If you’re reading this story after September 30, 2007, Village Music in Mill Valley will be just a memory. John Goddard, the store’s owner, is closing the doors of his famous music shop after 40 years.
“If somebody’s looking to go back in time in Mill Valley,” says Goddard, Village Music is probably the closest you’re going to get — or maybe the shoe repair store or Mr. Fixit. There are a few of us who have been around forever who haven’t moved along with the times.”
Although he chuckles at the thought of his store being the last of a dying breed, I can’t help but get a little melancholy.
What will Mill Valley be like without Village Music?
When I was a kid I used to head straight to the back of Village Music and lose myself for hours listening to 45 records. B-sides were my thing. I was always hoping to find 45’s with a rare “B-side” track, a live cut or a different studio mix of the song on the A-side. Goddard had clunky little 45 players in the back room and I could hypnotize myself by listening to entire rows of singles until my mouth went dry and I realized I was starving and the day was almost over. Surrounded by a cacophony of old movie posters and music memorabilia covering every inch of every wall and ceiling, it was easy to get lost in time. I loved it.
And, like Rip Van Winkle, I’d emerge woozily from those sessions inside the dark Village Music onto the streets of Mill Valley, excited to get home and listen some more. My new frayed and tattered used record jackets were proof that someone before me had listened to these albums many times over and loved them. Otis Redding, Johnny Taylor, Sam Cooke, Albert Collins…without Village Music I would have hardly known you.
John Goddard grew up in Mill Valley during the Fifties and worked at Village Music when it was located in the building where the Sequoia Theater is today. After graduating from college, he bought the store and has been running it ever since.
Jason: What are some things you remember fondly about Marin that are different today?
John Goddard: I used to be able to drag race on Miller Avenue. (laughs) You could get caught drinking and it would not end up costing you $15,000 or $20,0000. It was a different world. I’m not saying what a lot of us were doing was ‘right’ …but it was different. You know, they had dances down at the American Legion Hall on Miller. They had dances at Brown’s Hall which is the Buddhist Temple on Miller now. They had dances at that little room that’s on Almonte behind Tam High School.
Jason: What year was that and who would go to these dances?
John: Marin County kids. I started going in, say, ’57.
Jason: They weren’t school dances?
John: No, no, they were Rock ‘n Roll dances. You know, you’d go to a dance and then go up on the old road and get in a fight. (laughs). There were a lot of local bands. John Allair who now plays with Van Morrison used to play in the Fifties around here and John Cippolina was in a band in the late Fifties/early Sixties. There were a lot of local Rock ‘n Roll bands and they covered Little Richard and Chuck Berry and Fats Domino and all that kind of stuff…
Jason: Any big name acts play in Marin back then?
John: The Rec Center in Corte Madera was where you went to see out of town Rock ‘n Roll in the early Sixties. I saw The Righteous Brothers there, Paul Revere and the Raiders, the Kingsmen. They had dances there and brought in people who toured the whole west coast.
Jason: What was happening musically in Marin during the Sixties?
John: In the Sixties, Quicksilver Messenger Service was based in Mill Valley. The Grateful Dead was living out at Lagunitas. Some of the (Jefferson) Airplane were living over here. There were a lot of what became (known as) ‘San Francisco Bands’ that at least spent some time in Marin County. I mean Quicksilver lived right behind The Mill Valley Inn… The whole band, girlfriends, hangers-on…. The Sons of Champlin grew up here in town, Huey Lewis grew up here in town, his father had a radiation lab at the end of this building….
Jason: Do you remember any restaurants that have come and gone that really represented Mill Valley as you remembered it?
John: Well, I miss Pat and Joe’s (where the Bank is now this side of The Depot) and Sonapa Farms (where Champaign is now) and El Reboso, the Mexican restaurant off the highway. I liked that a lot.
Jason: What is the biggest way Mill Valley has changed in the last 30 years?
John: It’s not fun anymore. (laughs) I don’t know, to me people just seem a little bit (more) self-centered. And I think that the people who live here don’t hang out here. They shop elsewhere, they work in the City. To me there’s not (the same) sense of community.
Jason: When do you think it changed?
John: It’s been gradual for the last 30 years. It’s been coming for a long time. The problem is that most of the people who grew up here can’t afford to live here. I see people that grew up here all the time but they’re in visiting their parents or they’re just checking out the town 20 years later. Ninety percent of the people I went to school with couldn’t afford to live here unless their parents died and left them a house. I bought a house in 1969 and if I waited 5 more years I never would have been able to afford one. I got in right under the wire. People who teach in the schools can’t afford to live here. The police and fire department can’t afford to live here. That’s not right. It’s just not right.
Jason: What is left in Marin that still has character?
John: There’s a few restaurants I’m still really comfortable in. I love Marin Joe’s. Marin Joes hasn’t changed in 50 years. I love the Mill Valley coffee shop next to 7/11 on Miller. It’s got great breakfasts. I love walking around town early in the morning or late at night. I love (Mill Valley) but sometimes the people are a pain in the butt. I bitch and moan and say “Why do I live here?”… but I don’t want to live anywhere else.