December 23, 2008

John Potis: A Remembrance

The SoundStage! Network crew at CES 2001. John Potis is fourth from the left.

I met John Potis, father and husband, prolific audio reviewer, and chef, exactly twice: once when we covered CES together and a few years later when I visited Conrad-Johnson. John drove to Northern Virginia from his home outside Baltimore. We had lunch and did some listening in C-J's room, the big Wilson Audio X-1 speakers never sounding better.

As I recall, we disagreed about that, which was nothing new. Like siblings, John and I had the ability to get under each other's skin, sometimes in the most irritating of ways. We had many disagreements, and just as many times we made peace with each other, including the most recent time, which was prompted by a review of his that I read and enjoyed. I wrote and told him so, and he wrote back with surprising news: He was ill. John was a horse of a man, a college wrestler, and that physical vigor flowed into his mental life and his audio writing. When John received a product, there was never any question that he would produce a review of it on time -- often ahead of schedule. And his reviews showed respect for the craft of writing, keen insight into the product's sound, and, most of all, the desire to help others enjoy the delights of musical reproduction. It's this last thing I admired and respected most about him. It made him much more than your average audio critic. He cared, and he let others know this.

John's illness began as a cancerous lymph node under his left jaw. His prognosis was "very good," as he relayed to me via e-mail, but he would still undergo chemotherapy and radiation treatment. A few days ago he wrote to tell me he was "as weak as a kitten and with a low-grade fever." I replied, "It's completely amazing to me that through all of this you even want to send e-mail. I wouldn't." Two days ago he wrote his last message to me, pointing out that he'd seen "the Hallmark commercial on TV that features (for about a half of a second) the solid-state ARC power amplifier sitting on the bottom of the end table with no other stereo equipment at all." That acute sense of observation defined John. He even had the amp pegged as solid state.

But high-end audio was a distant second for him. His family dominated, and I heard all manner of information about his daughters and wife. His father lives in the same Arizona town I do, and it was during a time when John and I were miffed at each other that he and his family visited his father. After finding out later that he was here in town, I figured there would be other opportunities to see him again.

John wrote literally hundreds of audio-related articles and thousands of e-mail messages, many to me. As I try to convey my feelings for him, I realize that in his reviews you get an idea of how his mind worked, but in his e-mail you understand how he worked. I could excerpt a few messages for you, but doing so feels rushed and inadequate right now, one day after his untimely death. John was all breadth, and it would take all of the e-mail I have from him to convey that.

I make one final offer of peace, John. I will miss you dearly and remember you always.

...Marc Mickelson