By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
Cali Dewitt is a sort of an Echo Park elder statesman in a current incarnation as transcendent, benevolent scenester patriarch. Handsome charmer Cali looks like “the guy.” Walking down Sunset past the Brite Spot diner, he takes me deeper, through a dark and artsy portal that reveals how we got here from there, and why it’s still on up in here.
“I dropped out of high school in 10th grade because a new place opened called Jabberjaw on Pico and Crenshaw and I felt like I’d found my home. It was an all-ages place,” Cali says. “I roadied for Hole and L7. I was just hanging out. I moved to Echo Park about eight years ago and put out a bunch of records from around here. I had three failing, bankrupting labels. The first real snapshot was the Fuck Yeah Fest three years ago. A band I’d been working with called the Mean Reds played to 300 16-year-olds with 40-ouncers [of beer]. It was mayhem. The security guards just gave up.”
Cali worked at Jabberjaw in the early ’90s and had a label called True Love that released records from bands including the Mean Reds, Future Pigeon, Brother Reade, the Rolling Blackouts and Dios. But it’s something else that earns his rank. Charm, charisma . . . street appeal. When you’re walking on the Eastside with Cali Dewitt, it feels like you’re about to be in the middle of what’s up and who it’s up with. Right now I’m following him around the corner from Sunset onto Alvarado to the Downbeat Café. He tells me he’s got a new vision in the form of an entity called Teardrops.
“I’ve been around and trying to make things of beauty for a while. This new thing Teardrops is not a label, it’s just something to put something out through. Help these bands and kids make one honest statement at a time,” Cali says. “Teardrops? If I wanna make a skateboard, I’ll make a skateboard. If I wanna make a poster by an artist, I’ll make a poster. My girlfriend told me I was immature last week. That might be true. I’m always interested in what the loudest, youngest kids are doing.”
And though I’m sure there’s a diagnosis for that, I’m having too much fun scenester-sightseeing to worry about that right now. Cali laughs a lot. He says stuff and then laughs and smokes, and laughs again. I ask him why this Silver Lake thing persists.
“I don’t know why it’s Silver Lake. Outside of here, everybody’s got their eye on some kind of record deal and fame kind of bullshit. It’s different over here,” he says. “There’s not really anything to figure out. A scene has to have a community and people supporting each other. There’s a lot of people who support each other. And out of that support it seems to me to do better. They give each other their all and grow from there.”
Deeper still into the indie vortex, I trace the tracks to Mano restaurant and bakery on Sunset a few doors east of the Echo. Inside is taste-making teddy bear Mitchell Frank. Mitchell is a mensch, a straight-up kissin’ cuddle buddy. He invented Spaceland in 1995, according to his best recollection, and the dream goes on forever.
Mitchell sits between his counterparts, Liz Garo and Jennifer Tefft, from Spaceland Productions. He breaks it down for me as Jennifer uses her cell phone to place her ads in the newspaper for the coming week’s lineup. Liz is old-school with lots of street cred. She and Mitchell were up on this Eastside stuff while Jennifer was still booking bands at a Christian college in Indiana.
“The whole reason the Silver Lake scene happened is because of the Seattle scene,” Mitchell says. “I was sitting around drinking one night with a friend, Mark Stewart from the Negro Problem, and we were like, ‘Why can’t we have a Silver Lake scene? I had a recording studio. I got bought out and started Spaceland with that money.”
The scene grew out of an existing coffeehouse culture. The infrastructure was already intact.
“The original Onyx [coffee shop] was next to the Vista,” Mitchel explains. “There was Club Fuck and Fuzzyland. It started with the Onyx and the Bourgeois Pig [the venerable coffee shop on Franklin and Tamarind]. It was a coffeehouse scene. The other coffeehouses were the Pick Me Up, off La Brea and Sixth, and then Jabberjaw at Pico and Crenshaw, that turned into an all-ages venue. Spaceland tried to pick up on what Fuzzyland, Club Fuck and Jabberjaw did.”
“It was back when the L.A. Weekly was on Hyperion,” Liz says, her eyes glazing over as she goes back in time. “I worked there in the ’80s. Jac Zinder who did Fuzzyland worked there, and Craig Lee, who was part of Club Fuck, and Donita Sparks, who later formed L7, and Scott Morrow, who did the listings. It was all part of the Silver Lake thing . . . the early days. And that was when the people who lived in Silver Lake were the unemployed artists and musicians and a pretty big gay community.”