Pavane Pour Un Dealer Défunt Letters, part 1

Letters in response appeared in Vol.14 No.10, October 1991

A critical look at July
"Pavane Pour un Dealer Défunt" was clearly the high point of the July issue. What an amazing piece of "fiction." The story could apply to practically any business, not just audio. I have seen several "high-tech" companies follow a similar path, almost to the letter.
---Fred E. DavisHamden, CT

Xanadu revisited
Yes, Barry Willis's piece "Pavane Pour Un Dealer Défunt" in the July issue was an entertaining read. Fiction? An imaginative account of the results of combining high-end audio with an unbridled wealthy narcissist? Those of us who live in "Xanadu" and witnessed the grating downward spiral, and those of you (probably all of you) in the high-end industry, knew immediately that the tongue-in-cheek disclaimer should have read: "Any, of course, entirely and pointedly intended."

The motivation behind the writing of the article is transparent. The editorial judgment and motivation behind the inclusion of the piece as such in Stereophile are questionable.

Why the fictionalized guise? These litigious times do warrant a certain amount of legal circumspection in journalism. If the assessment of Murray Krebs's character as presented is truthful, then there is some chance that an individual of this personality type would sue in a moment for character assassination. At the same time, if the story is true point by point, then would not a courageous periodical wish to stand behind the facts and present them openly for all of its readers to seriously consider? At least under the alternative disclaimer: "The story is true, but the names have been changed..." You did intend this to be more than a chuckle piece, did you not?

The amount of space allotted to the article indicates that the editorial staff at Stereophile felt it was indeed serious. However, what did you consider the average non-Xanadu reader (and non-industry insider) would think after reading the article? I spoke with a few fellow audiophiles who live in other parts of the country, and to a number of local non-audiophiles who knew nothing about the actual "Emporium" but to whom I showed the article. "What did you think of Willis's article?" I inquired.

"Thank God my boss isn't like that!"

"Definitely a good read. I wonder if Scorsese has been contacted about buying the film rights...De Niro would be ideal..."

"It was painful to read about this guy and his poor employees. What is this nasty fictional article doing in Stereophile?"

That, of course, is the question. Stereophile is anything but a vehicle for the presentation of "fiction." Those readers (perhaps the vast majority) who are not in the know about the actual tale would have to scratch their heads about the point of the article when they reflect on it at all.

But if it is not purely a construct of the imagination, then the interesting thing is not that there is a lesson or set of lessons to be learned about high-end retailing, but rather that if you combine a volatile egocentric leader with ordinary people serving as minions, an explosively destructive situation results: Group Psychology 101. The story could have just as well been centered around a jewelry store and its owner for all the light it sheds on the particulars of high-end audio. Be forewarned, current and would-be audio dealers: Do not allow your character to be mysteriously transmuted into the Murray Krebs type. Conversely, if you are already this type: Repent, see your psychoanalyst, and pray for spiritual redemption and total psychic restructuring.

However, there is a distinct moral to this story which was neither implicitly nor explicitly brought forward. What happens to all of those audiophile residents of Xanadu when one of their Duntech Sovereigns blows a tweeter? Who will service the Audio Research Classic 150s when the tubes eventually need to be replaced and biased? What about the owner of the Goldmund Reference Turntable when his sculptural and sonic work of wonder doesn't quite produce dulcet sounds anymore? Are those behemoth speakers to be boxed up and shipped to Utah? Do those massive monoblocks have to be entrusted to the vicissitudes of UPS and sent back to Minnesota? Will transatlantic passage have to be booked to get the Goldmund back to Switzerland?

In other words, the purchasing of specialized high-end anything, even in one of the largest cities in the country, can be risky. Without faith in your dealer, this risk could be idiotic. For most of this equipment (and the other names mentioned in the article), there is no dealer, hence no service to be had, for hundreds and hundreds of miles.

Yes, the story was entertaining. But it was also a disquieting tale of an autocratic character (who was perhaps seriously flawed) who adversely affected so many others. Willis na;d;ively closes by saying: "The tragedy is that Krebs really did have a beautiful vision. It might have worked. In the hands of someone else---anyone else---the Xanadu Emporium might be doing a brisk business now." For one to believe this, one must also be able to believe that Kane's visionary empire would have existed in the hands of the conventional albeit highly moral Jedediah.

Call the roller of big cigars,
The muscular one, and bid him whip
In kitchen cups, concupiscent curds...
Let be be finale of seem.
The only emperor is the emperor
of ice-cream.

---Wallace Stevens
---Thomas Dorn, Xanadu