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
“Used syringe,” she said with pursed lips, pointing.
“Drowned rat,” she said, stooping to observe a very
large rodent lying dead in the gutter.
“Gang graffiti — EAT THE RICH,” she continued, reading
“Good thing I’m not rich,” I joked.
My idea was backfiring. Instead of changing my sister’s idea about
my neighborhood, she was changing mine. I hadn’t wanted to leave my last apartment,
an amazing little pad oozing with charm, but I’d had no choice. Ironically,
I was producing a radio piece on affordable housing in Los Angeles at the time.
Guess what I discovered? There isn’t any. So when I scored what seemed to be
the last affordable place in L.A., I jumped.
A few days after my sister’s visit I went for another walk, determined
to recapture the appreciation I had for my hood. At the base of the sprawling
staircase, I took a few preparatory breaths, then huffed my way up two at a
time. Heart pounding, cheeks flushed, I stopped at the top to take in the view.
Like a perfectly balanced painting, the scene was divided into thirds — bright
blue sky, billowy white clouds and green, crushed-velvet hills.
I strolled down Park Street, lined on one side with houses where
dogs were sunning themselves in front yards, and massive eucalyptus trees on
the other. Ducking under a low branch, I made my way toward the wide dirt path
that runs above the park. Surrounded by nature, I hoped to leave the city and
my worries behind. Then I saw some clothing strewn under a tree and my mind
began to spin an elaborate tale of murder and worse, with imagined attackers
leaping out from behind bushes.
I followed the path for about half a mile, trying to shake my
head free of these thoughts, the sound of rustling leaves soothing and quieting
my mind. After a few minutes, I reached a lovely, manicured grove — an unexpected
bit of human intervention blooming with fragrant lavender, white and yellow
daisies, flowering succulents, and red bottle brush buzzing with bees, all framed
by curved tree branches resembling driftwood. I sat on the solitary green bench
facing the downtown skyline and closed my eyes.
“Hello,” I heard.
I had to strain to see him, sitting on the ground with a plastic
bag, gathering leaves with his bare hands. He was short and squat, like a garden
gnome. He had a bald, dome-shaped head and a face like a beaten-up pumpkin.
“Oh, hello,” I said tentatively.
“Catching some rays?” he asked in a coarse voice.
“Just enjoying the day,” I replied sincerely.
“It’s a great spot, isn’t it? The best in L.A., I think,”
“Definitely one of them,” I answered.
His scraggy dog came over demanding attention. I gave him a scratch
and noticed that his tag said “Lucky.”
“What are you doing?” I asked.
“Just cleaning up leaves. I help out here.”
He told me that the garden had been planted 25 years earlier by
a group of retirees.
“Gradually the women started dying off, and now there’s just
one of ’em left. I saw her one day and asked if I could help. I’ve been volunteering
for about 14 years now.”
With that I knew my sister had been wrong. Echo Park was a warm
and welcoming community of diverse people who create beauty for beauty’s sake.
I was grateful I had found such a place to live. Any reservations I’d had about
the garden gnome and my new neighborhood dissipated.
“Wow, that’s wonderful. I’m Karen, by the way.”
“Hi, Eddie. It’s nice to meet you.”
I was feeling open and peaceful.
Then he said, “Hey, turn around.”
“Why?” I asked, slightly confused.
“So I can get a look at your ass.”
—Karen X Fritsche