Interview with coauthor Roger Miret | By Hutch
The phone rings and the caller ID is a number from New York City. Of course. Agnostic Front epitomize New York. But as most know, Roger Miret lives in Scottsdale, Arizona, with his family these days. This is his PR agent, calling about his new book, “My Riot: Agnostic Front, Grit, Guts & Glory,” released on Aug. 29 via Lesser Gods Publishing. She is in New York, but it’s an extremely different New York than the one featured in the book. The New York in “My Riot” pulsates with the late ‘70s and oozes the tumultuous ‘80s. The character of that New York was constructed of treacherous streets that taught one thing: survival, by any means.
Once connected, Miret answers the phone with an unassuming, friendly tone. His exhaustion is palpable. He returned three days prior from a tour with Agnostic Front, the band he began fronting in 1983 and has defined for the last 35 years. This European stint included 30 shows in 31 days.
Miret returns to a record-breaking, mailbox-crippling, recycling-bin melting Arizona heatwave topping out at 117 degrees—but the heat is worth returning to his family. On the recent tour, Agnostic Front—with their umpteenth lineup, always including guitarist Vinnie Stigma and Miret—have been writing. They have five new songs written with this lineup of the prior four years: Craig Silverman on guitar, Pokey Mo on drums, and Mike Gallo on bass. They have consistently put out albums and have toured most of each year since 1998, their return after a breakup in 1992.
During that break, Miret went to Harley Davidson School and became a mechanic. He saw his first daughter off to a California college. Despite all of the effort and energy poured into his band and personal life, Miret found time to write an exhaustive novel of his and Agnostic Front’s early lives. He has raised two more kids in Arizona. He started another punk band, Roger Miret And The Disasters. He lived in Florida in-between. He has been incarcerated. He has been homeless, raising a family in New York City squat for years. He has been sweated by cops, has gotten in fights, and has run drugs through airports. But Miret still refers to writing “My Riot” as “the hardest thing I have ever done.”
The book shares its title with a 2006 record by The Disasters and its title track. Miret shares, “That’s one of our more popular songs. I mention in the book, if you look at The Disasters’ lyrics, they are a journey of my life. It is a diary. Musically, [the band] covers all my influences. I tell my story in a more comfortable way.” Miret clarifies that with The Disasters, as opposed to his decades writing in Agnostic Front, “I don’t have a million eyes looking at me under a magnifying glass.” Miret can flex his musical voice, expanding boundaries and fans’ expectations. “I have a country song for my son, a love song for my wife,” he notes. “You don’t see that in Agnostic Front records. I feel a giant weight when I write Agnostic Front songs. It is something you always have over you.”
Admittedly, many fans do scrutinize and dismiss the 11 albums since their second release in 1984. Miret sympathizes, “It is impossible to out-write Victim In Pain. It is my favorite record. It was a time and a place. [But] we are here today. This is what we do today.” This book is liberating for Miret in those terms. He gets to elaborate on his views and his experiences in his words. “My Riot” becomes a long narrative expansion of those stories. When he went to transcribe those callous experiences onto the page back in the ‘90s, the world reminded him of persistent tribulations, as the book repeatedly seemed doomed.
While recording Agnostic Front’s 1999 record, Riot, Riot, Upstart—which was produced by Lars Frederiksen—Roger was telling old stories from those turbulent days. Frederiksen, determined, looked at Miret and said, “‘You should write a book,’” Miret shares. He was instantly dedicated. He laughs as he recalls the process, revealing, “I was writing on floppy disks. I had piles of them.” This archaic format stored only one to three megabytes on each disk.
Only two years later, just as Agnostic Front were scheduled to release their sardonic but forsaken Dead Yuppies only 14 days after the 9/11 attacks, Miret got a virus on his laptop. He lost the files—all of them—but he still had the audio recordings. “I hate typing,” Miret admits, determined not to torture himself again. “I had gotten into producing bands,” including Indecision, Under The Gun, Madball, On The Rise, The Turbo A.C.s, and his own album, Dead Yuppies, “so I would produce bands and barter for them to type as payment,” he says. That was fruitful, until he “got a second virus. That’s when I got a Mac. Enough of this shit!” he proclaims.
Miret still has all the floppies. He got Dragon Dictation in its early forms, but back then, users really had to teach it their accents and speech patterns; it was not as intuitive as today’s version. These labors proved arduous, but Miret stayed determined. Time was a stubborn foe as well. He continued making records and touring while forming a family through a second marriage and two more kids. “It took 20 years,” he says of the writing process, then conjures the true adversary to writing his story: “I’m very introverted.” He repeats, “This is the hardest thing I’ve ever done.”
While combatting his introverted tendencies, he also found that the trouble with telling one’s story in a highly public form is that it is so inevitably tangled in many others’ lives. “I had to check my memories against others’,” he says. “I made a lot of [phone] calls.” Miret was exposing illegal and sensitive stories—whether related to crimes or drugs or violence—that people may not want told or may remember differently.
Miret reports getting on the phone with Cro-Mags’ Harley Flanagan, who was writing his own book, “Hard-Core: Life of My Own,” also recounting the early days of New York Hardcore. Miret checked with his half-brother, Freddy “Madball” Cricien, and his brother Rudy, who was a big part of his drug-running to Florida. The most sobering was a call to his well-known ex-wife, Amy Keim. Playing for the peace crust punk band, Nausea, she was embedded in the scene as deeply as Miret, and they have a daughter together, Nadia. Two ex-members of a relationship rarely recall events the same way. Miret would say, “‘You remember it that way?’ I was there! I don’t remember it that way.” Miret was thorough despite these obstacles. His tenacity was proven via these examples of dual pasts.
Helping Miret was writer John Wiederhorn, who also collaborated on “Ministry: The Lost Gospels According To Al Jourgensen” and Scott Ian’s “I’m the Man: The Story of That Guy From Anthrax.” Miret is ardently gracious when speaking of his writing partner. Wiederhorn took this ride with Miret. While allowed to indulge with the legendary vocalist, the ruts and setbacks and loss of time were Wiederhorn’s to shoulder. “Again, as this took so long to write, John’s mom died during it,” Miret unveils, but he shares the glory with Wiederhorn openly. “He created a flow,” he shares.
Miret had the memories and the experiences, but Wiederhorn molded the text. “I wanted to make sure it was me telling the story,” he says, and Miret’s individual voice certainly stamps the paragraphs as they stream. The New York attitude and nostalgia embolden the lessons embedded. Again, Miret celebrates Wiederhorn’s symbiosis. “He was very hands-on,” he says. “It wasn’t just a guy helping me edit. He became part of it. He loved it!” Miret recalls Wiederhorn’s enthusiastic embrace of “My Riot” and how he showed true dedication and ownership. When the final version had to drop 27 pages, Miret accepted, but reveals, “John was the one protesting.”
With songs documenting the birth of his child in poverty, his drug trafficking, and his jail time, 1992’s One Voice was the closest the public has ever gotten to Miret’s darker stories. “It was my angriest and most personal record,” he says. But in “My Riot,” Miret finally has free reign to delve into his past. The book goes deep, from his birth in Cuba and arrival in the United States—“This really is an immigrant story,” Miret states—to the early New York City scene days and Agnostic Front’s first life from 1983 to 1992. The reader is, as Roger puts it, “fast forwarded” through other experiences, the band’s reunion and the following era, but Miret wanted to keep it focused on the early days. “Otherwise, this would have been a 1000-page book!” he exclaims. Maybe in a sequel…
Here, his fans are welcomed into his life over 295 pages and 40 chapters. The introductions by Jamey Jasta of Hatebreed and Al Barr of The Bruisers—oh, and that Dropkicks band—set a tone. Then, the spotlight is Miret’s. That spotlight has the grit and grime of Manhattan’s Lower East Side in the ‘80s—warts and all—tempering the glare, but illuminated is Miret’s generous nature, fighting spirit, genuine character, and sincere demeanor.