On August 31, 2012, TAS founder Harry Pearson officially resigned from the staff of The Absolute Sound. As some of you may know, HP has had very serious health issues this year, which is the reason why you haven’t seen his contributions in our pages over the past seven or eight issues. He has now decided to pursue his own personal projects rather than return to the monthly grind of TAS.
There is no question that HP was the most important audio writer of his generation, and that his influence has been felt by every audio critic whether they’ve written for TAS or other publications. His great insight—that audio gear ought not to be tested by machine but by ear, with the goal of finding those components that most faithfully reproduce the sound of real instruments in a real space—has become the prime tenet of “observational” audio criticism. The beauty of this thought is its flexibility: You don’t have to write for a hi-fi magazine or (nowadays) Web site to be able to make use of it.
To me, the most significant practical consequence of HP’s “philosophy” has been the way it has led readers to the concert hall. Heaven only knows how many equipment-centric audiophiles have attended concerts and recitals simply because of HP’s emphasis on the primacy of the live musical experience. That some of those audiophiles have become regular concert- and recital-goers is an achievement worthy of the highest praise.
Many years ago, when I came back to TAS (at Mr. Pearson’s behest) after the demise of Fi, HP did me the honor of calling me the best audio critic currently writing (aside from him, of course). Let me return the favor without qualification. Mr. Pearson in his prime was the best writer this hobby has ever seen—or will see. He not only had a golden ear; he had a brilliant mind, for, as he himself said to me when I complimented him on the acuity of his hearing, it wasn’t the way he heard equipment but the way he thought about what he heard that made him such a terrific critic. That and his writing style, of course, with its Johnsonian complexity and gravitas—and its flashes of dry wit.
It goes without saying that we wish Harry the best of luck—and health—in whatever he chooses to do in the future. There would not have been a TAS without him, and he will always have a place here if he decides to “un-resign.” More to the point, whether he is writing for us or not, HP’s philosophy will always be an essential part of this magazine. Using “the absolute sound” as an approach to critical listening, thinking, and judgment is something HP has bequeathed not just to TAS but also to the world at large. We will honor this legacy.
Finally, let me indulge in a personal reminiscence. Soon after my book on RCA recordings came out back in 1993, I got a cold call from Harry Pearson. Even though I’d written ten (soon to be eleven) novels I was a bit in awe—I’d been reading HP since I was a kid and actually hearing that deep, rumbling voice of his for the first time, and out of the blue, was disconcerting. “I feel like I’m talking to God,” I blurted out. There was a pause and then HP replied, “No, God is talking to you.”
That, I guess, is the way I’ll always think of him. Despite the ups and downs, he has been a constant overarching presence in my professional life since the day I got that phone call. Even after his resignation he will remain an abiding presence. “HP,” however you may feel about Harry Pearson the man (and this is a distinction Pearson himself has often made), was and is one of those rare “bigger-than-life” characters—part truth, part legend, and one helluva performer. So…here’s to you, Harry. You’ve made my life—and the lives of others who’ve known and worked for you—constantly challenging and interesting for the past twenty years. As Neil Young (a fan of this magazine) once sang, “Long may you run.”