backstage area. Before he got caught and kicked out, he left a tape of his interview with Courtney Love in hopes that Kurt would come across it and take a listen. Nardwuar never got a call, but sure enough the next day as he’s waiting in the media area before the Nirvana concert, he sees Kurt and Courtney walk past him. He yells out to Courtney and says, “It’s me! Nardwuar! Can I please come backstage?!” Apparently her and Kurt had taken the tape and listened to it at home, and Courtney invited him backstage to do an interview before the show. The fact that he had that much courage and perseverance to wait out and hide artifacts and then just straight up ask one of the biggest names in rock history to do an interview is so impressive, and it landed him one of his biggest interviews to date!
It may not seem like a big lesson to learn to have the courage to ask people for interviews or whatever else. But since we’re living in the age where we’re hiding behind our computers, I think it’s hard to have real courage and be self-motivated. We need to have our thoughts and actions confirmed by likes and retweets, and we’re evaluating our success by meaningless numbers and not actual feedback. I got trapped into this mindset when I was working for the UA radio station and tried to get press passes to bigger artists or events. We only had about 500 Facebook followers when I first started, so I figured we’d never get access to cover bigger events since promoters would see we’re not whoring ourselves out via social media. It wasn’t until I put the focus on the quality of our content that I realized we could ask for whatever we want and let the work speak for itself. I always think about that when I look back on some of Nardwuar’s older interviews. He wasn’t concerned that at first nobody knew who he was or the fact that he wasn’t a part of a major publication with thousands of followers. With just his own self-confidence and music knowledge to guide him, he had the courage to approach the best artists in the music industry and pursue his passion.
Another thing I really appreciate is the kind of information you learn from Nardwuar’s interviews. Generally, interviews tell you a little background about an artist and some relevant information about their next release or whatever. However, Nardwuar, being the encyclopedia of all things music that he is, is able to make such mind-boggling musical connections and dig out some of the most unconventional wisdom from everyone involved. It’s not just a Q&A, it’s an informational conversation that’ll leave you with more knowledge than before. Below are some of the most interesting interviews, in my opinion:
Nardwuar vs. Iggy Pop
Quite literally more than half of this interview is Nardwuar asking about Iggy Pop’s dick. There are questions about raging hard-ons and the numerous appearances that Iggy has made in public in the nude...yet somehow through these questions we learn about Stooges history, connections to G.G. Allin, and how Iggy avoided the draft. If anyone else were conducting this interview it’d just be crass and stupid, but Nardwuar is able to make Iggy laugh throughout the 9 minutes while pulling out some great tidbits of his career. You can hear the full interview here.
Nardwuar vs. Questlove
There’s no way I’m going to attempt to condense this interview into a little blurb, because I think every moment of this 46 minute interview is worth watching. It’s an extremely thorough music lesson on the origins and history of hip hop, and both Quest and Nardwuar are on their A game by spilling all their extraordinary music knowledge into this interview. It’s also a fun plus to watch Quest cry because he’s so surprised by some of Nardwuar’s gifts.
Nardwuar vs. Snoop Dogg
For Nardwuar fans, these interviews goes without saying. The banter between these two is unbeatable and there’s been so many great moments between them - i.e. Snoop microwaving a blunt mid-interview, Snoop stealing Nard’s Red Fox doll. These two have done seven interviews together over the course of ten years, and it’s awesome being able to watch them back to back and see how they’ve progressed throughout the years. I have a book Unlikely Friendships on my coffee table of animals of all different species hanging out, and I think Snoop and Nard-stayhard-wuar deserve to be on the front cover.
Nardwuar vs. GWAR
I’m not really sure what I can say I’ve learned from this interview...but I just love watching these two shouting at each other with each statement being more over the top and ridiculous than the last. Despite Oderus looking like he might snap Nardwuar’s neck off at any given moment, Nardwuar keeps persisting and asking questions ‘till the last possible second. That’s courage if I’ve ever seen it. R.I.P Oderus Urungus.
Nardwuar vs. Weird Al
This is my all-time favorite Nardwuar interview. I love watching Nardwuar interview himself. Or is this Weird Al interviewing Weird Al? Honestly, it’s hard to tell who is who in this video - it’s like watching the clash of the titans. These two are so quick-witted that if you blink you’d miss out on like five jokes. In this relatively short interview, the two discuss weird going mainstream, UFOs, shaving Blowfly’s uncle, and even read a passage from Kurt Cobain’s journal that mentions Weird Al being a modern pop-rock genius.
Nardwuar vs. Daniel Johnston
This interview is such a feel-good video. I love seeing Daniel Johnston reacting to Beatles memorabilia and comic illustrations and seeing that warm smile wash over him. This is also the only interview (at least that I know of) where the artist being interviewed does a musical set. It’s well deserved that Daniel would get to interrupt the conversation to play music, because his performance is just as heartfelt and beautiful as always.
Nardwuar vs. James Brown
This interview is great for hearing James Brown reminisce about his career and numerous other reasons, but I think the single best question ever asked to James Brown is: "What do you think of sweat, Mr. Brown?"
Honorable mentions: Wu Tang Clan, Jello Biafra, Henry Rollins, Ron Jeremy and Opeth
The more I write for this website and watch it develop, the more thankful I am for Nardwuar the Human Serviette. Whenever I get nervous before doing an interview or publishing a blog, I think back to Nardwuar’s Tedx talk when he states that still to this day he gets nervous before an interview. That simple statement means everything. If you’re not still feeling nervous before you do something you love, then the passion isn’t there.
Nardwuar was released from the hospital this week and is scheduled for surgery next February We wish him a speedy recovery and all the best! Doot doota loot doo….doot doot!