Blog 3: Harry Pearson January 5, 1937 – November 4, 2014

Harry Pearson photo courtesy of Robert Graham obituary by Ken Kessler

Harry Pearson, photo courtesy of Joey Weiss and Bob Graham

Today – indeed, for the next many months and years – the high-end audio industry will feel bereft, knowing a void that will never be filled. The passing of Harry Pearson will elicit obituaries, hagiographies, tearful and fond memories, and some not-so-fond.

As one who experienced the dark side of HP, it’s a challenge for me to bury my prejudice, but the last time I saw him, all was cordial. I was once told that Harry never, ever apologised, and on this occasion he was true to form, but we were too old to remain at odds.

Rather, I will recount an anecdote or two.

On my first visit to Sea Cliff, I was a nervous wreck. Harry was the Audio God, doing for high end audio what Robert Parker did for wine. I was a newcomer. I had been filled with horrific tales about the worst sort of prima donna behaviour, and was under scrutiny as one of his latest recruits for The Absolute Sound. As it was, he fed me a few suspect brownies, fired up the IRSes, and proved as cordial a host as one could hope to meet.

OK, so I was high as a kite, and almost got lost finding my way back to Manhattan, but was certainly left in no doubt that Harry ruled the high end in a more-than-metaphorical manner. The impression was one of visiting a potentate. He had lackeys, not assistants. Harry was ever theatrical. He could have taught Yul Brynner a thing or two.

He called me “Professor” during my tenure with the magazine, which came to an abrupt end due to the machinations of one of his Grima Wormtongue-like schleppers. We didn’t speak for 20 years. Then, out of the blue, he e-mailed me as if nothing had happened, to confirm some detail about a piece of British hi-fi-equipment.

Harry’s appetites for wine, caviar and the like are well-known, the stuff of legends. Feuds and friendships, flamboyance and hissy-fits. But that is not why we’ll feel the terrible loss.

We’ll miss him because, back in the day, his writing was inspirational. It is safe to say that without him, the high end would not exist as we know it. Along with J Gordon Holt, whom Harry freely credited with inspiring him to launch The Absolute Sound, a genre was created.

The two of them lifted audio journalism out of the crass, commercial swamp in which it was mired, and turned it into something as literate as theatre criticism, as exciting as the best automotive journalism, as bizarre as wine writing. I’m but one of his beneficiaries, because high end audio gave me a career.

And, thanks to Harry, his defining of the high end provided all of us with lives enriched by deliriously transcendent musical pleasure.