Dominic Agius Artist Review and Ongoing Introspection

The path by which we twain did go,
Which led by tracts that pleased us well,
Thro’ four sweet years arose and fell,
From flower to flower, from snow to snow:

And we with singing cheer’d the way,
And, crown’d with all the season lent,
From April on to April went,
And glad at heart from May to May:

But where the path we walk’d began
To slant the fifth autumnal slope,
As we descended following Hope,
There sat the Shadow fear’d of man;

Who broke our fair companionship,
And spread his mantle dark and cold,
And wrapt thee formless in the fold,
And dull’d the murmur on thy lip,

And bore thee where I could not see
Nor follow, tho’ I walk in haste,
And think, that somewhere in the waste
The Shadow sits and waits for me.

-Lord Alfred Tennyson (In Memoriam) the 22nd stanza

In memory of his 22 year old friend Arthur Henry Hallam (1 February 1811 – 15 September 1833)

But Dominic did not die in that hotel room hiding.   Just like he made the decision to leave and use heroin, he also made the decision Sunday night to call Sober Living by the Sea and tell them he was ready to come back and fight again.  The person he left with the day before did not go back.

And when he returned Sunday night, he was sent to a 72 hour detox facility to get the drugs out of his system.  He went to bed at around midnight.  He had a roommate that night who had also fallen backwards days earlier.  I spoke to that roommate last week.  He said that they had had a conversation about relapse, about how sorry Dominic was that he let everyone down, that he genuinely felt really bad, and was going to do better.

Jim Agius III (2/22/2011)

In memory of his 22 year old brother Dominic Clemente Agius (4 August 1988 – 14 February 2011)

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I can’t say with any certainty that I knew Dominic better than anyone else, but I can honestly say that Dominic Agius was my best friend and always will be; I will never find a replacement.

What I didn’t have the ability to articulate then is where much of the self-introspection comes from. At the time of the funeral, I genuinely believed it was a come-back concert. That Dominic had gone to rehab, killed that part of himself, and the funeral was figurative. Even as the pallbearers brought the closed casket up to the front, I firmly believed that it was only closed because he was going to pop out. And the funny thing is, I had been crying, but I wouldn’t even curse his name if it was all a prank.

Dominic taught me what it meant to be an artist, and how to embrace who you are wholly. In a place like San Francisco, where you get all colors of people, Dominic was the prism for rainbows to form—intentionally a little Pink Floyd.

I’m not speaking flowery or trying to make art for art’s sake. Much of who I am is a result of Dominic. I didn’t know if it was proper to force more masculinity, or to always be positive. Most people are taught at an early age to be people pleasers, and the smart ones are, but for who they really are.

Dominic showed me that gender boundaries weren’t important. Not that it requires a defense, but no, I don’t mean we experimented as college kids, I mean that he wasn’t afraid to embrace his feminine side, to tell a fellow guy, “hey, you look good in those colors,” or “hey, it’s sweet of you to notice (such and such).” Dominic didn’t apply gender politics to words, and that’s half the reason he’s such an inspiring artist.

In San Francisco, people often, referred to Dominic as “the next Bob Dylan.” Some actually thought this was an insult to Dominic’s good name, but it’s important to take from that what he represented, for all of us.

Again, I can’t say I was Dominic’s best friend, but I know he was mine and many others.

When I left San Francisco, much of my relationship with Dom took place over the phone. I was always fearful about calling, or receiving a call from him. I didn’t want to ever let him down—but you couldn’t, so I always picked up the phone. Hours would go by. Any plans I had vanished because I had to talk and keep talking, because this was someone who actually cared. Ask anyone, after a phone call with Dominic, I was uplifted; rejuvenated; alive! I was a different man for weeks, but it wasn’t like talking to him was like a drug, because, true while that inspiration would dissipate, the words and his feelings kept recycling through my mind.

That’s why—when I get to it—you’ll understand why his music gained greater importance for me as time went on. Dominic was already a disembodied voice to me by the time of his death. I still think he has messages within these songs that are intended for me—intended for everyone—and should be explored.

Dominic is the reason I became an English major; Dominic is the reason I became an optimist! It started the day I met him. I was dragged—figuratively—to this “guy,” Dominic’s apartment. All I’d heard were good things, so naturally, I was a skeptic… but I was also relatively friendless, so I was excited to get involved.

We were greeted at the door to the giant apartment building. Dom supplied warm hugs to those he knew and welcomed me with open arms. I’m ashamed to admit, but I was jealous that he was so well loved. We went into Dominic’s apartment and the jealousy continued. It was spacious with an incredible view, a nicely framed picture with stickers crossing along its border down onto the wall. This is a vivid memory because I remember thinking, “when they move, that picture frame—with the stickers on it… going down to the wall—it’ll be meaningless.” But for Dominic, that didn’t matter. Art was fleeting—life was fleeting—and he was living in the now.

Now, I’d never been a fan of music, but Dominic sat down in the center of the room with a guitar in his hands and the four of us seated around—me with my little notebook—and Dominic started playing.

I was actually mesmerized. There was a sardonic humor to his song about a priest affiliated with children and the second one’s chorus, “and you take what you get, because you know you don’t deserve any better.” Finally I’d found someone who felt the guilt I always did—perhaps from a religious upbringing—and it made sense lyrically because making poor decisions is what we do—certainly what I do and Dominic did, but there was sudden clairvoyance, I make mistakes because I figure “I’m already a wreck.”

This kind of clarity was integral to my upbringing. Dominic could sum up what any of us are feeling in a stanza—not just art, but talent.

Then, he looked at me—being in utter awe of the art I was witnessing—and actually spoke to me directly… I’ll never forget his smile, above all else, because his eyes had all the confidence in the world—the smooth, cock-sureness, being half-closed—but his smile was too big for his face; you couldn’t fake a smile like that, there is nothing more genuine.l

He looked at the his friends and said, “I usually don’t play in front of this many people (which, at the time, I thought meant that we were many, but I realized later that it was because we were so few and intimate), but it’s really refreshing being surrounded by group of friends,” then he looked at me, “and Derek, I know I don’t know you that well, but I can tell we’re gonna be good friends.”

And that made me light up like no other. He remembered my name, he singled me out, made me feel like one of the gang who got to take part in this phenomenon. That’s a talent of Dominic’s, take any first person story, he always made you feel welcome.

This would continue well after my departure from San Francisco, where the commonplace questions were:

What’s your name?

What’s your major?

Where you from?

You get sick of it. But when Dominic called, he started with an inescapably exuberant, “Hell-OOO!” Rising in volume; starting high in pitch and lowering—somehow this made it feel so much more welcoming right off the bat. And believe me, it’s impossible to emulate as I’ve often tried.

Then the follow-up: “Hi, how are you?”

“Honestly man, I’m good, much better now that I’m talking to you. How are you?”

“I’m good—”

“No, Derico, I’m genuinely interested. Tell me about you.”

Again, breaking these kind of social norms have had an incredible impact on my growth as a human being… but I’m getting off track from the point.

The point of this is not to give you all the heartfelt moments in a narrative, but to review Dominic as an artist. There are so many qualities about Dominic that I love, but I cannot escape the fact that his art lives on, and it’s the part I have to hold on to, because I do think he beat the disease. I think he was prepared to sacrifice his body to do it. You do not undergo addiction and relapse because it’s what you want, it happens because the body needs it. Dominic was strong enough to return to rehab, he tried everything he could to beat it—everything. He had all the support of his loving friends and family, and he wanted to be rid of it. He distanced himself—he did not isolate himself—to get better. When it didn’t work, he knew he’d have to sacrifice his body to absolve the sickness. I know he won. And while I would trade every painstaking note and heartfelt chord for another week of Dominic’s presence, he’s the disembodied voice I always return to when I need direction, inspiration, and motivation.30133_387769922086_3868852_n

Visit soundcloud.com/DominicAgius to listen and understand.

This is his Top Seven as I know them:

1. Love Affair

The repetition of “drag” carries on like the drudgery of life. Taking the idea of, “dragging a cigarette”—known to be the proverbial cancer sticks—with, Vonnegut’s quote, “I’m committing suicide by cigarette,” and you understand that it’s not a glorious habit, it is dreary and begrudgingly done. And yet, it’s used in the same stanza with “dragging a pen across a pad to make your name.” This is intended to be a love song, hence “love affair,” so if he’s using the begrudging act of smoking as synonymous with writing her name, then it seems to be contrary to what the song dictates on the surface. This is not a love song; he doesn’t want to write it. There’s even a pause after “make” because he doesn’t know what else to write. It’s because of the ineffability to make the words happen for him.

This is repeated in the subsequent verse when he says “if you promise, not to promise, then our secret won’t get teld.” Now, obviously “teld” is not a real word, and should be the past tense, “told,” but this is absolutely intentional. Frequently, Agius makes references to the clichés people use as “simple phrases that hide our face,” because there are no spoken words that can describe what they’re feeling. Anything that he could write, “nice brown eyes, flowing golden locks of honey hair,” it’s all been said before and it’s not coming from the heart. This is evidenced by the fact that he’s never known her name, but it will always be the same. Again, putting the contrary elements into this song, because of the broader picture. Most love songs are about a woman—a single woman—but Dominic writes a love song about having a “love affair with the whole entire world.” While this is easily misread by some as though Agius is a purporter of “free love”—hence, why it gets him into trouble—it’s actually him understanding that, whoever he’s in love with now, may not be the person he loves in the future, but the feelings of love are the same. He’s going through the same stages, as with any relationship: the infatuation, the romance, the compatibility. While musicians tend to write to one person, it’s really any one person, which of course means, it’s all of them.

This is why the song’s chorus repeats, “the rain falls harder, and I feel softer, I hope you feel softer too,” is the harsh reality that the song is for any and every girl. The longer you remain in the rain is synonymous with the more love songs you listen to. It makes the artist/lover feel weak, “softer,” because he can’t change their meaning, but ends with the hope that she feels softer too, and this is where the song becomes contrarily validated. Having her feel softer is a hope that she’s also aware of the weakness of love songs, and they can create a new one together.

This was a song that was written before I met Dominic, but it was instantly—and is easily—a favorite of mine.

2. Jagermeister

bottle-of-jagermeister

This song is a tessera of its predecessor, with the chorus reworked to “the rain falls harder and I feel softer and I fall into a fifth. At least it knows me, and can give me, sweet black licorice kisses.” It’s ironic how much more upbeat it is, when the message is clearly much more demoralizing and fatal. The singer—who, character or not, will be used synonymously with Dominic Agius—has replaced women with liquor. The chorus is embittered “at least it knows me” alluding that the dames do not. Which humorously, and appropriately then, avoids all the bitter tasting liquor and alcohols and uses Jagermeister, the sweetest of the sweet. The kisses of course, sealing—or rather unsealing—the deal, that it is, in fact, a substitute for women.

The ironic bitterness starts in the first verse, “if my one last gift, could be your sweetest breath, at this moment, the air escapes me, in favor of your death.” He’s unwilling to sacrifice himself for the girl, and her sweetest breath can no longer compete with the sweet kisses of liquor.

In the second verse, this is where it really gets interesting—partly because I have mulled this over for so long. The second verse begins to blur the line between women and liquor, “blurring” being the proverbial term here to demonstrate that, as the song progresses, he is getting more intoxicated. He says, “please grab my hands and tie them behind my belt,” this could be a reference to two things: 1) that he wants to refrain from the sweet liquor, and needs help not reaching for the bottle or 2) that the sweet liquor is women and the belt is his “notched belt,” as in one notch for every woman he’s been with, and he needs help controlling his carnal desires. The ambiguity purposefully continues with:

these pair of nostrils aren’t doing to hot themselves, if only you could remove them from my own personal hell, a place that’s fully stocked with imagery of you, an orchestra that time forgot which will forever play right through

Again, the nostrils is a key indicator of alcohol, being the first sense that is engaged by liquor, but it could also be used in regards to the scent of a woman, given that he wants them removed to stop thinking about the girl. What’s interesting is that, Agius in Love Affair believed that he would be dragging the woman down to hell, but clearly the reverse has happened since he’s now in his own hell from the woman. This is further emphasized by the rebuttal of Love Affair in regards to “an orchestra that time forgot.” The orchestra of course, is the reference to the bands’ love songs to singular women, but are actually intended for all women (ex. so all women can be Jesse’s Girl or Lucy, in the sky with diamonds). “Time” then references Agius, given that he forgot that all love songs are the same even though they keep playing.

That’s when the real honesty comes out after the second verse, “I don’t want to be an empty room, someone sits inside and gets consumed.” This is still a continuation of his love song, and the empty room is akin to the blank slate. He rules out the previous romances and declares, “not this time, I’m not going to look at this relationship as temporary,” but that’s when people get lost and consumed because it’s destined to happen again and again.

In San Francisco, Dom and I had nothing but Jagermeister to drink while we sat and wrote stanzas. He knew of my endless affection for Love Affair, and, while I’m sure I’m not the only one, I feel this was reciting a lot of the feelings we felt on women and drinking in general.

As an added bonus, when he released the title of this album—much later—to me, Bomb From Afar but Far From Bomb, I thought it would be clever if he went by, the Uni-Dommer.

3. Cassioo

There isn’t a lot I can say about this track, except that I absolutely love it. The title of this track is for the piano it was recorded upon. I love this song because it first taught me that you could speak volumes without lyrics. When the guitar really takes off, it sounds like lightning against a calm pittering of rain. Again, Dominic was well aware of the affectations and social norms, and the guitar sounds like his voice, his message against the commonalities of society.

It’s brief, but still holds a place in my heart. I did write lyrics to it and while Dominic was flattered, I think he was a little bummed that I missed the point initially.

4. Track 03

I don’t actually know if this track has a real name, but it starts with “dear, dear ecstasy… why’d you take my brain from me. Dear, dear, something sweet… fill me, kill me, make me complete.” And those are the only lyrics. Similarly with Love Affair to Jagermeister, I feel this is the natural and logical progression of Cassioo. First of all, if this does not have a title, then it is all the more fitting of having a song with no lyrics speak volumes in its instrumentals. Furthermore, the lyrics in this echo the entire message of Jagermeister. Ecstasy is not used here as a drug—though it could be taken that way—but the happiness, euphoria of love. And the “something sweet” can clearly illustrate the liquor.

What separates this song is that, while it can be viewed as though it’s a running theme or, arguably, the same theme, this actually once again shows the scope of Agius’ talent. He’s able to sum up what was said in the previous three songs by being more ambiguous, albeit succinct. From there, since it is a world of emotions, the instrumentals let you learn it firsthand yourself.

This song is perfect.

5. Give Yourself Away

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This song tackles the social norms, more specifically, the social hierarchy. It starts with a boy who can’t converse openly with “men,” the peers who want him to act a certain way. This actually harkens back to the song he wrote (untitled 2005) with the chorus “You take what you get because you know you don’t deserve any better” but it’s a complete rebuttal with this chorus, “you give yourself away, you’re much more than you think, you’re as beautiful today, as you were when you were made.” This is trying to correct the idea that you ever need to feel guilty or ashamed of who you are and what you do. This is evidenced by the fact that, both the boy and girl, in the first two verses are looking towards the future, but Agius references their birth as though they’re as pure (as beautiful) as they were when they were born. In other words, in deference to what people say or tell you to do, if you believe the hierarchy to be wrong, then you, yourself are not wrong. Sadly, that brings about the most powerful element of the song.

“I’d rather be a martyr than some fucking tortured artist”

This is critical, already in the song, he’s announced that if you want to find him, check the obituaries, which, postmortem comes across as less tragic and more like there’s a path or riddle for you to find in his wake.

 The Martyr vs. Artist

I don’t know how long Dominic dwelt on this distinction, but it makes perfect sense that he would reach this conclusion before anyone else. The tortured artist, the starving artist, these are terms we’ve heard for decades. On their own, it strikes up an image of a pathetic, impish complainer. One of the recurring elements in Agius’ lyrics is that bad things (kidney failure, losing both your kids) will happen, but they’re not to keep you down. With the image of a tortured artist, you can draw the conclusion that it’s someone who wants to create but is oppressed or hindered in some capacity. And, while Dominic uses the term tortured artist, it is synonymous in this case with starving artist, and Dominic purports that he’d rather starve—not be starving. To be starving means you’re still playing by their rules, still hoping that the masses will feed you, but that’s in contrary belief to the song. The verses clearly show how the social hierarchy works and how you’re made to believe that you are wrong, but you are not wrong, if you feel everyone else is wrong, then believe it whole-heartedly. Don’t believe one thing but play the two-face card because it’s dishonest. Being a martyr means wholly accepting your belief system and what you believe is right. You must be willing to die for what you believe in, and that’s the point he drives home in the third verse, “what’s a little boy to do with a gun and bayonet?” because most view this as a source of income, or manhood—what the hierarchy wants you to do—but don’t be willing to put your life on the line unless you believe in something—that’s the point.

This song also carries a great deal of weight for me because I was there when he wrote and subsequently premiered it.

6. If I Was a Skeleton

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Similar to the obituaries line of its predecessor, if I was a Skeleton is another song, postmortem that can be viewed optimistically if one is looking. The song itself is very upbeat with a lighthearted tone because, let’s face it, the subject matter is dire. This is one of Dominic’s songs that I feel it is impossible not to like, so rather than review it, I’ll provide what little background I had of its inception.

As far as I was told from Dom, he was working in a butcher’s shop, working to become a fully-fledged butcher—I’d be shocked to find out that this isn’t where the inspiration from this song comes from. Because his car was stolen, he was bicycling to work and always passed by this tattoo parlor where this older, very attractive woman worked. With that in mind, I believe the combination of skeletons and tattoos were circumnavigating his mind, and this is why he wants to “stain her brand new clothes” as the dirt because it’ll immortalize as a tattoo.

While I was never made aware to Dominic suffering from Heroin addiction until after his death, this song clearly associates the “flesh” with “poison in a vial.” Again, while this may have been written before his exposure to heroin, I’m not certain, but it affirms the idea that Dominic did beat his addiction, and like a martyr, was willing to give up his body to do it.

7. Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose

This one is so upbeat and exotic. This song follows the example set forth by Cassioo and Track 03 in that, it’s very instrumental based. And, I am happy that I can say with all certitude that I know exactly where this came from—without being physically there. Awakening to your Life’s Purpose is the subtitle to Eckhart Tolle’s A New Earth. anewearthDominic and I, through no previous coordination, were reading this text synchronously. If you never read the text, although I highly recommend you do, one of the principles that Dominic was undergoing during this song was The Pain Body. The Pain Body was Tolle’s way of describing what Dominic had aptly captured before, the feelings of submission and guilt due to imperfectness. The Pain Body is all that negativity that stores up inside you, living inside you. In many ways, I’m sure that must be what detox is like.

While this song is solid on its own, there is always an ominous feeling, whether due to the drums or the twanging of individual chords. About a third of the way through, Dominic’s voice appears—hollowed, disembodied—saying, “here I am.” Underneath the pain body, Dominic was coming out.

Also, as an aside, Dom’s favorite movie was Deliverance, and I’m sure this was partly inspired by the Dueling Banjos.

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Uncanny…
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Am I Right?

Conclusion:

There are countless gems in Dominic’s repertoire: Maria Cries, Lesley Anne, The Girl who Understands, Deja Vu, If Only the World… and the list goes on.

Whether or not you know his story, the music is accessible to everyone, and it’s certainly impacted me much more than Perks of Being a Wallflower or Catcher in the Rye.

Dominic Clemente Agius was a friend, international playboy, and artist. Even if you know nothing about him, his music reflects who he was. He was suffering and found a way to voice it—eloquently. Every Valentine’s Day is hard, but that’s why this review starts with Love Affair because he shares it with the whole entire world. A man who never asked for anything in return, and always pushed to get the best out of people.

I love him unconditionally eternally, and I know he beat it. He wouldn’t let it win.

Dom: That quote you have. The one from Moby Dick about death being the only sequel to a–a life like this.
Derico: Yeah! YEah! Death is the only sequel to a career like this–or something, yeah!
Dom: I really like that one. (8 Feb 2011 via phone call)

I envy not in any moods
   The captive void of noble rage,
   The linnet born within the cage,
That never knew the summer woods:

I envy not the beast that takes
   His license in the field of time,
   Unfetter’d by the sense of crime,
To whom a conscience never wakes;

Nor, what may count itself as blest,
   The heart that never plighted troth
   But stagnates in the weeds of sloth;
Nor any want-begotten rest.

I hold it true, whate’er befall;
   I feel it, when I sorrow most;
   ‘Tis better to have loved and lost
Than never to have loved at all.

For more reviews, check out Derek Hobson’s Article Archive

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