©2023 By Andrea Kusten
Howie Pyro was the love of my life, my soulmate. It’s hard to write about a person when you’ve had such an intense relationship. It’s difficult to put into words exactly the impact of the lightning bolts that shot out of his eyes the first time we met. It was like the heaviest deja vu I have ever experienced. So forgive my gushing as I try to write a remembrance of my dear departed onetime hubby.
Cool. That is the number one word that comes to mind when I think of Howie. He was the cool little kid with the extended fork chopper banana seat bike. He was the coolest pre-teen with the most monster magazines. He was an actual teenage runaway who ventured to NYC and started his own punk rock band. He shared stages and drugs with his idols in the late 70s Max’s Kansas City scene where his group The Blessed were the underage darlings.
Meeting Howie Pyro was cool like hearing “I Wanna Be Your Dog” for the first time. The best riff in the coolest song… that was Howie’s whole rock-n-roll zeitgeist in a nutshell.
Wrap all that cool in a plethora of hairstyles and images over the decades. Howie had natural rock star good looks. He always reminded me of George Harrison on the cover of Rubber Soul with his ruggedly handsome face and strong jaw line. This is how he was wearing his hair when we met in the 60s garage scene that revolved around a club called The Dive in the early 80s.
Howie could rock a long Beatle haircut as well as he could a mohawk, spiked punk do, Johnny Thunders mop, Keith Richards shag, red David Bowie mullet, or the biker/cult leader long hair with requisite fu manchu and goatee. The latter is the style he had throughout most of our marriage, which he returned to in later years as he let his natural gray come in. He was so devastatingly handsome in all his different phases…and always with that rock star charisma shining through.
Brilliant is the other word that comes to mind regarding Howie. He was a scholar of the underbelly of pop culture from freak shows to spook shows, from tacky burlesque to Tom of Finland… every grade B to Z movie ever made, especially horror…hundreds of toys and tchotchkes from the psychedelicizing of middle America, underground comics, obscure books and magazines, movie posters, records…Howie accumulated it all.
His collection is legendary. What drove Howie to hoard all this nobody will ever know…but he had to own it…every scrap of anything that he found the least bit interesting… or better yet retarded, a word Howie used to describe the best of the best in his world, the ultimate compliment.
The amazing thing about Mr. Pyro was his voracious appetite for studying all these things he compiled in his rapidly diminishing living space. He was a bona fide expert in so many fields that he should have had an honorary university degree. Had he lived who knows, he might have gotten one.
There was never any place to sit down at any of Howie’s dwellings. He always acted shocked that you would ask such a thing…to sit down, that is. I remember once Gyda Gash and I were at his place in the East Village and we both wanted to pop a squat. I thought he was gonna faint. He was always highly dramatic, prompting some to refer to him as Aunt Howie. Note that the clutter wasn’t like that the five years we were together in the mid 80s. My collection (Beatles, Planet of the Apes, Superman and Famous Monsters) cohabitated with his stuff just fine in those early days and we had room to conduct our lives.
Hilarious is the third in the trilogy of descriptions of Howie Pyro. He was so smart that he was super fast with the witty observations. If he got on a roll he could keep you in side splitting convulsions laughing till it hurt. His own laugh looms large in his legend too…most often described as a kind of donkey snorting and yucking it up. Howie should have been the punk rock center square. Like Paul Lynde, he was always catty and the funniest one in the room.
Howie was also a fantastic musician. Bass players amaze me anyway, but he was the best. We played like hand in glove when I tackled rhythm guitar in FREAKS so I know what he was playing and how it felt. It was always just right for each new original song and really added creativity and punch to our recorded tracks in particular.
Howie Pyro, the DJ, is also the stuff of legends. His taste is impeccable. Imagine the most perfect mix of dark cool tough rock and funk and you’ve got Howie at the Green Door parties of the 90s. I would leave drenched in sweat because it was impossible to exit the dance floor. I do know that Howie loved to watch me dance and it seemed like he was playing song after song just for me, but that’s how he made everyone on the dance floor feel. Howie behind the turntables was sheer magic.
He also had a weekly radio show on LuxuriaMusic.com called Intoxica that has such a cult following that devotees have numbered tattoos featuring one of the Gruesomes cartoon characters and the Intoxica logo. He had a live club event for that at the Ace Hotel in California. Los Angeles was his adopted home.
There’s so much to say about Howie Pyro. The way we met is a story in itself. There will be a part two of this remembrance that will be published around May 4th for the one year anniversary of Howie’s death, so stay tuned. In the meantime be sure to pick up your copy of FREAKS 2 LP retrospective Still In-Sensurround available at both Rough Trade at https://www.roughtrade.com/us/product/freaks/still-in-sensurround or Get Hip at https://gethip.com/blog/2023/04/12/freaks-still-in-sensurround-double-lp-gatefold/ !!