My upcoming book, Just This Banjo, is almost finished. There are still a million things to finish, but the book itself is just about written.
Work has been impeded a bit by my health. The pain of peripheral neuropathy can be so overwhelming that it can send a potentially productive day down a dead end street. On some days the pain is so bad I just can’t think.
In spite of bad pain days, we are pages away from the final draft. Once that is finished we have to format the work and get it ready for release.
Next week I have some long days of medical tests and appointments in preparation for surgery to install a neurostimulation device on my spine to help manage my neuropathy pain. For the rest of this week into next week I will be putting The Daily Frail on hold so that I can finish up the last bits of writing and complete Just This Banjo.
Private lessons will continue as scheduled
If you have any questions about Just This Banjo, The Daily Frail, private instruction or electric banjos, call (410) 968-3873.
I was not going to argue this, but Dear Old Dad argued that it could complicate things down the road. So, albeit reluctantly, we are taking steps to remedy the situation . . . but I have to admit that I am enjoying my status as a zombie.
My health after the harrowing Suboxone withdrawal has been steadily improving. Lately I find myself battling my old foe peripheral neuropathy, but I have a good neurologist on the case. Last week on a scale of 1 to 10 – with pain being the worst pain I ever experienced – I was at around 23. Crying time.
Today I am between 7 and 8. So it is improving bit by bit.
There is a lot going on here musically. The Daily Frail is still happening over on Patreon. A few folks are either unnerved or just plain angered by the fact that I am breaking away from using tab. Somebody pointed out that my very popular books used tab and I replied that the books were written long ago and even Picasso was prone to painting over old works to create something new.
Tab never helped me with the guitar, and I used it so rarely with the banjo that I practically had to relearn how to use tab when I wrote my first web-based workshops. On plain paper tab was a useful way to help people visualize the left and right hand mechanics – but we are living in 2019 and the printed page is going the way of the rotary phone. We don’t need to cling to old methods that never really worked. This should be a time of innovation and discovery!
So I am getting myself mentally, physically and musically ready for something new. For the banjo I find myself thinking back to the way I used the teaching methods employed by my karate instructors. There was nothing written in the dojo. I was expected to pay attention, internalize what was presented and then put it into action.
When I was learning music I only met my teachers briefly. Some encounters lasted a few minutes but I left with enough to work on for months. Given my progress over the years it’s safe to say this approach works. My challenge now is to create the same sort of environment on the Internet.
So a new banjo method is on the way. My friend Dobro Libre will be doing similar with the guitar to take some of the workload off of me.
A lot of this new teaching method will fly in the face of a lot of the material out there now – including my old workshops. This is inevitable because change always generate conflict and controversy. The momentary angst will not bother me because I am looking at a larger timeline. Forget somebody being pissy today and look fifty years down the road or beyond.
When I met Tiny back in the 1980’s the fiddler’s picnics in Pennsylvania were filled to capacity. Every time I go back there are less musicians. We lost something at some point. The same happened to karate, going from tough training to a weird sort of day care where seven-year old kids get back belts without throwing a punch.
Keep an eye on frailingbanjo.com for updates on the new lessons, the book in progress and some other cool things we have in the works. I would share more details, but that would spoil the fun.
Right now I am off to do a bit of yard work and then scare the neighbors by practicing Modern Arnis on the heavy bag. Nice to know I can still throw a punch and make an even heavier blow with my sticks. I hope Ed Parker and Remy Presas will be watching my comeback!
So far quitting Suboxone has generated only minor side effects. I’m doing pretty good except for one thing – peripheral neuropathy.
Peripheral neuropathy is a condition where your sensory nerves get damaged and start sending pain signals to your brain.
I am okay during the day, but when I try to sleep the pain jumps in and just kicks my ass all over the room. On a scale of 1 to 10 – with 10 being the worst pain ever – I was at about 15 last night. It got so bad last night that Dear Old Dad handed me a double shot of some seriously good Irish Whiskey. It helped.
I see my doctor on the 27th, but from what I have read there are not many effective treatments for peripheral neuropathy. I am guessing that I will have to learn to live with the pain and/or look for alternative therapies.
I could wring my hands and cry, “oh woe is me”, but that never accomplishes anything. My hands still work and my head is clear. I’ll keep on fighting.
Tomorrow is my mom’s birthday. We’re taking her to Salisbury for the Chinese Buffet and shopping at the Hobby Lobby – she loves that.
On Monday I turn 49. Dear Old Dad is going to drive me to Assateauge, and then we will pick up the heavy bag and other equipment for the backyard dojo.
Looking in the mirror yesterday I was shocked at the face looking back at me. I couldn’t place what was different, but then it hit me. Color. I wasn’t all pale and washed out like I have been looking for the last ten years.
I am back and it feels . . . well, it’s hard to say how it feels. Imagine ten years of pain, struggle, heartbreak and illness – then suddenly everything comes back into focus. Music sounds better. Food tastes better. Colors are brighter. The headaches seems to have stopped. I can type again without difficulty.
Money is tight, but I treated myself to a Spotify subscription. Headphones still don’t do much for me unless I crank the volume all the way up, but soon I will have my new BAHA implants with better audio connectivity and I will be happily be finishing up my current book with music blaring in my skull. Rock, country, folk, old-time, punk, jazz, Celtic, classical and everything else I can get my mitts on. I write better with music blasting, so this will be good!
I still have my hurts. I would give up all of the music in the world just for Amy to see me now, back to the person she saw trying to fight his way back to the surface. To come back up from such depths to find her gone is . . . well, let’s just say that the English language lacks the eloquence to describe these emotions.
It has been emotional for my parents as well. Mom and dad have both stopped to stare at me in a sort of wonder, saying, “It’s nice to have my son back.”
I still have to get my body back in shape. Long walks, work in the garden and I plan to make an open air dojo under the big pecan tree. I don’t care about fighting anymore, but I can use my Kenpo and Modern Arnis training to get my body moving and my mind focused. it would be nice to have a heavy bag to work with, but I can probably scrounge a stack of junk tires before Dear Old Dad gets wind of what I’m up to.
Dear Old Dad and I are making plans. More on that soon – and keep an eye out for the arrival Dobro Libre!
Today I plan to studiously do nothing except play some music, listen to some music and enjoy this day. Sprawl out with Pooka and wait for the future to arrive.
I have a super-crazy week ahead, with medical appointments today and tomorrow. On Wednesday a friend from church is driving me up to Johns Hopkins to start the process of getting new sound processors for my BAHA implant.
To keep The Daily Frail rolling along, I prerecorded the entire weeks worth of workshops. We will be going over songs by Tom Paxton, Hank Williams, Kate Wolf and that most prolific of songwriters, Public Domain.
A tab-free zone where folks who play fretted and stringed instruments such as banjo, guitar, mandolin and fiddle can give advice, answer questions and post videos aimed at helping folks ditch the tablature crutch and join the brotherhood/sisterhood of musicians.
If you are a learning a fretted or stringed instrument and are caught in a tablature failure loop feel free to ask for help out of the trap. If you are able to play, sing and jam without reading or memorizing tablature feel free to reply to a specific question or post advice aimed at helping folks see the big picture.
Yesterday I upset a few people on Facebook when I joked about my possible future legacy by writing:
It hit me today that when I shuffle off this mortal coil I will not be remembered for the thousands upon thousands of people making music because of my work.
I will instead be bitched about because I have never found a use for drop-thumb.
I love the banjo, but the “banjo scene” sucks.
Somebody was quick to point out that I do teach drop-thumb, but that is beside the point.
Most of what we know about history is wrong in one way or another. The George Washington cherry tree story or the story of Johnny Appleseed are perfect examples.
George Washington never chopped down a cherry tree or confessed the deed to his father saying, “I cannot tell a lie”. The story was made up by Mason Locke Weems as a morally instructive lesson. A fable. Somewhere along the way, people liked the lie so much it became part of history. I was taught the cherry tree nonsense as fact – and got slapped across the face by a mean nun for pointing out it was a lie!
I was also taught in school that Johnny Appleseed gave away apple trees to promote good nutrition. The historical truth is that John Chapman planted trees with sour apples. Not to be eaten, but to be used in hard cider. Booze. He did not give trees away, but planted acres of orchards to claim homestead land that he later sold to settlers. His roughshod lifestyle was due to his working in the wilderness to claim land before settlers got their mitts on it.
This happens in folk music all the time. Galax, VA is an easy example. The average phony banjo expert today would have you believe that a couple of old guys in that area influenced all of American banjo playing. The truth is that the average banjo player before the Internet age rarely heard of any of this music unless they went to the Galax festival at some point. When I finally did hear round peak style banjo I thought it was a struggling banjo student! I sat there and said, “What the hell is this?” Imagine my surprise years later when one of the folks marketing the majesty of Round Peak (let’s call him “Bob”) would pop out of the woodwork threatening to destroy me with the help of Banjo Newsletter.
I should tell you all that story. . . It’s really funny.
We were just starting to build banjos when “Bob and Dan” contacted us. They wanted us to give one or both of them a Somerset banjo to “evaluate” before deciding if the instrument was worthy of a review that we neither solicited nor wanted. They also wanted details about our capacity and projected build numbers.
Trying to sleaze a banjo off of us was irritating, but the request for information on our business was a shock because “Bob and Dan” were both endorsing different banjo brands. How can you give an honest review of an instrument when you are being compensated to endorse an instrument from a competing builder?
The whole thing stank to high heaven and we were busy, so we replied with one word. That word was, “Nuts.”
History lovers will know where we got that one.
“Dan” had previously contacted me offering to write a nice review of The How and the Tao of Old Time Banjo in exchange for a nice review of his book. I pointed out that I had not read his book. He said that it did not matter.
Isn’t show-biz glamorous?
We figured that saying nuts would make these guys go away . . . we were wrong. The craftsman who was building the first run of Somerset banjos started getting calls from “Bob” (a man we had never met) who began asking for details about our business while (you guessed it) warning him about us.
So I called “Bob”.
I dialed the phone. He answers and I say, “Hi Bob, this is Patrick Costello.”
I didn’t get the chance to say anything more. “Bob” starts shouting and cursing me. I mean he is in a frenzy. A hate-fest right out of 1984.
I tried a couple of times to talk to him but he kept on yelling, screaming and cursing.
Then “Bob” says, “I am going to use Banjo Newsletter to tell everybody what you are. I am going to ruin you!” He was still going when I said a few things that shut him up.
Then I hung up and Dear Old Dad and I called Banjo Newsletter.
I still have the written apology from “Bob” that we told Banjo Newsletter we needed to see. it’s one of those little things I keep to remind myself of the true nature of the business end of folk music.
Needless to say, we will never in a million years be mentioned in Banjo Newsletter. I am OK with that, but I am also aware that there is a double edge to this in that, from the magazine’s perspective I do not exist.
This is much like the scene in The Ten Commandments where Seti I declares:
Let the name of Moses be stricken from every book and tablet. Stricken from every pylon and obelisk of Egypt. Let the name of Moses be unheard and unspoken, erased from the memory of man, for all time.
I am not comparing myself to Moses. Moses was a great man who pissed off the Pharaoh and led his people to freedom. I am simply a musician who can inspire and piss people off in the same breath.
The same erasing from the obelisks is happening on the Internet. Mention my name in the wrong place and you run the chance of cult indoctrination style pressuring to convince you that I am wrong or evil or the harbinger of the apocalypse.
You will be told that I don’t teach drop-thumb, in spite of the fact that I do.
You will be told I don’t teach alternate tunings, that my rhythm instruction will make it IMPOSSIBLE to progress, that the basic frailing strum is not traditional and/or that “bum ditty” will make it IMPOSSIBLE to progress, jam with other musicians or ever fit in with the beautiful people.
Truth has nothing to do with these weird antics. It’s all about money.
When we posted my first banjo workshops through a dial-up modem in 1997 there were arguments concerning whether or not Dear Old and I should be allowed to give away what music teachers sold for a profit.
When we started filming interviews for The Down Neck Gazette we occasionally had to contend with the folks we were traveling cross-country to visit meeting us with a frown because some banjo vigilante had called or emailed them ahead of our arrival warning them about us.
I’ll ask you again, aint’ show-biz glamorous?
When I wrote The How and the Tao of Old Time Banjo publishing people laughed at me. They said it would never sell. So we started our own publishing company. We printed and distributed the book ourselves. As it started selling people began demanding free copies to evaluate in order to decide if the book was good enough to pass on to a (prepare yourself for stupidity) a “banjoista” for review. When I did not play any of their games some people in the “banjo scene” got mad.
When I gave away The How and the Tao of Old TIme Banjo freely to the world under a Creative Commons license banjo people went nuts. Somebody actually wrote me the day I gave the book away saying, “You can’t do this!” I wrote back with the same reply my grandfather gave the day he punched our monsignor in the face, “I can do any God-dammed thing I want to!” The angry banjo person never wrote back.
Then my father and I were both banned from the banjo forums. Once in a while we were allowed back in, but the same idiots who harassed us in 1997 were always messing with us. They could say things to us. They could write horrible hate-mail and send it to my email account. If I defended myself or got exasperated the ban would recommence and my name would get dragged through the mud for days.
When I came up with the braille-friendly banjo tab system the banjo forums destroyed public support for the project. I have had other breakthroughs since then, but I’m cagey about sharing them. People love to claim my ideas or trash them. Hell, as soon as I launched the Sing The Banjo series someone started a Facebook Group to poach the idea for himself.
This is noting new. When I was starting out I was told that Lead Belly wrote Irene Goodnight. He did not. It shows up as a traditional tune in 1927’s American Songbag, collected by Carl Sandburg.
I was also told that Lead Belly, through the help of the Lomax family, used Irene to get early release from his prison sentence. This never happened. he was released early for good behavior.
The truth, as I know it, is that Huddie William Ledbetter hated being called Lead Belly. The truth is that Huddie Leadbetter played the twelve string guitar as well as piano, mandolin, harmonica, violin and accordion. He was an amazing but flawed personality who died in poverty while the Lomax family kept the money from his recordings and appearances.
The Lomax family is accredited for saving folk songs by working with the Library of Congress, but they copyrighted every song they recorded for themselves. They even have a claim on songs like Cripple Creek!
See how easy it is for a victim to be turned into someone who had been lifted up? See how easy it is for a carpetbagger to turned into a benefactor?
Somewhere along the line folk music became a business. When I was starting out people still shared for the love of the art. Today it’s all about the money. Workshops become performances. Lessons become dysfunctional memorization of tunes rather than learning to communicate and create with the language of music. Hell, banjo camps all feature Little Rascals style shows where the gurus play weakly and the shell-shocked students sit in weary silence – convinced they will never be as wonderful as the bush-league talent on shameless display.
I wouldn’t mind it so much if I was working against strong musicians. Most of the time the crap smeared on my name and on my work is by people with no way to stand out on their own. There is nothing compelling in their music or message, so they try to gin up business by scaring students away from teachers who will help them learn basic skills.
So much has been said and done to my name that it borders on the comic. I would have thrown my computer and my instruments in the bin twenty years ago, but I do love the craft. I love working with my dad. I also love watching my students grow as musicians.
I am not perfect. I am not always right – but I am never in doubt. I do have a failed fund-raiser for a banjo blues album. I trusted the wrong people, got ripped off and I am working to this very day to finish the project. It will be released as time, my health and funds allow.
In spite of my faults and missteps, I have helped an astonishing number of people. In the end I am not working for any kind of legacy or to have flowery words written about me by stupid people.
My job, as I see it, is to be replaced. This approach to music is not a business or intellectual property. It is a gift. A treasure. Even with nothing a good musician can sing, clap hands and stomp out a rhythm to make music. More than writers, poets, photographers or painters, a good folk musician can turn the ordinary into something extraordinary. We throw what we do into the air and change every person that hears us in profound ways.
My hope is that I fade away Jedi-style. Leaving room for the next teacher to step forward – and maybe leave a couple of funny stories for those new teachers to share between the songs.
Maybe my views on this will change down the road, but right now with my 49th birthday weeks away, I am content to help my students and aggravate the charlatans. People like “Bob and Dan” always get what is coming to them. Karma is a bitch.
We leave for Johns Hopkins tomorrow morning around 3:00 AM. I have not been there for a long time because every visit turns into an exercise in pain. In fact, I used to call Johns Hopkins The House Of Pain after the classic 1932 horror film Island of Lost Souls.
So after a three hour drive into the nightmare landscape of Baltimore I’ll have a doctor up to his elbows in my ears in the House Of Pain, and then a three hour drive back to Crisfield.
It’s gonna be a long day. At least Dear Old Dad is going with me
Doc Moonshine writes: This is an interview I recorded, during the station that I broadcast with’s previous incarnation. during this conversation, Patrick and I discuss what lead us to music, Patrick’s philosophy on banjo playing and on making music in general, and what sets his teaching apart. like any good friends, there are methods Patrick and I agree on and methods we don’t. but that doesn’t stop us having a good laugh and hopefully teaching you a thing or too.