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Todd starts to go on about the 88, but I’ve succumbed to some kind of selective audio blackout and I can’t hear band names anymore. I come back on line just in time to hear Todd say, “ ‘Burn in Hell Fuckers.’ That was the name of that record. I personally love big, bad hip-hop. Autolux are fantastic too. That record is fantastic. They’re so good live.” And just when he’s about to tell me more, in walks Cali Dewitt, and it seems like everything’s gonna be all right.
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.