A Listener's Life List

Tom Moon
Workman Publishing Company
New York, 2008



An education in what to listen to


Tom Moon, longtime critic and music aficionado extraordinaire, has committed a cardinal sin. It might not be etched on any stone tablet, but its confession managed to make an entire audience of audiophiles groan collectively – something even a reference to Britney Spears can rarely do. He admitted, with a lamentation and an imp-like grin, that he had sacrificed his entire collection of vinyl records because he couldn’t bear the thought of moving them any longer. The crowd assembled at Changing Hands Bookstore shuddered, and time stood still.

Sitting in the front row of the audience, my dog-eared and be-noted copy of his new book, 1,000 Recordings to Hear Before You Die perched neatly on my lap, I had to concentrate to stop my face from twisting into an expression of appalled alarm. It was like learning that Dr. Spock had slaughtered a child to avoid carrying a diaper bag. I thought of the LPs I myself own, swaddled in plastic sleeves and alphabetized in their very own book case. The records that I had wrapped individually before trucking them from Quincy, Massachusetts, to Tempe, Arizona. I clutched my book to keep from wrestling away the microphone, and initiating some rambling, lunatic rant about the warm tones of vinyl versus the tomb-cold sound of a CD or mp3. I counted to ten, and reminded myself that I could possibly use a vacation and a therapist to fit into polite society.

Truthfully, I was more surprised by the admission than anything else. The scope of Moon’s taste is something everyone should strive for, and he’s composed a truly egalitarian book. Not only does he include classical compositions, but rock, jazz, blues, opera, hip-hop, and an expansive variety of international artists. His passion for his trade is evident before you’ve read beyond the introduction, and his status as an expert grows with each successive entry. Even if he did listen to most of the recordings through the static, finite waves of digital recording, it’s clear he has done his research. Research that is invaluable for music fans of all levels of intensity, because it can spark an interest in a genre or artist you’ve never heard of before.

After the event, at the newly reopened Hoodlums Music & Movies, I mentioned some of the missteps I made during my musical education. There will always be a soft spot in my heart for the B-52s, who are responsible for the first album I ever owned. I’ll always have a little love for Led Zeppelin’s filler-flooded Presence, an album I assumed was good during my formative years because every record store had so many used copies on hand. I’m not embarrassed by those admissions; they were some of the first recordings I loved and they inspired a passion for music. But for those of us who need a bit of guidance from time to time, this book is the kind of resource that could help a kid choose Led Zeppelin II instead. Best of all, Hoodlums has decided to aid the education process by offering a 10% discount on all 1,000 recordings.

Sept. 26, 2008

This article was cross-posted at the Changing Hands blog, Flap Copy.

E-mail Rachel Tavares at rachel@staticandfeedback.com

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