Sometimes this column takes a turn for the more personal, generally when I am mourning some kind of loss. So forgive me the break from our regularly scheduled programming while I pay homage to another Edgartown institution that has gone the way of Alderaan: aboveground records.
I owe Michael Barnes fifty dollars. This debt originated on one lazy August day, while I checked CD backstock on the floor and Michael decided we needed something a little more upbeat than his beloved (at the time) Smashing Pumpkins and he threw on some Beatles tunes. Forever my Obi Wan of music, Michael was deep into imparting one of his credos: “Never be embarrassed about the music you like.” Try telling this to a stubborn 18-year-old who literally wore her musical tastes on her sleeve — in the form of a vast collection of oversized concert tee-shirts — particularly when you’ve just put on the music that my parents listen to. Cue irreverent eyeroll.
“Fifty bucks says you end up buying a Beatles album at some point.” Yeah, sure. Not going to happen, I thought. But as sure as two suns rise each morning above the deserts of Tatooine, the assertion held true, and from the moment I finally availed myself of some Paul, John, George, and Ringo, I have refused ever since to feel shame of any musical choices. (Speaking of which, my apologies to Michael for using this lesson to rationalize any Ke$ha purchases in my collection. I’m not saying I’m embarrassed about them, but if my husband should ever blame you for his ear bleeds, best to be warned.)
We experienced the highest of highs and the lowest of lows between the walls of that shop, and we grew up together like some oddly matched and wildly dysfunctional family. During the years of my employ, Chris Liberato and Neil Simmons joined me under our fearless leader, Michael Barnes. We saw each other through breakups, make-ups, and — lest we ever forget — near-death experiences, such as Michael and his motorcycle and their ill-fated assault from a passing vehicle on Beach Road. For little old me, going from my first week of work to that one afternoon when I had been finally trusted with the keys to the kingdom (or the Millennium Falcon, natch), and suddenly my boss is in the hospital and it’s time to just figure it out. Among the growth moments of my life, that was a solid top five.
Luckily, with the power of the Force on his side — as well as a couple metal plates in his ankle, the now part-droid Michael pulled through, and continued with his quest to convince another generation of angsty teenagers that there’s more to music than those five emo bands. And hey, that stuff your parents listen to isn’t so bad after all.
I missed my chance to say goodbye to aboveground this past weekend, but maybe it’s better that way. The store underwent so many changes and reconfigurations in its long history, as Michael is not one to sit still for long. At one point, the empire (er, uh, rebel base…) was expanded into the retail space next door, then condensed once again to focus on a smaller market. I like the picture in my mind: the Elvis bust, the Star Wars action figures, the display vinyl lovingly curated from the used bins, and of course, the hand-lettered dividers that separated the CDs, in which we took such pride.
Thank you, aboveground, and thank you Michael for helping us navigate the vast and ever-changing landscape of music — and for some of us, life as well. Whatever your future may hold — whether it may be to make the Kessel run in less than 12 parsecs or simply to go to Toshi Station to pick up the power converters, I’m sure I speak for my fellow Edgartonians when I say: May the force be with you.