“Are you playing it on purpose?” A customer raises an eyebrow at the ABBA music vibrating through the stacks at Labyrinth Books. Don Hackett, Labyrinth’s coursebook manager, responds goodnaturedly: “We don’t try to tell anyone that they can’t play something.” At the stereo behind the cash registers where Yalies empty their pockets purchasing reading lists, employees of Yale’s “other” bookstore play DJ. Don Hackett, the coordinator for all textbook orders, invites me to thumb through a stack of CDs Labyrinth has played over the years: everything from Donna Summers to Hank Williams to Wagner.
Whether braving the crowds during reading week or casually coveting the sale books in the sidewalk carts, students are unlikely to go a semester without perusing the wares of Labyrinth Books. The music from the selling floor fades as I head toward the basement and its troves of coursebooks. There, Don translates professors’ syllabi into an underground maze of books. Since his office is hidden in a quiet, lower-level corner, Don’s CDs aren’t on frequent rotation upstairs. But the other employees still rave about him as the resident “real musician.” Don has a louder persona than his day job suggests: he’s the drummer for Half Moon, a local classic rock band.
Don perches on a step ladder and offers me a kind smile through his neatly-groomed salt-and-pepper goatee. He tilts his head wistfully to the tunes of “Miles in Berlin,” a Miles Davis album he chose to play for me, and I learn that Don’s earliest instrumental ambition was not the drums, but the trumpet. Revealing his teenage love of trumpeter Don Ellis and bebopper Dizzy Gillespie, Don describes his fascination with unusual time signatures and music that fuses different styles. “I like things that are a little odd,” he says, and relates the story of Don Ellis’ custom-made trumpet that had a fourth valve installed for playing half-tones and semi-tones.
Despite his youthful love for the trumpet, Don had switched to the drums by the time he joined Half Moon. While he didn’t listen to classic rock when he was a kid, he says he’s come to love the music his friends listened to when they were growing up. Since joining Half Moon two years ago, he’s spent more time listening to the Rolling Stones than ever before in his life.
As Don talks to me about his musical life, a twangy guitar suddenly replaces Davis on the speakers — the Dixie Chicks have arrived. It seems fitting that the music selection at Labyrinth, an alternative bookstore, goes beyond the formulaic mixes that most businesses insist upon playing to woo customers. A sixty-ish professor seen humming along to ABBA as he browsed the shelves made a good argument for the variety of musical appeal. Expect to be surprised if Don’s music makes it onto the CD player on your next visit to Labyrinth: “My latest thing, I’ve gotten into surf music a lot in the last year. I don’t know where that came from, but I just like the sound of it.”