British rock star Elvis Costello said goodbye to Village Music Thursday afternoon, singing a heartfelt set of songs for a smiling crowd that squeezed itself into every square inch of the Mill Valley record store.
The free mini-concert was a tribute to Village Music owner John Goddard, who is closing his famed shop-cum-rock museum in September after 40 years in downtown Mill Valley. For 30 of those years, Costello has been scouring the store's bins and buying armloads of vinyl albums whenever he's in the Bay Area.
"I couldn't be happier in these sorrowful circumstances to see you all here and to sing a few songs to sign off," he said, shouldering a battered Gibson acoustic guitar on a makeshift stage near the back of the store. "I came in here on the second day I was in America. I met John and have been coming here ever since. It's a shame to see it go."
Standing beside posters of James Brown at the Apollo Theatre and Hank Williams at the Grand Ole Opry, Costello, wearing a leather jacket over a black cowboy shirt with white piping, opened his small show with the song "One's Too Many and a Hundred Ain't Enough."
"I thought I'd sing that song because that's the way I felt when I came into the store for the first time," he said, gazing around at Goddard's incredible collection of vintage records.
That first time was in 1977, on Costello's debut American tour, when he stayed at the Howard Johnson motel in Mill Valley and, like many big-name touring musicians, discovered the treasure trove that is Village Music.
"This place is kind of like a museum," he said. "I've bought records here that opened doors for me. Whenever I needed a song, John would always find it for me.
"He's been running a business with a lot of soul."
Backed by Mill Valley keyboard player Austin de Lone, Costello poured his heart out in a half dozen or so of his most popular songs. His fans sang along on well-worn choruses, like, "What's so funny about peace, love and understanding?"
One of those fans, 27-year-old Mirza Khan of San Rafael, sporting an Elvis Costello-style pork pie hat, had been waiting for the 1 p.m. show since 9 in the morning. He was happy to see Costello but sad to hear that Village Music will be closing, a victim of digital downloads and rising rent.
"This takes one music store out of my record shop pilgrimages," he lamented. "And it's a great store."
For this occasion, the 63-year-old Goddard had on a pink Village Music T-shirt that commemorated his store's long-ago 21st anniversary party, featuring a show by Costello and Nick Lowe.
"I've had a lot of perks in the 40 years of Village Music," he said when he introduced Costello. "One of the best is calling this man my friend."
As Costello sang, Goddard stood off to the side of the stage with his wife, Michael, smiling, bobbing to the music, his face filled with emotion.
There were tissues dabbing at eyes when Costello finished his set with "So Long It's Been Good to Know You," adding an impromptu verse:
- It was '77 when I first came here
- Now that we're leaving we'll all shed a tear
- It can't be right
- It must be wrong
- Where will I go to look for that song?
After the show, Costello headed off to San Francisco for a Thursday night concert at the Warfield Theatre. Before he left, he gave Goddard a warm hug and sat down to sign albums and memorabilia for several hundred fans.
"Thank you all for coming," Goddard told them. "This has been very cool."