Reading this autobiography of Agnostic Front-man Roger Miret further confirmed two painfully obvious theories that I’ve long known to be true:
1 – Agnostic Front and everyone involved with them are pretty much badasses.
2 – Conversely, I am a total wuss.
Growing up as I did in the rough-and-tumble comfort of suburban Tennessee, of course I had zero first-hand understanding of the squalor, violence, and camaraderie of the New York hardcore scene. I just know I liked the music I heard, and the message of unity and strength rang through and true. Even now, some twenty-five or thirty years after I first ran across Agnostic Front, the Cro-Mags, Sick Of It All, and the like, I can’t say I’ve lived even the slightest bit of a hardcore life, at least not compared to what I read here. But I still love the music, and I still agree with most of the rhetoric. Release date: August 15th, 2017. Publisher: Lesser Gods.
My Riot is Miret’s story, from his birth in Cuba to his expatriation to the United States in the wake of the Castro takeover. He details frankly the abuse his mother and his family suffered from his alcoholic father, and then again from his stepfather, and that violence at home certainly foreshadows the violence that would characterize a large portion of his later life. After settling in New Jersey, and his mother remarrying and moving to Florida, Miret hit a breaking point with the domestic abuse and moved to New York City, which is really where the story begins…
It’s in those tales, in the squats and the street fights and the drug deals and the characters of Alphabet City in the late 1970s and early 1980s, that My Riot gets most interesting. It’s a story of a bygone time – my one visit to Alphabet City was maybe five years ago, to a trendy bar, and certainly nowhere squalid. It’s a story of a time pre-gentrification, pre-Guiliani clean-up, when the buildings were crumbling and often torched for the insurance money, when punks battled with gang members for respect and for fun. Mostly-crazed delinquents with noms de punk like Stu Psycho (of the Psychos), Jimmy Gestapo (of Murphy’s Law), and Ray “Raybeez” Barbieri (of Agnostic Front and later of Warzone) brawled and drank and brawled some more, and in the process, with all that pent-up anger and enough musical talent, they managed to create an absolute monster of a scene. Miret has stories about each of them – he holds the late Raybeez particularly dear – and the madness that surrounded that nascent NYHC is as much larger-than-life as the men and women who built it.
Of course, the bulk of the book deals with Miret’s time in Agnostic Front, starting with his joining in time for the 1983 United In Blood EP – the seven-inch that would establish the band. Still, here as in reality, Agnostic Front’s true legacy begins with the follow-up, their first full-length, the undeniable classic Victim In Pain, and then continues in the more metallic, but equally classic sequel, Cause For Alarm. (Even as that suburban East Tennessean, I knew long ago that anyone without copies of these records has immediately surrendered the hardcore cred I never had, even owning them.) The line-ups changed constantly – only Stigma and Miret would stay the course – and the music veered into and out of crossover territory, but every bit of it crushed.
In the late 1980s, after the release of Agnostic’s third album Liberty And Justice For…, Miret was arrested on drug charges – he and partner Amy (of worthy crusters Nausea) had a young child, and income was tough to come by, so Roger did what he felt he had to do. I don’t dare to judge the man – I wouldn’t have anyway, but then when you read about the squats they lived in, the hardscrabble life, it just doesn’t seem fair that two vocalists from absolutely stellar punk bands struggled that much to get by, but there it is. His tales of prison aren’t quite as interesting as those that pertain to punk rock, but that’s mostly because it’s punk rock that brought both of us – him and me – to this party, and that’s what we want to talk about…
All of Miret’s various stories are told in quick and colorful prose, perfunctory and direct like the man himself, though I’m sure a certain portion of credit for that also goes to co-writer Jon Weiderhorn. He makes few bones about his mistakes – he apologizes when he needs to, and chalks up many a beatdown to social justice. He’s eminently respectful of those he holds in high regard – Raybeez, Stigma, his brother and Madball mainstay Freddy Cricien – and he’s dismissive of a scant few others, and he’s dedicated to his long-stated cause of strength in unity and positive change through scathing punk rock.
These days, Roger Miret is a happily married man, it seems – he and Amy split up, and he remains close to their daughter. He met his second wife Emily, and they’ve had an additional two children, and life seems calmer and much more stable. Most importantly, Agnostic Front is still going strong, still driven by Roger and Vinnie, and now signed to Nuclear Blast and releasing quality (if not quite as incendiary) albums like 2015’s The American Dream Died.
Alongside AF now, Roger has his street-punk side project Roger Miret & The Disasters, who are certainly fun and catchy, more in a Clash-y vein. They’ve released several strong albums, although they’re in no danger of overtaking AF as the man’s true claim to fame.
In the end, My Riot was a hell of a read, hard to put down, a snapshot of a world I missed entirely but have always watched from the outside. One thing that My Riot absolutely did was once again rekindle my hardcore interest – put this beside that recent Bloodclot effort, and I’ve been listening to an extraordinary amount of classic hardcore for months now. I may have grown up soft – I’ll readily admit that I did, and it remains that way – but a message of hope and unity married to pure energy in the form of guitar and drums and shoutalong chorus…? Well, that’s undeniable. I’m not hardcore – but that is, and that will always be. And Agnostic Front is, and they will always be. And Roger Miret is, and he has always been, and he will always be. This is his riot, and it’s a damned good one, so get in the pit and mix it up.
I’ll be over here by the bar, watching.
Like I said, I’m a total wuss.