Music, Audio, and Other Illnesses

Wild About Harry (Pearson)

Some time ago, I wrote, first for Paul McGowan, and re-published in PFO a couple years ago, about why I left The Absolute Sound.  But I didn’t really write about Harry Pearson. Many folks have opined on him in the last few years, and not all good.

He was a controversial man — loved, hated, commanding both loyalty and derision and seemingly wielding great power in the high-end business. He enjoyed that people perceived that of him, no question. But he also found it absurd. And that he found it absurd – that’s where my friendship with him found one of its greatest pleasures.

I met him in 1987, on a visit to Sea Cliff to talk with Sallie Reynolds. Michael Fremer called him at my request to see if we could come to the house. We were given a gruff response, so typical of Harry. But when we got there, after three or four hours, Fremer had to tear us away, insisting that Harry said we could have fifteen minutes. Harry made what I thought was a statement meant to be disarming: “Who knew your friend was so charming?” Flattery, I thought…

But it turns out he meant it. I was, more or less instantly, accepted in to his family, such as it was. He had very powerful instincts, whether for good or ill. I did my best to be true to that acceptance. And once you were in, you were IN.

I assume others have written about his writing, but I do want to convey one thing he said to me that I found to be utterly true of that writing: Harry could tell you how something sounded. Think about that, for a moment or more. His descriptive powers were that good when he was firing on all cylinders. Most of us are failing at that all the time.

On his first visit to LA after we met, he took me to a great Japanese restaurant near where I lived. And when he came out next, he, Kevin Voecks and I went to that chef’s new place. And I’ve been going there ever since, nearly 30 years.

The list of people I know because of Harry, it’s sort of immense. My entire audio system was built by people that I met through him (sometimes in his guise as HP) — either first hand or second hand. Paul McGowan and I know each other because of Harry. I found that if someone was liked and trusted by Harry — really trusted — that was good enough. He was, more than a collector of great audio, a collector of great friends with similar passions. Anyone who shared one of those passions was invited into as many of them as one could handle: not just audio, but concert going, photography, food and drink especially — and into that ever-widening circle of friends.

I’m not sure whether this creation of “HP” was a deliberate act or his apparent separation of himself into two personas is something that just evolved, more or less naturally. I certainly wasn’t aware of it at all in my early years of knowing him. But he seemed to take a delight in the fact; that there was a public, almost-legendary persona, which he and his friends could talk about, sometimes with humor, as a separate being; a bit of the recognition, even in the high end, of the unreality of notoriety.

He was, of course, a man of great contradictions. He could be utterly infuriating, and when he was that, I kept my distance (I assume this is true of his other friends too). I have a few friends that I met through him that I think will never forgive him for some transgression or another. I understand. But that’s not me. Life is too short; people are too imperfect.

He was, when we were together, unfailingly kind. He attempted to live his life absolutely according to his own rules — and for the most part, he succeeded. As I said in that earlier piece, for the better part of twenty years, he was the “Pop” in “Harry and Sallie’s Mom & Pop Audio Magazine” to me, giving me a true friendship as well as a platform, and bringing in to my life so many other true friends and good things.

I remember him only fondly, in my heart of hearts, and with some eternal gratitude.

[I didn’t know Harry as well as Dan, Paul, or  dozens of others in the biz did, but interactions with him were always memorable. Through the years our relationship shifted from that of an annoying minion (me, obviously) seeking the return of a long-overdue review sample from the King (Harry—obviously!) to almost-peers.  Almost. Harry’s interest in/obsession with astrology is well-known—aware that I was a Gemini, Harry begin every conversation with, “Leebens, which one am I talking to?“—meaning the “nice” twin or the “evil” one. If I were impatient with the ruse (as I often was), I’d say, “the evil one, Harry, so don’t f— with me.”

Harry was a joy, Harry was a pain. Harry was an original whose influence on the audio world, both good and bad, cannot be overstated. I’m glad I knew him, and I wish I’d known him better. —Ed.]