©2023 By Andrea Kusten
I was asked to write a remembrance of my former husband, Howie Pyro, and I didn’t realize how therapeutic it would be for me. As I write, the pending anniversary of his passing May 4, 2022 has brought up so many overwhelming feelings. Howie’s illness and death is the heaviest thing I’ve ever been through and I suppose I have done a lot of mourning in public posting pictures and memories on Facebook.
I was devastated that I couldn’t get to LA for his funeral– finances and work schedule prevented it but I was able to go back to my hometown, NYC, for the Memorial there. I thought I’d try to share some of the stories I told at that intimate event at Bowery Electric.
First off it was utterly surreal to be back in NYC where I spent so many years joined at the hip with Howie, but I was surrounded by a throng of the coolest and best women of the East Village, lifelong friends who showed up to mourn Howie and help me through this. The guys were there in full force too, but it was the sisterhood that was especially strong that warm July night.
I was barely holding back tears as I took the stage and simply said “I married Howie Pyro.” I got the biggest laugh of the night. I admitted that it was a bit like saying “I married a teenage Frankenstein.”
I fumbled with an index card with some talking points jotted on it as I tried to stifle my sobbing and went on to tell the story of how we met…
One thing that Howie and I already had in common was that as teenagers our first bands, The Blessed and The Outta Place were incredibly popular in their respective heydays. When mine broke up, the keyboard player Shari tried to put together another group. She recruited me on drums, John Fay (later the guitarist for FREAKS) and a guy named Howie Pyro to play bass. She kept insisting that I knew Howie…”Everyone knows Howie.” I did not.
Oddly enough Howie and I were the first to show up. I recognized him as the guy I always saw at shows weighted down with a heavy shoulder bag full of books, armfuls of packages of comics and records (the day’s haul) and perhaps a vintage lamp he had found while garbage picking. I would think, “Jeeze Louise, how does this guy have fun at a club with all that stuff?”
One time I was at a FUZZTONES show at the Peppermint Lounge and happened to be standing near him. He had the whole display box of these rubber wiggling miniature severed arms and legs called Pieces of Body… he was shaking them in my face ‘cause he knew I was psychedelically altered. That’s all I knew of Howie Pyro.
He immediately asked me if I had a certain book he wanted to borrow (“A Collectors Guide to Famous Monsters of Filmland Magazine”). To which I replied bragging, ” I had my picture in FM when I was a kid.” He shot back “So did I. What issue?” When I replied “116” and we realized we were in the same issue, I immediately knew this was the man I was going to marry. I swear lightning struck. His eyes zapped mine and I was overwhelmed with deja vu. Within a matter of weeks we were inseparable.
The new band never happened, but several years later in 1986 Howie and I had a baby called FREAKS (our ultimate vision of a rock group). When I mentioned this at the Memorial there was a large round of applause from the audience. I was really taken aback.
Next I announced the coming of the new album and I don’t remember if I mentioned that Howie worked on it from his hospital bed, choosing photos, sequencing songs and naming the lp “Still In-Sensurround.”
I then went on to tell about our wedding Halloween of 1987 and our infamous honeymoon trip to LA hosted by the McDonald brothers from Redd Kross. Of course we went to visit Forry Ackerman, the editor of “Famous Monsters” at his mansion chock full of monster movie memorabilia. He loved our story and took us out to lunch too. It was a dream come true for both of us.
We were truly a John and Yoko type of couple. We lived together, worked at the same job and played in the same band…by Halloween 1989 this constant togetherness had put a strain on the marriage along with other factors. After our last knockdown dragout we decided to split up, but stayed best friends and kept the band going too. We even got matching tattoos after the divorce.
I never was far from Howie. We were sort of like the East Village Sonny & Cher. Even though they split, you still thought of them as a pair. This continued when I moved to LA in 1997 with Howie following a year or two later to join Danzig.
There was so much I wanted to say at the Memorial and my index card of notes wasn’t helping. I wanted people to know how sweet and romantic he was, creating homemade birthday cards and valentines. I also had to acknowledge that other side of Howie…the mischievous, devious class clown with the punk rock attitude who just couldn’t help himself from doing things like showing up at my traditional Christmas cookie party, grabbing my fresh baked goodies and decorating them with pentagrams and 666. He then switched my holiday music to KXLU where our friend Don Bowles was playing “Metal Machine Music.” He topped it off by pulling up some Japanese eel porn up on my iMac…a typical Howie Pyro performance. Merry Christmas indeed.
The last major point I wanted to let the intimate crowd of mourners hear was that it meant so much for Howie to know just how loved and popular he was before he passed. Jesse Malin started a Gofundme that raised an astonishing amount of money for Howie’s liver transplant in a matter of days. Jesse also held two huge benefit shows in NY and LA, where Howie’s friends turned out in droves to perform and participate. He died knowing he was so loved and adored by so many.
What was mega bizarre to me was the Celebration of Life show Jesse put on later that week. It was a packed house at a large venue with the audience chanting “Howie! Pyro!” repeatedly. Talk about surreal…as I laid my money down to purchase a t-shirt with Howie’s image, I muttered “That was my husband.” I married a very famous important man and I couldn’t be prouder to be his “former wife.” I rarely say “ex-wife” because there was really nothing “ex” about my relationship with Howie. Though I have lived in Louisville Kentucky since 2008, the two of us stayed in touch with a very strong connection right up until the bitter end.
I have a feeling this isn’t the last time I’ll write about Howie Pyro. He is a legend. Thanks for letting me share…and hey, don’t forget to get your copy of FREAKS “Still In-Sensurround” from the online stores at Rough Trade and Get Hip.
It’s Heavy Orange Rock. You won’t be disappointed.