It’s no secret that 2016 sucked. I’ve already written about the number of musicians who have recently passed from this earthly vale of tears. I’ve also written about the passing of two friends and mentors this year: Richard Beers, and Wes Phillips. I’m saddened and deeply pissed-off to say goodbye to another friend/mentor: Ken Furst.
Typical Furst: unflinching gaze and a slight smirk. He’d heard every BS story imaginable, but he was always ready to hear a new one—or to tell one. Photo by David Solomon/CES 2016.
Ken’s story mirrored that of many of us in the biz: high-school band, followed by hi-fi sales in the spiff-happy boom years of the ’70’s. Ken would often talk about his retail days in his gravelly Jersey-accented ex-smoker/late-night DJ voice, a cross between Tom Snyder and Lewis Black. “Oh, man, I sold a ton of those,” he’d say when a particular product was mentioned, “…and what a piece of crap THAT was!” His cackling laugh would fade into a hee-hee-hee, as his shoulders shook.
Ken could tell you about pretty much every piece of stereo gear that was on the market back in those days, all based on personal experience. He was often amused by the uncritical adulation of old gear by vintage audio fans, and would set them straight, patiently but unflinchingly.
After his retail days, Ken went on to head marketing at Denon during that brand’s glory days in the US, and then went on to head the Home Theater Industry Association (when there was such a thing).
Ken subsequently worked at Philips, Adcom, eTown, and Home Theater magazine—and don’t ask me for a chronology, as I’m not sure. I do know that in 2008 he hung out his shingle as Furst Marketing (or more commonly, furstmarketing), where he worked with a broad range of manufacturers and shows.
Ken was revered by two generations of coworkers, colleagues, and acquaintances in the consumer electronics industry. He could always be counted upon to tell anyone who asked what he really thought, not always to the listener’s delight. He was a curious combination of the genteel and the Jersey street, dressed in a natty suit, tie, and pocket square while dropping f-bombs. I’ve never known anyone to speak ill of Ken, a fact that probably would’ve both amused him and pissed him off.
I’ve often envied Ken’s level of connectedness; without exception, a request for a contact would be met with a laconic, “I know a guy….”
All those guys—and gals— will miss him. I know I do, and I will.
Here’s a clip from the Wes Phillips memorial we hosted at RMAF a few months ago (I’ll take the blame for the dark video). This is classic Ken: glass in hand, articulate, emphatic with clear echoes of Jersey throughout. I love that “stuff”:
Eric Franklin Shook took this evocative shot of Ken at Capital Audio Fest, earlier this year. Eric captioned this photo “The Most Interesting Man in the World”—and he honestly meant it.