Saturday, May 19, 2007

For Artists in Ad Scare, Life Goes On

Peter Berdovsky (left) and Sean Stevens, at the center of the Cartoon Network scare, told their side of the story yesterday. Peter Berdovsky (left) and Sean Stevens, at the center of the Cartoon Network scare, told their side of the story yesterday. (PAT GREENHOUSE/GLOBE STAFF)

By Michael Levenson, Globe Staff, May 19, 2007

CAMBRIDGE -- Their star power, they realize, is fading. Rain-soaked and picking at a plate of french fries, they said they are broke. Thursday, they were already through security at Logan International Airport, on their way to Rockefeller Center in Manhattan, when they were dumped by the "Today Show."

Three-and-a-half months after they scared the city by installing electronic advertisements on highways and bridges, Sean Stevens and Peter Berdovsky are crash-landing back to reality, to their old lives as penniless artists and aspiring musicians, sharing an apartment and studio in Charlestown.

The adjustment has not been easy for the wise-cracking duo, who gained notoriety for holding a press conference after their arraignment in which they refused to talk about anything but hair. But now Attorney General Martha Coakley has dropped criminal charges, which could have put them behind bars for five years. Late-night comedians have abandoned riffs about terrorism and the Cartoon Network.

And Berdovsky and Stevens said yesterday they like it that way. Notoriety, they discovered, was a real bummer.

"It became this extreme stress, to a point where I think both of us had these months where we just didn't want to deal with anything, and we just wanted to curl up into a ball and sleep somewhere for days and days and days," said Berdovsky, sipping a Sam Adams at the Middle East Restaurant in Central Square.

In their first extended interview, Berdovsky, 27, and Stevens, 28, lashed out at the news media, railed against authorities, and expressed some remorse for their actions. "A lot of people were under the impression that we didn't care about the people of Boston, and that's furthest away from the truth," Berdovsky said.

"We are the people of Boston," said Stevens, chiming in. "I've lived here for my whole life. Peter's been here for 10 years."

Berdovsky, with his long dread locks, and Stevens, with his shaggy page-boy cut, have been friends for four years, since they were the last guests dancing at a party. They share a penchant for at-times rambling soliloquies.

"Everybody at some point dies, and we need to focus on making our lives as good as possible and maximizing the most art-joy-filled world that we possibly can, for the people who come after us," said Stevens, expounding on his world view, as Berdovsky listened intently. "That's what life is. And that's what we've pretty successfully done for the last several hundred thousand years."

In January, they put up the lighted electronic ads for a show called "Aqua Teen Hunger Force." They wanted to make $300 each and thought the ads would make people happy, they said.

But the ads were mistaken for possible bombs on Jan. 31, and police shut down roads and subway stations. At first, Berdovsky took his video camera and filmed the police in Charlestown. He said he did not know the signs were causing the scare. When he realized they were , he said, he called Interference. Inc, the marketing firm that hired him, and they told him to sit tight.

Within hours, he and Sevens were arrested. Coakley charged them with placing a hoax device in a way that causes panic, which carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison, and a misdemeanor count of disorderly conduct. She and other officials denounced them as irresponsible hoaxers who had terrified the city.

"It's depressing, because for me I know I'm all about peace and love, truly, and to have me be in jail for something that I would never, ever, ever do, is just painful," Berdovsky said.

"It felt like a slap in the face," Stevens added.

After their arraignment, they said they chose to talk about hair to thwart what they called a fear-mongering media. The stunt angered many who said Stevens and Berdovsky appeared callous. But it was broadcast nationwide and picked up by comedians. Stevens and Berdovsky said they were deluged by thousands of e-mails and well-wishers.

"Ninety percent of them said: 'You are my hero. I worship you,' " Berdovsky said. "I'm not kidding. That's what it was, and I didn't mean to put myself in this position, but in all honesty it was very refreshing after seeing myself portrayed as a villain on national TV."

Last week, Coakley dropped the charges after Berdovsky performed 80 hours and Stevens 60 hours of community service at Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital. They designed a mural and helped maintain the hospital's docks on the Charles River. Now, Berdovsky and Stevens said they want to return to their old routines, making music and art.

"Our attitude toward everybody is just one of love," Berdovsky said. "We want to be loved, and we want to love other people."

Michael Levenson can be reached at

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