By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
By Dennis Romero
Wearing a WWI-style helmet, a black robe and a Zorro mask, "Eman Laerton" sits on a wooden crate outside the Nickelback show at the Greek Theater, patiently enduring a cop’s lecture about using a megaphone without a permit. Laerton agrees to not use the megaphone, and then ensnares the talkative cop in a debate.
"What type of music do you listen to?"
"I like Christian music," the cop says.
"What do you like about it?"
"It makes me relax, and there’s no bad lyrics, so . . ." the cop shrugs. "I like Kenny G, too."
"I need to inform you, sir, that you have bad taste in music."
The cop is confused. Isn’t that subjective? Laerton urges him to pick up Scientific Proof Magazine, "where scientific studies show which bands have been proven bad."
Even more baffled, the cop sputters, "Hey, I’m no Scientologist."
Scientific Proof Magazine isn’t a spinoff of Scientology. In fact, the magazine doesn’t exist. The cop has just been schooled in the purist philosophy of Laerton, a masked crusader on a mission to stop the cancer of "bad" music. Not because it promotes loose morals that corrupt our youth, but because it’s "shitty homogenized corporate rock."
Armed with his megaphone, costume, soapbox and rotating crew of cameramen friends, Laerton badgers the will-call lines and outdoor smoking sections of L.A.-area concerts, including Hoobastank, Justin Timberlake/Christina Aguilera, Evanescence and Linkin Park. He counsels the concertgoers to leave immediately and delivers his rants in an official monotone. Despite his seriousness, Laerton is gregarious, calling his potential converts "bro" as he cites statistical, fictitious evidence proving why band X is bad, to the curious amusement and sometimes disgust of the crowd. When the occasional humorless fan threatens him, he coolly stays in character. All of the interactions are filmed and then posted on his Web site, Youhavebadtasteinmusic.com.
On a more recent and brisk Thursday, Laerton targets Alter Bridge (the remnants of Creed, with new front man Myles Kennedy), playing at the House of Blues. Laerton often bases his performances around a theme, and tonight’s is street theater, which he discovered is a popular form of social education in India. He’s given his play a Hindi title and will also be delivering his trademark deathblow in the language. As we pull up in his fancy SUV, a holdover, he says, from his dot-com days, Laerton is pumped. "Tonight is going to be a good one," he grins, and then hands me his script.
If you didn’t know Laerton, you might assume him to be little more than a pious fan of "good" music. He won’t reveal his preferences because he doesn’t want to limit the appeal of his project: "Cool people have never been able to agree on what’s cool, but they can all agree on what’s shit." It goes a little deeper than that, though. Read his script and it’s rife with inside jokes spouted by industry pocks like Hilary Rosen, the lobbyist who vehemently pounced on Napster and music piracy. Other characters include Ted Nugent and "pawn" Pat Boone, who laments his limited powers by saying things like "I can only attack at a forward angle."
Laerton isn’t just lambasting bands, but an entire industry, a monolith he once had stakes in. He reluctantly admits that he worked in A&R and publicity at a couple different mainstream labels, and was a DJ at a prominent rock station. "Before Clear Channel came along, we could play someone like PJ Harvey 10 to 12 times a week, but now, it’s only ‘The Hits,’" he says. "I would reveal my identity, but the problem is I know a lot of these people."
As dusk settles, Laerton is having a hard time finding participants, despite the fact that he’s offering customized trucker hats adorned with the characters’ names in gangster-gothic lettering. He flits around, waving the hats in the air, calling, "Pat Boone? Who wants to be Pat Boone?" A large fellow ambles by, shakes his head and pronounces, "This guy makes Wally George look funny." Finally, someone cracks, a guy in a gray short-sleeved shirt over his requisite black concert T-shirt. Soon enough, Laerton is assigning parts left and right. The actors dutifully read their lines; some painfully ham it up for the camera.
In the mostly male crowd, Laerton realizes at the last minute that he has neglected to assign the part of Rosen. A guy with long curly hair who’s been quietly observing now volunteers. Fitting the pink hat onto his head, Laerton thanks the Alter Bridge fan. "You’re the best, bro. Now just read your lines into the camera." With a smile, the fan obliges.
Greetings From Echo Park
"I’m not saying it isn’t safe, but, please, promise me you’ll buy pepper spray." So said my sister as she stepped into her minivan and headed back to safe, white Newbury Park where she lives surrounded by mountains and Christians. I had invited her to see my new apartment in Echo Park. I knew she’d be concerned about the neighborhood, but I’d hoped to win her over with a pleasant stroll in Elysian Park, the lush, tree-laden valley beneath Dodger Stadium, just behind my new apartment. But as we began our ascent of the 200-plus stairs at the end of Baxter Street, she noticed things I’d never seen.