In the late 1970s, Whitestone, Queens, seemed a million miles away from anything real and fun, even though it was only 30 minutes from Manhattan by car. It took at least two and a half hours to get there by public transportation. When I was a kid, the city might as well have been on another planet.
There wasn’t much going on in Whitestone. Kids hung out in schoolyards at night, blasting Led Zeppelin from boom boxes. At least on Halloween, the place got covered in shaving cream and eggs, and the kids went berserk in a way they don’t anymore. But New York, New York, the Big Apple, had the magic. I caught glimpses of it on school trips, taking the train in with my mother to go see the circus, and going to my first-ever concert, Kiss, at Madison Square Garden.
In Queens, if you liked Kiss, you got beat up by the guys who liked Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath—even the Grateful Dead. Well, I was a card-carrying member of the Kiss Army, so I got my ass kicked a lot. Then I got into punk rock. If you were a punk, you got beat up by everyone. They figured you killed your girlfriend, you’re a homosexual and a junkie. Two outta three ain’t bad.
My drugs were adrenaline and testosterone. I loved the Ramones. They had big anthems like Kiss, played real fast, and, better yet, they were from Queens and wore cool leather jackets like the Fonz. A couple older girls in the neighborhood went down to CBGB to see the Ramones and came back raving about some cool guy named Howie Pyro.
Rumor had it he got his name from setting fires to the garages in the back of the Garden Apartments off Utopia Parkway when he was a little kid. He was something of a living legend in the city now, crashing in the back of shops like Manic Panic and Trash and Vaudeville. There weren’t many legends from Whitestone. Charlie Chaplin lived there in the ’20s. Dee Dee Ramone moved there in the late ’70s and would cop drugs at my junior high. That was about it.
On drives home from the city in my mother’s car, we’d pass thigh-high-boot hookers working Park Avenue South, and a cool crowd hanging out in front of Max’s Kansas City, and I’d think, “That’s where I wanna be.” The scene outside seemed as exciting as what was going on inside—and you could be part of it.
Cheetah Chrome, from the Dead Boys, was gonna play there, and I had to go. The flyer for the show said, “Hardcore Halloween.” That was the first time I’d seen the word hardcore used anywhere outside of pornography. The other band listed on the flyer was The Blessed.
I got into Max’s—nobody checked IDs back then—and The Blessed hit the stage. There, standing right in front of me, was Howie Pyro. He was the coolest thing I’d ever seen, with his spiky hair, Danelectro longhorn bass, and signature mohair sweater. He was a star, bleeding swagger and attitude all over that stage. The Blessed played a fast, tight set. People went nuts. They were the first teenage band on the scene.
Cheetah Chrome took forever to come on … so I only got to see three songs before my friend’s mom picked us up to go back to Queens.
When The Damned came to Hurrah, on West 62nd, The Blessed landed the opening slot—their dream gig. Walter Lure, from The Heartbreakers, was playing guitar with The Blessed, slumming while Johnny Thunders was fucking up. Walter was punk royalty, having toured England with the Sex Pistols, The Damned, and The Clash on the 1976 Anarchy Tour. Howie tells Walter, “We got this great gig opening for The Damned!” And Walter says, “I’m not doing it. The Damned used to open for us. Those English roadies will laugh at me.”
I said, “Did you hear about this Ramones exhibit at the Queens Museum?” And Howie exclaimed, “Do I know about it? Of course I know about it. I’m in it!” Of course he was. He had Sid’s clothes, Johnny Thunders’s jacket. He even wound up with Phil Spector’s chihuahua, Stinky, when Phil went to prison.
Howie and the band were devastated, but even back then, Howie was connecting people. He phoned some friends in New Jersey with a new band called the Misfits, and gave them the gig. This led to their infamous 1979 UK tour with The Damned, and a long relationship between the two bands. The Damned, the Misfits, and Rancid sold out the Garden in 2019.
Meanwhile, I formed my own hardcore band, Heart Attack. We were underage kids, as well (12 to 16). Hardcore was blowing up in New York City, D.C., California. It was our music. But when we auditioned at CBGB, we were told, “Punk is over. You missed it. Why don’t you try something new, like rockabilly, or new romantic?”
We weren’t going to dress up as pirates, so we went East, following bands like the Bad Brains, the Stimulators, and False Prophets to a tiny club called A7, on Avenue A. Heart Attack played there, and we put out our first single, “God Is Dead.”
On Halloween 1982, False Prophets and the Misguided played a CBGB matinee. After the show, we all jumped into an older guy’s car and drove to a party at some rich folks’ house on Long Island. There was tons of food and alcohol and our teenage punk asses decided we needed to trash the place, break bottles and make a mess. Glaring disapprovingly at us from a living-room corner were Howie Pyro and two other guys, dressed in black and swathed in rosaries, playing some junked-out, post-punk weirdness.
That was my second Halloween Howie sighting. Years later, we would laugh about how much we were hating on each other at that party.
I was living in a rehearsal studio on Avenue B when my mom got sick. I moved back to Queens to take care of her and my kid sister. When my mom died, I had to figure out how to make money to take care of my sister, a mainstream kid who loved Benetton and went to Bayside High—where me and Howie would have gone if we’d stayed in school. I had a van, so I became Man with Van. Like Travis Bickle, anywhere, anytime.
I put up flyers in clubs and the Music Building near Port Authority—a filthy place with bands blasting on every floor, and few working toilets. You pissed in the sink. I got jobs moving people, furniture, and lots of bands to and from gigs.
Madonna had lived there at one point, in the room where a group called Freaks now rehearsed. One day, they called me to pick them up. I pulled up on Eighth Avenue and they climbed in. They started yakking in the backseat in the weirdest voices I’d ever heard—like the Addams Family on the wrong speed. I turned around, and there was Howie Pyro.
Once again, he was completely transformed. He was much heavier, with long hair and a beard. He wore skull rings, and a leather jacket with the sleeves cut off. I learned from Howie that an artist is always changing and adapting. If you gain weight and still want to look cool, just do the biker thing.
Howie had married Freaks singer Andrea Matthews on Halloween. Rumor had it they used money from the wedding to put out the first Freaks single. Freaks played “heavy Orange rock,” through heavy Orange amps, gigging with new bands like Soundgarden and Raging Slab. On the ride, I learned that Howie and Andrea lived just five blocks from me, in Greenpoint, Brooklyn.
The snobby, gloomy Goth punk from that Long Island party was long gone. Howie and I bonded over The Dead Boys, Johnny Thunders, Lenny Bruce, old Underdog cartoons, the Stooges … and The Three Stooges. Howie was already an obsessive collector. He had piles of old movie posters, rare vinyl, ’50s fetish magazines, Charles Manson books, videotapes loaded with performances of anything and everything. If you asked Howie about something, he’d exclaim, “I have that!” and start pawing through his collection. But he usually couldn’t find it.
When Howie and Andrea broke up, he moved into my place. Two guys living together like a punk rock odd couple. It took three days to move all his stuff. I finally passed out in the hallway, with boxes falling over me.
We had many fun movie nights and crazy dance parties in our kitchen. One day, Ed “Big Daddy” Roth, the cartoonist and monster-car builder who created the hot-rod icon Rat Fink, chose Howie to write his biography. That was a big deal for him and he took it really seriously.
Howie was a couch guy. He’d write on the couch, smoking cigarettes, and he’d fall asleep on the couch in his sweatpants with the TV on all night. I was a pretty hyper guy, and Howie grounded me. I’d come home from a crazy day in the city, moving bands, getting bombed, or maybe after a date that had left me feeling lonely and confused, and Howie would be right there on the couch. I’d tell him all about it and we’d laugh, and then I wouldn’t feel so bad. He was like a mom, or an older brother.
One night, Howie even saved my life. After hanging out at the Continental, we staggered out at six in the morning with my girlfriend, wasted out of our minds. Howie went to the deli to get some cigarettes. My girlfriend and I got into my van, and a gang of kids started banging on it and kicking it.
Loaded on liquid courage, I jumped out with a crowbar and gave chase, but the kids came at me and surrounded me. They wrestled the crowbar out of my hands and started hitting me with it. Howie emerged from the deli just as this was happening, and immediately hailed a cop car. Within seconds, it came screaming down Third Avenue the wrong way straight at us. Those kids dropped the crowbar and scattered. Like Howie used to say, “You take out a knife, you get stabbed.”
I was struggling to get this earnest band called Hope off the ground, with my childhood friends Danny Sage, Michael Wildwood, and John Carco. We couldn’t get arrested. Nobody wanted to hear our sensitive songs. I told Howie, “Let’s do something just for fun, make the band we’d want to go see. A band that’s a gang. I won’t play guitar. I’ll just jump around a lot.”
We started brainstorming. I mentioned a Lenny Bruce joke that involved a degenerate. Howie dove into a pile and pulled out a movie poster for The Degeneration. Then he dug out a fifties cheesecake blonde. He and Michael Wildwood pasted our name over her eyes. Now we had our logo and our name: D Generation.
Danny and Michael had already convinced Howie to cut his hair like the fashion plate he’d been in The Blessed, when he was photographed by Scavullo and Godlis. Howie was very handsome, with that great jawline and chiseled face. He never really took a bad picture. One of his favorite photos was of him and his friends giving each other haircuts with a Bic lighter in the foyer of a Bowery flophouse.
We added our new friend Richard Bacchus, the atomic elf, on guitar, and now we had a band that was a five-headed monster. At 30, Howie was the old guy. Can you imagine that? We all thought he was so old. Maybe because Howie’s favorite word was “ouch.” Like if you said you hurt your back or something, he’d always have to top you: “Oh, you don’t know … my back is so much worse.” He definitely had his pain and his sadness. He covered them up with buying stuff, with his talent and charm, and unfortunately, at times with drugs. As free as the punk scene claimed to be, it wasn’t that acceptable to be gay, and I think Howie struggled with that.
Like in Dog Day Afternoon, when Pacino says, “I’m dying here,” Howie was always “dying”—so we never thought he ever really would. I would just give him a push to get him off the couch, because once he got going, he made amazing things happen. This was how we worked, and how we made our lives.
We threw our first Green Door Party on New Year’s Eve 1991, along with Holly Ramos from the band Fur, at Giorgio Gomelsky’s Chelsea loft. We rented turntables, bought beer, and handed out flyers all over town. Howie would go into Kinkos with glue and scissors and emerge with killer pieces of art. We’d slap them up late at night with buckets of wheat paste mixed with water and piss, and hand them out to kids who looked cool. Next thing we knew, the parties were paying our rent, and for band practice.
He devoted his life to everything weird and wild in music. We called him “How-weird” sometimes. I called him “Doctor Howard,” because he brought me comfort, like when Bob Dylan sings, “my best friend, my doctor.”
Howie would DJ, schooling us on everything from Parliament to Hawkwind and Shonen Knife. He had a masterful knowledge of reggae, from buying records in the Bronx in the late ’70s, and dub, garage music, weird prog rock, metal, blues, and, of course, punk rock.
We all thought Giorgio was some crazy East European kook with vague connections to the Yardbirds and the Rolling Stones, but Howie understood how influential Giorgio had been in the careers of those bands, and of progressive groups like Soft Machine, Daevid Allen and Gong, Magma, and Material.
Howie could get along with anybody. He could be friends with Johnny and Joey Ramone. Hells Angels, skinheads, drag queens, comic-book nerds, art collectors, fashionistas—they all loved him. Maybe it was the deep empathy in those green eyes. My sister was kind of an outsider at these parties, but she could always lock eyes with Howie and feel safe.
Howie also had a dark sense of humor. He loved his sarcasm. He could be bitchy, but also charmingly self-deprecating. He once told our soundman, Mark Lewis, that a sense of humor is a sign of intelligence.
So now we had a little money coming in, a band, and a name. We wrote D Generation’s “No Way Out” in our Greenpoint apartment. When I would get stuck on a lyric, Howie would always have a word or an idea. Years later, I would still bounce my songs off of him whenever I could.
Howie took us to spots like Jackie 60, in the meatpacking district, that had a crazy, cool, free feeling of androgynous sexuality that wasn’t present in the rock scene. It reminded me of the decadence we’d heard about in the ’70s and wanted to bring back after the war on drugs and the war on sex and boring, lifeless corporate rock.
Howie hung out at the Pyramid, on Avenue A, on Monday nights, taking part in Blacklips Performance Cult: a Gothic drag theater troupe where Anohni got her start. Howie encouraged Anohni to become a singer. When he worked at Rare Bird Video, these girls would come in together who were into cool music and clothes. Howie said, “You should form a band,” and they became the Lunachicks.
He devoted his life to everything weird and wild in music. We called him “How-weird” sometimes. I called him “Doctor Howard,” because he brought me comfort, like when Bob Dylan sings, “my best friend, my doctor.” Also because we loved the Three Stooges bit when Moe and Curly Howard and Larry Fine would go around in a circle, shaking hands, saying, “Dr. Fine, Dr. Howard, Dr. Fine, Dr. Howard.” That always cracked us up.
All this subculture influenced D Generation’s sound, look, and vibe. We got a major label deal that enabled me and Howie to get a place in Manhattan, and started touring the world. Howie was a very special bass player with a great sense of melody and groove. He loved being onstage, but he didn’t want to be the bass player in the back. He wanted to be right on the edge, headbanging. We’d knock into each other constantly—and he’d get so mad at me. Howie always wanted to be famous.
In 1996, D Generation opened for Kiss at Madison Square Garden, a Queens kid’s dream-come-true. Playing the Garden was nice for our parents, who had been worrying about us for years. Howie’s folks were even more excited when they turned around and noticed that their seats were better than Donald Trump’s. We’d been laughing at him for years in New York. Howie really loved his parents, Connie and Sy. Years later, he got their faces tattooed on his hands.
I used some money from our second record deal to open Coney Island High, a place run by the kids, for the kids. Howie was right there by my side, as my unofficial ambassador, DJ, and troublemaker. It was a great time until everybody I hired gave away the bar, and we got closed down for dancing by Mayor Giuliani. Howie just rolled his eyes at me, like, “What did you expect?”
After D Gen broke up, Howie left for L.A. to play bass with Danzig, He even charmed Glenn Danzig into playing some Misfit songs, which had never happened before. While touring Japan, Howie got to collect all kinds of robots and toys. The Japanese boys worshiped him—and he loved them back. For a long time, Howie was pretty closeted. But after moving to L.A., he seemed to get more comfortable with his sexuality. In the end, Howie didn’t see himself as gay or straight. He loved everyone.
I was really happy for Howie when he joined Danzig, but I have to admit that when he left town, I cried. It felt like the end of an era. But every time I’d go to L.A., I’d see him. If he came to New York, he would stay with me. Even ’til the end of his life, we talked at least once a week.
He would notice the good things happening in my life, and point them out. When I was in love and doing okay, he made me notice that, too. Sometimes I wasn’t aware of the good things in my life. Howie always pointed them out, and got happiness from it. I felt like he really cared.
When I was touring as a solo artist, I’d call Howie at all hours when I was homesick or lonely. He’d always pick up … as many of us know. He’d say, “Look, you’re doing what you always wanted to do, so don’t complain that you’re fucking sad or scared or miserable or far away. This is what you asked for.” We’d laugh, and I’d feel better. To me, Howie always felt like home.
After he stopped playing with Danzig, Howie began DJing at fancy hotels and exclusive parties. He created an insane radio show called Intoxica Radio. He could DJ for hours and not play one song that you ever heard before—but every song was great.
Howie was a rabid collector. Even when he was very sick, he was still somehow secretly buying stuff. Things were showing up in P.O. boxes all over Southern California, and he couldn’t wait to get those packages and rip them open. He loved his stuff, and could never let go of any of it. He sold his record collection for a huge sum to Tim Armstrong, of Rancid, with the one condition that Howie could come over any time and borrow any record he wanted. He never let go of any of his friends, either.
One time he came to town from L.A., and I said, “Did you hear about this Ramones exhibit at the Queens Museum?” And he exclaimed, “Do I know about it? Of course I know about it. I’m in it!” Of course he was. He had Sid’s clothes, Johnny Thunders’s jacket. He even wound up with Phil Spector’s chihuahua, Stinky, when Phil went to prison.
In one of our favorite Three Stooges episodes, an immigrant landlord can’t sleep, thanks to the racket the Stooges are making upstairs. His daughter serves him some warm milk, and he says, “I drink the milk. Good night,” and instantly passes out. When Howie and I lived together, I would say that to him every night before I went to bed. Howie’s dad used to get together with his childhood pals and they had this same kind of shtick between them, and Howie would say to me, “That’s gonna be us one day.”
After Howie’s 14-hour liver-transplant surgery, I was really scared to walk into his hospital room and see him. To my surprise, he looked better than he had in months. He was heavily sedated and intubated, but each night when I would leave the hospital, I’d say, “I drink the milk. Good night.” He’d open an eye or lift an eyebrow, and I knew he could hear me.
Even when he couldn’t speak, his eyes said a lot. He would open them wide when he was excited about something, or roll them sarcastically. Like, if I mentioned someone he didn’t like—”So-and-so said hello”—he’d roll back those eyes.
The transplant went really well and Howie was recovering nicely. Just like old times, we soon found ourselves back together again watching The Three Stooges—this time in a hospital room.
His wicked sense of humor was back, too. In a video from his hospital room, he’s signing a photo Bob Gruen had taken of D Generation in front of a burning TV, while repeating, “The flamer signs the flames! The flamer signs the flames!”
Donations poured in from fundraisers and benefit concerts. Messages came in from around the world. I’m so grateful that Howie got to see all the love the world had for him. He saw that he was profoundly influential—and important—to so many people.
Howie is in every song I sing. The lyrics remind me of our story. He’s on the streets I walk down. He’s in every crooked, creaky apartment we shared. Every lightpost I pass that we put a flyer on. Every restaurant we sat in. He’s in my dreams, talking to me, making jokes. I wake up and I want to call him, but I can’t.
Unfortunately, Howie developed Covid pneumonia, and it badly damaged his lungs. Howie fought hard for his life. I would play his favorite dub records in his hospital room. Sometimes I thought I could see him respond. Near the end, though, he stopped responding. I still FaceTimed him every day, because you never know if someone can hear you or not.
I was conflicted about going on my European tour, but his sister, Robin, said, “Howie would want you to be out there playing.” I dealt with it by bringing him onstage with me, talking to the crowd about him and playing the songs I knew he liked.
When I was in Germany, the doctors told me they were taking him off life support, and it wouldn’t be long. BJ Papas called me from Howie’s bedside on FaceTime so I could say goodbye.
I said: “Howie, I love you. You can go now. Everything’s gonna be alright. We’re never gonna forget you. And by the way, there’s an article coming out tomorrow in Rolling Stone about you.”
At that moment, Howie, who hadn’t moved or made a sound for weeks, gasped out loud.
I nervously said, “I drink the milk. Good night.” Moments later, he was gone.
BJ sent me a photo of him taken seconds after he passed. He looked so peaceful. But there was still this little smirk. I looked at that photo over and over again, and it gave me a lot of comfort knowing he was okay.
He’s in every song I sing. The lyrics remind me of our story. He’s on the streets I walk down. He’s in every crooked, creaky apartment we shared. Every lightpost I pass that we put a flyer on. Every restaurant we sat in. He’s in my dreams, talking to me, making jokes. I wake up and I want to call him, but I can’t.
If there’s a heaven, Howie is on the guest list. He’s hanging out with the coolest people, turning them on to Andre Williams, Rat Fink, and L7. And he’s looking out for all of us down here still.
Howie always wanted to be buried at Hollywood Forever Cemetery, and Linda Ramone made that happen. He’s next to Burt Reynolds and Johnny Ramone—not far from Dee Dee and Toto the dog.
Although this hurts so much, and feels like a bad dream, I know I’m not alone, and that gives me strength. So many people are feeling this same huge loss, because Howie connected us all.
With the many lives that Howie lived and all the things he amassed, I never saw him as just part of this world. He couldn’t be contained to one apartment, one house, or even one city with all his stuff. He needed a planet of his own.
Like his old answering-machine message used to say: “I’m from outer space … please leave a message.”
I’ll never forget you, my beautiful friend and brother, bandmate, and doctor. I never thought that saying this would ever be so hard, but here we go, one last time: “I drink the milk. Good night.”
I love you Howie Pyro. Forever.
—Jesse Malin, June 14, 2022
❖ ❖ ❖
June 28, 1960–May 4, 2022
Howie Pyro died peacefully on May 4, 2022, from complications due to COVID-19-related pneumonia, following a liver transplant and long battle with liver disease. The beloved and influential bassist, DJ scene-maker, and troublemaker devoted his life to everything weird, wonderful, and wild in music.
Pyro started out in the 1970s at Max’s Kansas City and CBGB as founder of the first underage punk band, The Blessed, and was a member of Freaks, The Chelsea Smiles, D Generation, and Danzig. He co-founded the Greendoor Party, in New York City and the infamous club Coney Island High, and was a member of the Blacklips Performance Cult. He collaborated with Johnny Thunders, Ronnie Spector, Rancid, Joey Ramone, Genesis P-Orridge, The Misfits, Debbie Harry, Kid Congo Powers, Ed “Big Daddy” Roth, Jayne County, and Alan Vega.
A world-renowned DJ, Pyro hosted the groundbreaking show, Intoxica! Radio, an infectious two hours of primitive 45 RPM records from the deep underbelly of the original rock ’n’ roll era.
He is survived by his sister, Robin Hartmann, Rory and Leah Hartmann, his former wife, Andrea Kusten Matthews, and many cousins.
In honor of Howie, please consider donating to the UCLA Division of Liver and Pancreas Transplantation.
Howie Pyro will be laid to rest at Hollywood Forever Cemetery.
Advertising disclosure: We may receive compensation for some of the links in our stories. Thank you for supporting the Village Voice and our advertisers.