Perspective

I never intended to start a home recording project in 2020, but I am having a lot of fun. Taking on a lighthearted project just to do it in such uncertain times has been a lot of fun.

I will admit that it gets frustrating trying to perform and do the audio engineering simultaneously.

I have no hearing on the right, and on the left it is about a quarter of what normal ears pick up. I can feel some bass frequencies, but it’s not great. As a result, without my hearing aids music is a different experience for me.

How different? Toss on a pair of headphones and compare the sound of these two tracks.

Minglewood Blues: Normal Sound

Minglewood Blues: What Patrick Hears

Now that you have an idea of my perspective, take a stroll through what we have shared with the world. The conditions are never ideal, but love of the craft and hard work always finds a way.

Frailfulness

Dear _________,

You wrote of feeling cabin fever in the first days of winter, anxious and isolated. I do not blame you. We live in an age future generations will make bad movies about.

The next time you feel off-center, pick up your banjo.  When you do, take it all in. Every bit.

The weight of the instrument.

The chill of the metal parts.

The grain of the wood.

The hard edge of the steel strings.

The grooves in the fretwire, worn from hours of practice.

The rough texture of the banjo head.

The sound when something brushes the strings between the tailpiece and the bridge.

The little spike of fifth string that sometimes sticks out from the tuning peg. The one that is waiting to open your unsuspecting thumb up like a zippered bag.

The pot against your stomach.

Take these things in because they are good and solid and real. This is the tool for your chosen discipline. In a world gone mad there is still the feel of this instrument upon your lap and in your hands. This is your dojo. Anywhere you go in the world, when you sit down with a banjo, that is home.

Do that long enough with a banjo in your hands, you will be in that state of mind even when you are not making music.

-Patrick

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2020

For a while now – perhaps as long the last ten years – it has been fashionable to kvetch about how awful the previous year has been.

I can remember watching the evening news with my family about this time of year when I was a teenager in Philadelphia. News commentators often spoke wistfully of the last twelve months with Jim Croce singing Time In A Bottle in the background. It was sappy, maudlin and, to be perfectly honest, exactly what we all needed.

Looking back on the past with fond nostalgia is something humans have always done, but in recent years our narrative has warped to the point where we all see ourselves as victims. As a result, we become blind to the good and obsess over the bad things that happen daily to all of us.

With that in mind, I will remember 2020 as the year I learned how to bake bread. This is also the year I bonded with a feral cat, began meditating in earnest, had carpeting installed upstairs, a cross-continental thanksgiving supper and many drowsy summer evenings meditating in the backyard under the old pecan tree with Mephistopheles sprawled across my lap as lightning bugs danced on the humid air.

One of the best moments of the year? There were quite a few – but only one event was captured partially on camera.

In early December, I recorded a song called The Panama Limited. Pulling this off on the banjo was not exactly simple because I can barely hear myself talk. I can play notes and chords by feel, but the glass slide lacks any of that tactile feedback so it requires a lot of practice. I don’t mean running through it once or twice while watching the news – I’m talking about an ugly number of hours.

Tackling The Panama Limited Seemed crazy, but I love this song. So, I printed out five pages of lyrics, got my dad to turn the pages on my signal and started recording. There were a few false starts, and then I played it all the way through for the first time in my life.

I saved the raw video of that recording. Watch my face at the end.

Having my dad there for that… Wow. Just wow.

There are five more tracks out as part of a sort of home-brewed recording project that, like most things I do, happened accidentally. I have another batch of tracks coming out soon, and then I will release the whole thing as a digital album. I am not setting an exact date to finish. It could be tomorrow and it could be weeks from now. The Panama Limited taught me that the best moments happen when you drop the deadlines. Just play in the here and now..

There were a lot of other wonderful moments in 2020. Yes, there was sadness and badness. Such is life. Better to let that go, get the rhythm chugging along and ride that Panama Limited to wherever it takes you.

Thanks for being one of the better parts of 2020. I love you all.

Patrick Costello
Crisfield, MD
12/27/2020