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Headbanger's Mall

Dan Leap, rock-and-roll city councilman, fights for Merriam's dull downtown shopping strip his way.


Like his hero, Kiss guitarist Ace Frehley, Merriam City Councilman Dan Leap knows how to turn a Gibson Les Paul into a musical Roman candle.

Rigging the neck of his instrument with gunpowder, Leap can create the pyrotechnic illusion that his guitar shoots bombs.

But that's not all. The ponytailed suburban politician can also transform a guitar into something even more useful.

A lamp.

To make one, the 34-year-old saws off the guitar's neck and mounts in its place a light socket and a shade. A microphone stand attached to the butt of the instrument grants stability and a thoroughly musical look.

And no shit: Strumming the strings dims the light.

Leap holds two patents. A Fender model sells for $499.

But cash isn't all that stokes Leap. He gets most excited talking about a couple of lamps he gave to members of Poison when he had the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to perform with the band at a 1999 Sandstone Amphitheatre show. Leap won a competition held at America's Pub to join the band while it played its big power ballad "Every Rose Has Its Thorn." For the occasion, he teased his hair and wore tight pants with stars up and down the legs. "That was a lot better than politicking," he says, watching a videotape of the moment.

Leap knows that the band's singer, Bret Michaels, kept at least one lamp. Watching an episode of the MTV show Cribs, he spotted his handiwork in Michaels' home office.

That's right, a Kansas City elected official with a connection to MTV's Cribs.

You'd think that would make Leap just about the biggest thing in little Merriam.

Well, he does tend to get the most television coverage. But it's for reasons other than his ongoing obsession with guitars, loud music and flash powder. In a town with more than its share of political wackiness, Leap stands apart for more than his Tasmanian Devil biker jacket. He won his council seat while suing and being sued by the city. And last month, vandals broke the windows of his store for the fourth time in six months. He suspects that he is not the victim of a random crime. "I don't have any enemies except political ones," he says.

Even before Leap made the scene, civic affairs in Merriam operated at a higher level of tension than in most communities. Two council members were recalled a few years ago; another faced weapons charges.

Boundary-locked by Overland Park, Shawnee, and Kansas City, Kansas -- a compact car among semis -- the town feels cloistered, ready to rip a seam. The Merriam City Council often plays to a packed house. "I'm apt to refer to the council meetings as the Greatest Show on Earth," Kevin Buchta, a councilman of seven years, says. "I've heard on occasion people say, 'I came just to see what was going to happen tonight.'"

And what's turning Merriam City Hall into the big tent?

A squabble over whether to narrow the town's main drag.

Cutting down Merriam Drive to three lanes and doing away with on-street parking would create wider sidewalks and more reason for shoppers to stroll the city's principal artery.

It's not exactly the stuff of stadium overhauls or huge bond issues, but in contentious Merriam, it's enough to set neighbors and business owners at each other's throats.

And in the middle of it is Leap, the headbanging politician who apparently never got the memo about how leaders are supposed to, you know, bring people together.

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