Howie Pyro, who died on Wednesday, May 4, is getting his due reverence by the press, and for those of us who knew him well, it’s a bittersweet moment indeed. Pyro, who was 61, was one of those exceptional, influential figures who had the taste and charisma to shift the energy wherever he desired. Here in L.A., where he deejayed all over town and hosted his popular internet show Intoxica Radio, we were lucky enough to call him one of our own for 22 years. After undergoing a liver transplant, it looked like the punk powerhouse beat death as we’d all hoped; he’d been recovering in a Los Angeles hospital for the past few months. But he got COVID-related pneumonia recently in rehab post transplant, and even though the operation was a complete success, the virus destroyed his lungs and proved fatal.
If you love rock n’ roll or punk rock, your social media feeds have likely been flooded with photos and remembrances of Howie (who was born Howard Kusten in Queens, New York on June 28, 1960). He was a funny, friendly and simply fascinating guy, and he was always up for a goofy selfie with friends and fans. When we had a weekly column in this publication called Lina in L.A., spotlighting local nightlife figures, Pyro was one of the first features we did, not only because he was packing hipster bars like Little Joy, The Short Stop and Footsies, but because he was doing it using what looked like an old phone receiver as headphones, playing weird and obscure “danceable rock n’ roll” as he called it; music that the shaggy-haired, skinny jeans crowd at the time surely never heard before. But he made them dance, and dance hard, too. It was a wonder to watch.
After writing about him in this piece (which was just quoted in his Rolling Stone obituary), we chatted many times about his life and potentially co-writing his autobiography. Howie was an accomplished scribe in his own right, with bylines in Dangerous Minds when it was at its journalistic height, but he told us he didn’t want to write about himself. He knew that his life story was full of mind-blowing book material but he felt uncomfortable –at least at the time– sharing it as an author. We talked about this a few times and the stories he shared in those moments, which we won’t divulge here, were Forrest Gump-level incredible in terms of who he hung out with (his bestie was Johnny Ramone and there’s a wild Bowie story) and things he did to influence culture, especially in New York.
When our radio show Hot Licks With Lina, moved to Tuesday nights almost two years ago, becoming lead-in for Intoxica, it was a true honor. But we knew him long before that and before we wrote about him as a DJ, too. He was best known for his time in Danzig and D Generation, but he played in many other bands as well. When we were assigned to write about one of them, we discovered discord between members and that Pyro had departed. Accusations were made and we knew we had to reach out to Pyro to tell his side of the story. He often told us he’d never forget this, and that it restored his faith in media (if only for a moment). We became good friends in the years that followed and shared many mutual connections.
We always looked forward to seeing him spinning at events, from the annual Ramones tribute at Hollywood Forever Cemetery to Tiki Oasis (where he was lead DJ) to Ace Hotels (in L.A. and Palm Springs). We’d often join him in the DJ booth just to soak up his energy, humor and mojo, and to watch him select from his incredible vinyl record collection.
We wrote about him many other times over the years: from various picks of the week for events he was involved in to a piece about Facebook’s crack down on unusual names, which disproportionately hurt queer and music figures (he was both). Shining light on the latter led to Facebook reconsidering its stance and ultimately Pyro got to keep his name on the social network. And what a name it is.
There will only ever be one Howie Pyro. No one will ever be able to generate heat on a dance floor like he did. Nobody will match his passion for vintage music and odd old movies, either. And no one will ever have the experiences and stories he did (here’s hoping we did write most of them down somewhere). At the risk of obit hyperbole, nobody will simply ever be as cool.
In addition to long chats, we emailed back and forth a lot about his potential biography in 2017. There‘s so much brilliance in these exchanges we never used in the LA Weekly story. Here’s a particularly meaningful quote that was ironically in our last email (cut and pasted as written):
“There is NOTHING I dislike about what I do. I have only & will only do what I love in any situation. Sticking to this rule has made me a success, because you never can really fuck up doing what you love…so it’s always magic. I am a very lucky guy. I have survived quite well doing what I love & never had to work for someone else’s profit. At least not in quite a few decades. I only do what I want to do and that was my dream as a young kid & I have stuck to it. The teenage me would be very excited to be & proud of the “adult” me. I haven’t changed really at all since I was 14. That is the magic. lakazam & goodbye, for now…~POOF~! “