I first met Harry Pearson back in the early ’90s. Out of college and killing time in my hometown before making a leap into the real world, I was videotaping events at a conference center in Glen Cove, New York — a few miles from Sea Cliff and the stately Victorian where Harry had launched his high-end magazine The Absolute Sound in 1973.
Most conferences I taped back then were stockbrokers discussing IPOs and other mundane stuff. But one event I worked dealt with something equally foreign to me at the time: high-end audio. Packing up my gear after, the southern gent with the deep, confident voice who had moderated the proceedings walked over and struck up a conversation.
Two months later, I found myself in a room surrounded by towering speakers, vacuum-tube electronics, and exotic turntables, all of which bore little resemblance to the Technics system that I had at home. Given all the high-tech gear, I was taken aback by the simple acoustic cut Harry chose to show it off: Cat Stevens’ “The Boy with the Moon and Star on His Head.” I had heard the song before, but it was like listening to it for the first time: the vocals and guitar sounded rich and real. I was hooked.
Like many others who entered HP’s orbit, I ended up working for a spell at his publishing empire, mainly for The Perfect Vision, a film tech/home theater magazine that was years ahead of its time. Harry was first and foremost an audiophile — a term he may have even coined in the pages of TAS, along with much of the language other audiophiles and critics still use today to describe their listening experiences. But HP had an equal enthusiasm for movies. We connected over our shared love of trashy horror and European art film — I was wow’ed to see Massacre At Central High share shelf space with Berlin Alexanderplatz in his collection. But that was the Harry I knew: someone who gave equal weight to the high and low.
In contrast with his reputation — mostly undeserved — as a headstrong tyrant, Harry was the friendliest, most personable person I’ve ever met. I envied his ability to get along with anyone. Perhaps his greatest gift to me was the annoyed look he’d get when I described a movie, book, or concert as simply good, bad, or great. His critical mind demanded more detail. And I would then be challenged to deliver it.
The Perfect Vision folded. I left. HP, who never really gave a damn about the business side of things, was forced to let go of TAS. We still communicated, but less and less over the years.
Now he’s gone. There are many things I love that can be traced directly back to him: space music, Black Russians, Tarkovsky, Tchaikovsky, cats. In my mind, he is still speeding along the sleepy, tree-lined streets of Sea Cliff in his Corvette with the top down. Godspeed, HP.
Editor’s note: Harry Pearson passed away on November 4 at the age of 77. More tributes and reminiscences of HP can be found on The Absolute Sound.