At first glance, Dom Kelly doesn’t seem like the kind of guy who would lack confidence.
As drummer, vocalist, and co-founder of A Fragile Tomorrow (along with his brothers, Sean and Brendan), he has been performing music since the age of 12; with five successful albums under their belt, international tours with artists like Indigo Girls, The Bangles, Toad the Wet Sprocket, Matthew Sweet, K’s Choice, and Antigone Rising, and critical acclaim (including an Independent Music Award for a collaboration with folk icon – and distant relative – Joan Baez), this power-pop band has grown up, quite literally, in the spotlight – and Dom himself has just released his first solo album.
Even so, this handsome and successful young musician has faced obstacles most of us might find unimaginable. Dom and his brother Sean are two of a set of triplets born with varying degrees of cerebral palsy; the third, Paul, passed away while they were still very young (their band name was coined in tribute to their late brother). Dom has battled substance abuse and food addiction – both he and Sean weighed over 300 lbs. until their mid-to-late teens.
Most recently, their mother was diagnosed with terminal cancer, leading to a difficult struggle which continues to this day. Still, Dom and his brothers managed to overcome their personal hardships and rise to success with their music; so it might seem a little surprising that, although Dom had always wanted to break out with a solo project, he didn’t have the courage to do it – at least not at first. As he said in a recent interview, “it’s kinda easy to sit behind a drum kit and even though I sing lead vocals on a lot of songs, I think I hid behind the kit a little bit. But, I always wanted to do something on my own. I just didn’t have the confidence.”
Of course, eventually he managed to overcome his self-doubts and push ahead with the project, a fact which he credits to strong encouragement from a colleague and a painful break-up which fueled his creative fires; but it seems he found some inspiration from another source, as well.
Dom tells it like this: “After a tour my band did with Indigo Girls a couple of years ago, Ben, who at the time went by Hailey, wrote to me privately and told me that our album “Make Me Over” helped him come out as trans. We became friendly on social media and I watched how this person, not even done with high school yet, started the transition from female to male.”
The fan in question, Ben White, now goes to the University of Maine at Presque Isle, and has ambitions towards starting a community center for LGBTQ youth and becoming a counselor for transgender teens. He has been very public in his transition, sharing the journey through his videos on YouTube in hope of providing inspiration for other teens undergoing the same process.
Dom was also inspired. His new solo album features a song called “Hailey’s Gone,” which pays tribute to Ben.
The lyrics reveal an admirable understanding of how core identity lies at the heart of the trans experience:
“He’s not a girl in the world
He is just living in her body.
He’s got a lot to say and a lot to learn,
Shedding the skin, throwing the dress away.
(It’s not her fault, she was just a lost cause)
(Carefully planned yet never demanded)
(She was never real and he was always there).”
Maybe Dom’s respect and empathy are the result of his own dealing with his own difficulties. After all, he has made life-altering choices for himself, too; he’s been in recovery for his food and substance addictions for the past seven years, a process which informs “12,” another song – and single – from his new album.
Perhaps, too, he recognized his desire to express himself with his own authentic voice in Ben’s need to do the same. In any case, the decision to honor someone else’s story is the kind of artistic choice of which we could use more in our popular culture. It’s refreshing when an artist gives back to their fans, and even more so when they give voice to a message of acceptance, love, and equality.
Kudos to Dom Kelly for doing both.
Dom’s mother lost her battle recently.
Dom Kelly’s new solo album, “Everything is Just Enough,” which features “Hailey’s Gone” along with his new single, “12,” is available on iTunes, Amazon and can be purchased online via MPress Records.
You can also watch the video for “12” on YouTube: https://youtu.be/9E7xiePiRj4