Dalton Domino Takes a Stumble, Then A Fall

dalton-domino

WARNING: Language

As we all know, it’s not hard to lose control of your emotions on social media, and unfortunately for musicians and others in the public eye, those moments where situations turn inappropriate are amplified because of the interest around their persona. Average Joe Six Pack in Oshkosh could call his second cousin an expletive on Instagram and nobody would bat an eyelash, but a musician says something sideways in passing and it could mean their career, especially in this politically-amplified environment where people wake up in the morning, sniff the coffee, and actively look for things to be offended by.

That’s why Texas music artist Dalton Domino deserved at least a little latitude when it came out that a post on his Facebook page had spiraled out of control, resulting in Dalton calling a fan of his, “an illiterate inbred pussy,” and telling them among other things, “Go fuck yourself you baby back bitch,” and “blow me.”

Back in the MySpace days of music, these things might be a regular Tuesday evening’s repartee between some independent artist and an irate fan. That’s not to excuse the behavior, but it also helps put things into perspective. We all have let our anger get the best of us at some point, and for many of us it will happen again. It’s just now the interest is amplified, and those words are chiseled in stone as screenshots make bad decisions irremovable in the internet age.

The argument involving Dalton Domino started when a fan named Christy complained that Domino had decided to smoke on stage at his show at the Hoot’s Pub in Amarillo, which is a non-smoking venue. Christy said she chose that specific venue because a friend of hers also attending the show has asthma. It was Christy voicing concern about Dalton’s smoking that sparked off the Facebook spat. Jeremy Burchard of Wide Open Country has a more detailed run down of the altercation, complete with screen shots for those who want to delve deeper. But it goes without saying, the responses from Domino and some of his fans are not flattering.

One of the reasons the revelations were so shocking is because it’s fair to characterize Dalton Domino as one of the most promising songwriters and performers in the Texas music scene. That was certainly the assessment of Saving Country Music earlier this year. Along with interviewing Domino in February, where among other things Dalton talked about his recently-found sobriety and maturing attitude about life, Saving Country Music reviewed his latest album Corners, giving it 8/10, and calling it “a refreshing shot out of left field that hopefully people listen to intently and with an open mind, and find the magic of music and message it looks to convey in a forward-thinking manner.”

This was not a guy out there trying to portray himself as a Outlaw or rebel. Dalton Domino is on the progressive, thoughtful side of Texas country. He’s a songwriter, not some flashy performer looking to shake stuff up with attitude. Or at least that’s what we believed.

For the people that will say, “This is just an argument about smoking,” that is the fatal mistake. The reason using such hard language is socially unacceptable is because it can easily spiral out-of-control and become dangerous. If you think this assessment is too alarmist or “pussy,” try telling that to the widow and son of country artist Wayne Mills, who was shot and killed after an argument over smoking, and by one of his supposed “best friends” named Chris Ferrell, who is now serving 20 years in a Tennessee prison for Wayne’s murder.

Of course that is an extreme case, as are the accounts of people being bullied and harassed online and then committing assault or other such serious crimes, or committing suicide. There is a point these days where online harassment becomes a crime itself, especially when it escalates into threats, of which Christy says she received via private message from Domino fans as part of the Facebook imbroglio.

Of course we can make too much of this stuff, and that is why Saving Country Music initially gave this story a pass. Also, you never want to dog a young artist with a headline that may follow them the rest of their career just for one bout of indiscretion. But the most alarming part—and what has made it something of more public importance—is that Dalton doesn’t seem to give a shit about apologizing, and is even looking to promote himself and profiteer upon the controversy. He isn’t walking his statements back, he’s doubling down on them.

On November 9th, he released a new song and video called “Role Model,” basically flipping the bird to anyone who has a problem with any of his immature, insulting, and at times sexist rhetoric. It dovetails with what Dalton said on November 7th, which was, “I’m not a role model and I am not asking to be one. I write songs. I’m not running for senate.”

(NOTE: The video has since been removed)

A shirt was also made making light of the bullying accusations by Our Stuff in Levelland, Texas, saying “#LETDALTONSMOKE” and “GO F*CK YOURSELF.” The proceeds were supposed to go to charity, but once the charity found out about where the funds were coming from, they declined.

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Nobody is asking Dalton Domino to be a role model. All people are asking of Dalton Domino is to be a decent human being. You can’t be a role model until you’re a star. And Dalton Domino isn’t one yet, and not even close. The fact that he believed he was a star, and thus a candidate to be a role model, is another mark against his character. And now he may never have the groundswell support to be either.

There is something about the Texas country scene that often makes middling, up-and-coming talent believe they’re superstars when they start seeing a few hot chicks populate the front row of their shows, and they get some performance slots at scene festivals. Dalton Domino’s career was just getting started, and was in its nascent stages, and he’s decided to screw that all off due to some principle that he should be able to say whatever he wants, and smoke wherever he chooses—something none of us are afforded.

Playing music and being a songwriter is not a right, it is a privilege. And if Dalton Domino thinks that what he’s doing couldn’t be replaced almost immediately by scores of other hungry songwriters who actually do give at least a semblance of a shit about their fans to not tell them to go fuck themselves, then there is a sad, sad reality about to smack Domino in the face.

It’s a good thing his true character was revealed before folks stared pouring serious money and resources into him, because a situation like this doesn’t just reflect negatively on Dalton and his fans, it reflects negatively on the people who represent him, the scene he comes from, and the professionals who put their name behind him as a promising talent, including Saving Country Music.

Fans and band mates that joined in on the name calling or enabled it by telling Dalton he was in the right, these are not true friends. They did a huge disservice to Dalton. They thought they were defending Dalton, but they were just fanning the flames of his downfall, fueled by the groupthink of social media and fandom.

I personally covered the murder trial of Wayne Mills. I’ve had artists not just threaten, but promise to kill me and my family, in public forums, using their real names, and then take to social media to brag about it. At one point individuals were selling T-shirts saying “Shanking Country Music,” making fun of the big deal I made of the death threats being received by the website. Unfortunately, none of my colleagues in the media felt the need to pipe up for me when this was occurring, and that stuff makes what Dalton Domino and his fans did look like child’s play.

Yes, the fake courtesy and phony slavitude certain artists show their fans and the media can be nauseating, and so can the altruistic do gooder social media personas hiding self-centered opportunists rampant throughout music and entertainment. We want our favorite artists to be perfect, when in truth it helps if they’re a little troubled. As disappointing as it was a few years ago when Evan Felker of the Turnpike Troubadours fell off the deep end and showed up drunk to a few shows, it also showed us that he was human. Like the rest of us, he had insecurities, fears, and flaws laying just under the surface, struggling to stay down, yet also influencing his art. Anger and personal demons can sometimes be the best muse, and frankly, a lack of a troubled heart is the reason so much of mainstream music has no soul. Great people don’t always make great artists. In fact often the opposite is true.

But this Dalton Domino stuff is the classic hiding of insecurities via lashing out in anger. We could forgive a late night tirade. Doubling down with an immature middle finger video just makes the entire thing embarrassing. This is not about being too uptight or politically correct. Dalton Domino trying to be the big man on the Texas music campus is just incredibly immature and uninteresting. In music, fans will forgive character flaws. But they tend to find blind arrogance repugnant.

This isn’t Wheeler Walker Jr., or even Koe Wetzel. What had us all buying in so hard to Dalton Domino and considering his album Corners for recognition on year-end lists right beside the top releases all year was Dalton’s message of transformation, coming clean, and asking for forgiveness. Now he just comes across like an everyday dick who thinks 11,000 followers on Facebook gives him the right to slough off the need for basic human courtesy.

Life is too short, and the music business is too hard to for this kind of bullshit. If this is some version of performance art, Dalton isn’t any good at it. If it’s a cry for help, I hope he gets it. He’s still young, and could recover. But bumps in the road and short-term detours in the music business can be catastrophic. For all the romanticism, Townes didn’t do it this way. This is not about Dalton destroying his own name. Ultimately, this episode will be about destroying the trust anyone will have to put their own name behind Dalton Domino.

It all leaves you wondering, who is Dalton Domino? The irate one in a Facebook comments section, or the one on Corners? It appears Dalton is still trying to decide that himself.

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Because people like me have to live in hell to see Heaven is worth it
Take the worst of unanswered questions and try to find purpose
I’m not praying for acceptance, and if forgiveness never comes I’ll understand
But if I die I’m gonna die with me knowing who I was ain’t who I am

–Dalton Domino