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Mill Valley goes to hell 

With the Sweetwater Saloon poised to close at the end of September and Village Music on its heels, we ponder where our favorite little burg has gone.

September 5-11, 2007

When I think of all the records that I've bought at Village Music over the years, one stands out: a 45 of Patti Page singing "Let Me Go, Lover!" Page's over-the-top plea for romantic freedom was a playlist staple of the now-defunct easy listening station KABL 960-AM, and every time I caught it on the airwaves, I tried to remember as many words as I could, because I couldn't find the damn record for months and months.

Yet even as I walked through the familiar half-opened Dutch door of Village Music's front entry, I pretty much knew that I had my search sewn up. Sure enough, in a box marked "P" from Village Music's 45 room, I procured the elusive song. Listening to it as I type these words today, it still sounds great.Just about everyone has a similar story about Village Music. At the end of September, sadly, owner John Goddard will close the store where he's worked for 50 years. It's a blow to fans of the most superior musical medium in the universe--vinyl--as much as it is a sad commentary on the way money can destroy community institutions that drip with character, culture and history.

The painful irony is that Village Music, which hasn't been making enough money, is closing largely because its rent is too high--a direct outcome of the great wealth and accompanying property values in Mill Valley. Marin County, in fact, is the wealthiest county per capita in the United States, which essentially means that its residents aren't in the market for a $2 Patti Page 45 from the shop down the street. They want something high-tech and shiny for their new $60,000 home theater system.

To this strange strata of humanity, Goddard is a "character," a lovable weirdo, and all condescending praises about how "funky" his store is won't pay the $10,000 monthly rent. It's like the lemonade stand: no one wants to see the all-American sight of a kid selling fresh-squeezed lemonade on the side of the road for a quarter disappear into a forgotten world of Norman Rockwell paintings, but in reality, how many of us pull over?

Double-punched with the impending rent-driven closure of the Sweetwater Saloon, which for 30 years has given to its community a goldmine of live music, it's pretty safe to say that Mill Valley is going to hell in a freshly waxed, dual-airbag handbasket. What's great, at least, are the final-hour honors Goddard's been rightfully receiving; along with Village Music's 45 room used as the cover of Gilles Peterson's most recent compilation (see above), Goddard has scored big with a vow from DJ Shadow to DJ in the store every day in September until closing day, Sept. 30. The Sweetwater, meanwhile, is looking for a new location; its last scheduled show is with the Mother Hips on Saturday, Sept. 22.

After that, I guess we'll all be chillin' at Wilkes Bashford. See you in the handbag aisle.

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