Art Dudley: A Primal Light

Photo: Sasha Matson

In April 14, 1895, Mahler's Symphony No.2, "Resurrection," premiered in Berlin (footnote 1). Mahler wrote a program for this symphony prior to a performance six years later, in Dresden. Here is what he wrote about the first movement, Allegro maestoso:

"We are standing near the grave of a well-loved man. His whole life, his struggles, his sufferings and his accomplishments on earth pass before us. And now, in this solemn and deeply stirring moment, when the confusion and distractions of everyday life are lifted like a hood from our eyes, a voice of awe-inspiring solemnity chills our heart, a voice that, blinded by the mirage of everyday life, we usually ignore: 'What next?' it says. 'What is life and what is death? Will we live on eternally? Is it all an empty dream or do our life and death have meaning?'"

If you follow hi-fi online, you already know that in the early morning on that same date, 125 years after that Mahler premier, Art Dudley, Stereophile's beloved columnist and deputy editor, passed away after a short battle with cancer.

I only got to know Art well over a period of about 18 months, starting in late 2018, when he approached me at a Stereophile holiday lunch to ask if I'd be interested "in having a larger role at the magazine." Nobody outside the magazine knew it yet, but John Atkinson was planning to retire as editor-in-chief. Art, the heir-apparent, didn't want the gig, so they hired me instead. That was my good fortune in many ways, but the most fortunate turned out to be getting to work closely with Art Dudley.

Art entered magazine publishing at Backpacker in the late '70s. In 1994, after learning he'd been laid off from a job teaching middle school, he turned down an offer to join the Stereophile team, from editor John Atkinson, and started Listener, an opinionated journal of music and audio.

Listener's coverage reflected Art's particular and evolving tastes and values: single-ended triodes, affordable integrated amplifiers, turntables, tweaks, music. "Throughout it all shone Art's sense of humor," John Atkinson wrote in a remembrance published online in April, "whether it was offering a photo of a bunny to offended readers or printing a single letter on each issue's spine so that when you placed Listeners in chronological order on your bookshelf, the message WILMER SAYS 'NO' TO POT SMOKING appeared. Wilmer was Art and [wife] Janet's pet cat."

In 1999, Art sold Listener to Belvoir Publications, staying on as editor. "As often happens, the new owners didn't realize that what they had purchased was not a physical magazine but Art and Art's points of view," JA continued. "Friction between editor and publisher was inevitable, and in July 2002, Art emailed me to let me know that Belvoir was going to knock Listener on the head and asked if my 8-year-old offer still stood." It did.

Art's first column—Listening #1—appeared in the January 2003 issue of Stereophile. His first words: "Even poor people fly." That column also included this sentence: "Music is easy to miss for the listener who thinks his job is to concentrate on the sound." That sensibility—which is arguably even more essential for Stereophile's writers than for its readers—would inform every one of the many words Art wrote for this magazine. His final column—Listening #210—appeared in Stereophile's June issue.

For about 18 months, Art and I worked side by side to produce this magazine. He was an ideal partner: smart, talented, hardworking, meticulous. As an editor, he was intense, serious, uncompromising—he respected words too much to let bad ones through. But he was always sensitive and kind, earning loyalty from those whose work he edited harshly.

Art edited almost every word of every column and review published in Stereophile over that period, except his own writing, which I edited—a near-trivial task because his writing was immaculate.

Art may be a hi-fi legend, but in the context of our relationship, he was ever the diligent employee. He always let me know when he would be away from his desk. In March, he told me, he would be away from his desk for some medical tests. In little more than a month, he was gone.

Art leaves behind a considerable legacy. There's his writing in Listener and Stereophile—and in Fretboard Journal, where he wrote about guitars and guitarists. The many tributes posted on-line include several recurrent themes: that Art wasn't just a great audio writer but a great writer, period. That Art was the best writer about audio not just now, but ever. That Art was decent and kind. That at audio shows, Art would always stop and talk to starstruck audiophiles, no matter how busy he was. That Art had integrity far beyond that of the typical audio journalist. All true.

Because of these qualities, and because of his uncommon talent and skill, Art affected many people. He made many lives better.

This, our July issue, is the first issue since January 2003 that contains no original words by Art. His column, Listening, will of course be retired. Revinylization, the one-page column on vinyl reissues, which Art inaugurated in our January 2020 issue, will continue, written by me and perhaps also others.

Mahler's program for Symphony No.2—here in its fifth and final movement, the Aufersteh'n—ends like this:

"Lo and behold: There is no judgment, no sinners, no just men, no great and no small; there is no punishment and no reward. A feeling of overwhelming love fills us with blissful knowledge and illuminates our existence."

Rest in peace, Art. We miss you.—Jim Austin

Footnote 1: Only the first three movements were performed.

ChrisS's picture

Play As Time Goes By...

Another end, another beginning.

RIP, Art.

Anton's picture

Thank you for that perfect remembrance.

tonykaz's picture

People write the most beautiful prose about Mr.AD. I didn't know him.

I knew a small few others that passed and left a void that never filled.

Decade old memories of these people remain fresh, they were our mentors.

Tony in Venice

Jack L's picture

..... do our life and death have meaning?'" quoted Jim Austin.

Any religion tells its believers that they 'will' still live after death in another venue - a much better place - a 'rose garden' maybe.

Death is the termination of Life as no life in this world lasts forever or eternally.

One can lead a solid & fulfilled life & one can lead a easy casual life. Whatever lifestyle one lives in does not matter to others as long one loves it.

One may suffer sickness pain long long before passing away. Art was pretty 'fortunate' to go without much suffering. It is a blessing for him given such sickness is incurable.

In some religious philosophy, to decease peacefully without much suffering is the consequence of one's good acts towards others. A blessing.

RIP Art.

Jack L

dclivejazz's picture

Learning about Art Dudley's demise fills me with sadness. This is a blow. I loved his writing and not just for his opinions about stereo equipment and music. I still have a few of his old Listener magazines because I could not bear to part with them when I downsized into a smaller house. He and his work feel like they've been a treasured companion over the years, although I never met him, and reading him was a pleasure to look forward to each month. I hope his family, who were featured in his work all along, hangs in there. RIP, Mr. Dudley.

JohanAtle's picture

I am deeply saddened by the passing of Art Dudley. His writing lifted Stereophile to levels far above the subject of audio.
Mr Austin: Is there a possibility to collect/download/print all his articles for Stereophile? I would certainly be happy to pay for such a publication., and I suspect others would too.
I am a long time subscriber, from before his time with your magazine. I will continue reading Stereophile, but there is a void suddenly that will be hard to fill.
Please consider my suggestion. Art did not just write articles in a magazine. He wrote literature.

Thank you,
Johan Bruland, Norway

orgillian's picture

Upon the passing of his bandmate Leroi Moore, Dave Matthews said: "It is easier to leave than to be left."

Art was one of those rarities that you heard or read about but never met - someone who truly illustrated Robert F Kennedy's words: "The purpose of life is to contribute in some way to making things better.” Although he'd never admit it, he made the world a better place and the ripples created by his presence here will reverberate for a long time. Rest in peace my friend.

Nutsfortubes's picture

First Meta Gizmo. Now Art. Always enjoyed Art’s writhing. I will miss it and what will become of the guild?

low2midhifi's picture

I was moved by this story. So often the contributions of the people whose contributions make an institution of a workplace go unmentioned. This story showed how the dedicated and unyielding work of Art Dudley made Stereophile the publication that it is today. I hope that all installments of "Listening" remain for posterity and for audio enthusiasts alike on Stereophile's site. Thanks again for this testimonial on how the contributions of one person doing his job does so much to build a durable presence for a publication, its readers, enthusiasts in a hobby, and an entire industry.