I never met Harry Pearson.
I think the closest I ever came was a trip out to RMAF some four or five years ago, when he was doing a seminar. I was a nobody and an introvert besides, so going up and shaking his hand was never in the cards.
What I remember of Harry was his presence. His voice. His language. His passion. And the fact that we all, that is, “audio writers”, seem to have made themselves quite at home in the Thunderdome he and J Gordon Holt set up for us. That’s a remarkable thing.
If I were in a confessing kind of mood, I’d acknowledge that my debts to Harry — and it’s always “Harry”, and never “Mr Pearson” or “Pearson” — are indirect. Many of my friends and colleagues wax poetic about the reviews he wrote, admiring the sheer weight of his words and how they lay so heavily on the brow and mind. But I never found the time to go back through the archives, scouring for his work. By the time I was reading The Absolute Sound, he was long gone. By the time I was aware of who and what he was to that magazine, and to audio’s high-end, I was already writing for his magazine. That’s no disrespect; all that says is that I haven’t really been doing this all that long. His presence, for me, was already more an echo of a storm that had recently passed by.
But I … well, I never met him.
Calling Harry a “polarizing figure” will probably surprise exactly no one. But as one of the very few “father figures” the industry still had, his shadow was long, deep, and troubled. Very much like the industry he shepherded. I think it’s too strong to say that Harry created the audio business. Or the audio publishing business. There have been a lot of great and influential people who brought life to those things we now enjoy, and perhaps currently feel pangs of longing about for their passing. No, Harry isn’t responsible. But, somehow, it kind of feels right to say that he is. His hand is still there. Still.
I wrote for his magazine for over a year. During that time, I’ve shaken hands and traded jokes with seemingly everyone Harry trained, coached, mentored or competed with. It’s a long, impressive list. During that time, I’ve heard him praised to the rafters and insulted down to the core of his soul. Often, at the same event, and occasionally by the same person.
It’s a weird business.
I’ve met more writers, and would-be writers, that aspire to be Harry than any other in this field. I find that interesting. Perhaps Harry would, too. I hope he’d have been cheered by that. I can imagine a rueful half-grin.
35 years of publishing a magazine is a hell of a thing. Someone once told me that Harry wrote by the pound. I found that funny, but took it to mean that Harry’s approach was far more Melville than Hemingway. “Baroque” is the way another put it, and another offered a far more succinct enclosure, by offering “dense”. And that, to me, is fascinating.
Harry had a style. Something that many of us simply lack. Like it or loathe it, reading Harry’s work was exercise. A trek. It took work. Sometimes, it took a dictionary. But he was textured. He was most definitely not boring. There’s an interesting lesson, there. I can imagine another, knowing, smirk.
So, here I am. Harry is gone. My chance to say “thanks” has gone with him. I feel like a wind has come through the trees. Come, and then gone. Looking at this from the side, I’m not sure why this news is affecting me so much.
I never met him.
What sticks in my mind, like a thorn I can’t quite get a grip on, is a rather brooding and lonely image. Harry, sidelined, looking back. On what he achieved, what he didn’t, and what he still wanted to attempt. In my imagination, it’s a stark and reflective place; I can’t tell if it’s melancholy, or just melodramatically existential, but the whole of it makes me itch, like having the hairs on the back of your arm too-lightly brushed. I don’t want to sit with it, so I move on.
I don’t know what you can legitimately and reasonably hope for, as a writer of prose, targeting life’s riches with wit and irony. “Being memorable” is admirable, and if that is the measure, then Harry exceeded all expectation. I’d rather substitute “having impact”, myself. It’ll take no argument to fit Harry for that suit, as well.
To all reports, he was quite the character. A scholar. A gentleman. A poet. A giant? Maybe that, too.
But I never met him, this Harry Pearson. And for that, I am most truly and deeply sorry.