A Landscape of Ghosts

by Rob Siegel

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Orion 04:09
my friend Jon we swapped songs in high school his were always better he was likely less depressed there was one song about the night sky in December I remember only one line I’ve forgotten all the rest it’s been 40 years this winter since I heard him play the song when I close my eyes I still hear that refrain so clear and strong soon Orion is swinging around in the sky it was a waltz he sang it just like I just played it the rest of it’s gone hazy save that fragment that remains he explained how Orion heralds winter how the hunter stalks the starry fox the angles and the equinox how he goes from reclining to stand upright in the sky and the stars Betelgeuse and Rigel and the others everybody knows the three stars on his belt week by week he climbs the heavens chasing pray across the sky ‘til he towers in the darkness lord of the winter night December and Orion is swinging around in the sky but the rest has been forgotten oh the things I used to know I am blessed to be the vessel of this line dropped in the snow Orion’s march is ceaseless but it makes for jealous men ‘cause when our arc is over we don’t rise back up again my friend Jon it had been years since we had spoken the letter from his young wife the ending of his short life the disease I did not know and he was gone like the shooting stars of summer one bright line from an old song nine notes burned into neurons an earworm across eons still shining just like him four decades since his singing and the line’s still in my brain how Orion’s up there swinging can I be all that remains? was there a tape stuffed in a box somewhere I asked his family but the trail it went dark I guess it’s only me so when you see the first weeks of December the ancient hunter rising in the cold gray eastern sky see him stand and survey all creation ‘til Scorpio heralds springtime and drives him from the sky I don’t complain about the weather pr the depth of fallen snow I’m still here to see the giant with the dagger and a bow it’s winter and Orion is swinging around in the sky
Watchmaker 03:40
he sits there all hunched over those weird glasses on his face impossibly strong lenses to interrogate small space emplacing gears with tweezers and winding tiny springs the enabler of time itself creator of small things but in an age of Chinese knock-offs five bucks out on the street digital disposable some point admit defeat soon he will not be of value his lease will be withdrawn his store will be a Starbucks the watchmaker will be gone put the set right there says Ernie as it shudders to the ground the second floor store made sense before they weighed four hundred pounds Filo Farnsworth’s troubled children he used to fix them all when you still could change a picture tube and then degauss the coil but now the world wants plasma eighty-two inch LCDs when they break no way to fix them you just buy a bigger screen like American supremacy we always thought would last the small TV repair shop will soon be in the past all these things we break and throw away without a second thought how does it work with people when we start to break apart do we still pick up the pieces when the going gets complex or like the watchman and repair man is the marriage councilor next perhaps its this New England soil where waste is nearly sin but I can’t bear to throw away what’s barely broken in so I’ll fill my house with picture tubes and not wind my watch too tight and keep loving the same woman until I get it right
he was the best and the brightest the numbers guy from Ford anything he couldn’t measure could simply be ignored with his whiz kid friends from Harvard handpicked for the new frontier analysis of data crunch the numbers answers clear so when the ghosts of Dien Bien Phu started rapping at the door events were set in motion for McNamara’s war he analyzed the bombings he yields and the troops he parametrized the models he anesthetized the truths a rational objective they’d let the war expand to the point where the north’s losses should be more than they can stand he tracked all of the metrics from the air and ground attacks the inputs were the people the outputs body bags half a million strong so the Vietcong should choose to fight no more a fundamental error in McNamara’s war ‘cause the dominos were never going to tumble the hearts and minds were never ours to win the red tide sure flowed when it came out 58,000 soldier’s veins the master of the details had to flee the picture was too big for him to see the flawed extrapolation focused through the fog of war the vulgar escalation to construct the winning score bent with age and wisdom he admitted they were wrong there were things they couldn’t measure they killed a million Vietcong and so it’s now another country it’s now another fight it’s not a cold war proxy this time maybe we’re right but there’s American soldiers dying and every week I read their names and our leader might be lying and I’m worried just the same and though I hope this time it’s different I’m not entirely sure we ever learned the lesson from McNamara’s war
Guild D40 04:45
I had a Guild D40 it was my first real guitar I was 13 when the salesman pulled it off the wall and the sound and feel and smell of her I knew she was the one it was the start of a threesome me and her and Neil Young she was the stronghold of my sanity my familiar in the dark the creator of my calluses and I wore her finish off often lonesome and despondent a walking broken heart that guitar took all my pounding transmuting pain to art but her smell was like a potion when I’d open up the case the spruce and the mahogany like incense for my faith I’d take her out and hold her breathe her essence in and be back in that guitar store where our affair began but we were star-crossed lovers we’d argue and we’d fight I sent her back to Guild four times her neck was never right I started seeing other instruments I guess I’m a fickle man and when her bridge began to pull I sent her back again but that smell was the connection when I’d open up the case the spruce and the mahogany remembrance of that place I’d do the Marcel Proust thing catch a whiff and step into that second-floor guitar store in 1972 a big box arrived on my front porch I hauled it on inside my resurrected mail order problem child bride I hoped that they’d fixed her and we’d renew our routine the love affair I’d had with her since I was thirteen but when I opened up the case I found when they’d replaced the bridge they put a shiny coat of lacquer on the old finish that I’d ridged she was a stranger with a facelift and an unfamiliar smell and it shattered the connection I used to love so well I tried to play her but she was just gone I didn’t know what to do she sat alone and untouched for many years but it was just gone so I let her go I sold her to a woman though it nearly broke my heart a gift for her fiancé though they later split apart I home someone appreciates the warm tone and the wood I hope somebody loves her because I no longer could so now I play other instruments that aren’t so battle-scared they’re responsive and expensive I don’t pound them quite as hard their intonation’s flawless if they lack a certain Zen we have intimate sessions but they did not know me when oh god I miss the smell of her when I open up a case I guess that cedar and rosewood just don’t transmute time and space I’d track her down and find her but I still can’t get back to that guitar store in Northampton in 1972 I had a Guild D40 and I wonder where you are
she sits out on the stoop at the extended stay motel she’s literally the girl next door if Mayberry went to hell she’s got that wholesome pretty but I don’t think she’s what she seems as she sits there smoking cigarettes and talking to marines she looks great in that tank top tattoos for all to see the modern substitution for the heart worn on the sleeve it’s an odd juxtaposition the girl next door has gone the vodka bottle’s empty I’ve been away too long but I’m only an observer not my place to interfere measurement makes discontent in this small imperfect sphere I remain the staid researcher it’s really just as well I watch from a safe distance at the extended stay motel hooker’s such a harsh word and I don’t know the facts maybe she’s just looking for some company not cash this guy could be her brother but not all of them I’ve spied but if they’re really paying clients why do they sit and talk outside I come back from doing laundry her door’s ajar as I walk by there’s that lonely human silken thread she smiles and say hi I so want to ask the question but it’s the biggest line there is what’s a girl like you doing in a place like this and there’s big red flashing danger not just from jealous marines I don’t fraternize with strangers I don’t do that kind of thing and I’m out of here next Wednesday it’s really just as well I’m steering clear of trouble at the extended stay motel I want to help her somehow I want to be her friend I want her to know that I am not like other men or maybe her marine’s deployed and these are just his friends keeping her together for his extended stay and then hoping for a stay of execution from the stray projectile’s rage to be nearby if they notify in this brutal modern age I’m wondering if I come back in a month or in a year will she still be sitting on the stoop with a cigarette and beer I’ve never wished so hard I’m wrong about a thing that I can’t tell I hope she’s locked in with her sweetheart at the extended stay motel
I went to junior high with Julie but I did not know her well she was so popular and pretty and I was in my shell different cliques and different circles all those currents had their sway a few smiles in the hallway then my family moved away there was just one time as young adults that chance caused us to meet my mom had bought Bob Brown’s house Julie lived on the same street we talked like we were old friends it’s the image that still sticks me and Julie Frederick fall of 1976 I wish my 8th grade self could see this be glad for these chance connections that restore what we forgot this being human stuff ain’t easy but it’s really all we’ve got 38 years later I’m on Facebook killing time and it does that spooky data thing triangulates through time on the right side of the window six words caused me to stir you might know Julia Ann Frederick and I thought yeah it must be her hey what you doing in Gatlinburg she said “Tennessee is the home of my heart it’s what I came back for I’m from the only county in the South that stayed Union in the war” her photo showed her fishing Cape Hatteras in the surf so we talked striped bass and bluefish like we were quenching a long thirst she said only another fisherman could understand the whole “that when you look at that picture, you’re seeing part of my soul” then we started talking cars yeah we gave that a whirl she said “as long as you know that I’m a Mopar girl” be glad for these chance connections that restore what we forgot this being human stuff ain’t easy but it’s really all we’ve got maybe I should’ve thought more of it when Julie posted this one day “the worst part about being strong no one asks if you’re okay” then the messages stopped coming but I thought that’s just the way when two friends at last run out of entertaining things to say but the truth broke like a bad dream that Julie’d opted out she left us stunned and gut-punched shattered and in doubt I thought I should’ve sensed it I thought I should’ve tried as if some guy from junior high school could be the one to stem the tide we can’t save other people we can barely save ourselves but a friendship is still real if it gets up where it fell to reconnect in measure twenty messages was all still a gift I’ll always treasure from Julie in the fall I went to junior high with Julie but I did not know her well
For My Boys 04:21
my father died when I was ten it did not really hurt me then like a stone I soon became pummeled smooth by wind and rain stumbled through those early years a well of pain but dry of tears the words nobody ever spoke a dream from which I never quite awoke so here I am washed on the beach the perfect shell just out of reach dad still waiting to be found maybe here when I’m around nearly fifty years away flummoxed still on father’s day by the neckties cards and things oh the burned breakfast children bring for my boys I hope I taught you something I hope I did the right thing I hope I did ok so I’m sorry if I was restrained didn’t give a damn about soccer games unlikely for a game of catch a fundamental mismatch of all the things that I should face preoccupied by time and space a world of almost endless need men suck it up and women bleed a friend of mine once said I should admit I had a tough childhood its hard for me to think that way Jewish boys turn out ok a mother who was nearly saint I grew up without much complaint sniffed my truth out on the ground you learn not to miss what’s not around it must be time to leave stage ten attracted still to older men a little late for surrogates dancing in his silhouette the figure high up on the ridge the water washed away the bridge I try I do the best I can I hope that’s what it means to be a man for my boys I hope I taught you something I hope I did the right thing I hope you have no fear you gotta know I was short on examples I was flying with a blindfold but hey I was here
there’s a couple on the subway so in love you feel the heat you’d think that they made aging obsolete all eyes fixed on heavenly bodies raise the periscope of youth we spend a lifetime dying we don’t want to know the truth wise men want for nothing while rich men dig for oil the tree of life transmogrified into rich financial spoil thirty thousand days spent marching like a lemming toward the cliff we spend a lifetime dying and we don’t know how to live it’s not fair I got distracted in the middle of my swing can I call in my mulligan and become a different thing can I dig in with the crampons can I roll away the stone can I throw the dogs of reason a bone put the longings in a scrapbook cull the gems and junk the hoard put the dishes up on craigslist put the stone back on the sword I’m afraid that where you’re going you won’t need sensible shoes I’ve spent a lifetime dying and I haven’t got a clue but baby can I spend it here with you baby it’ll be alright would you be mine tonight I could read a book by your light
Irreducible 04:38
when I organize the office or clean out my top drawer the bills go in the folders but there’s stuff that I can’t sort here’s some cufflinks from my father here’s a tape from my old band here’s a fountain pen from high school when I used to write longhand here’s a birthday card from Lisa here’s my old UMass ID here’s a clipping from a magazine that reviewed my CD these things can’t be filed or classified and can’t be thrown away so I put them in a box with other stuff that I must save irreducible fragments of a life irreducible it’s a wonder what survives irreducible these pieces I can see irreducible must mean something to me here’s my old expired passport with that picture taken when I’d been awake for three days straight that first week of exams here’s an entertainment license from 1998 says Nantucket street performer yeah I did that for one day oh look a map of Glasgow I was young and stupid then I’d hitchhiked up from Edenborough to visit an old friend a trucker saved me from a snowstorm are ye daft lad? then he poured us both hot tea from a thermos and he drove me to her door fragments of a life it’s a wonder what survives take one of them away I’d be someone else today so what is the importance of this box of random stuff what separates significance from the flotsam and the fluff the one thing they have in common is the accident of how I never sought to save them but I can’t pitch them now sometimes I open up these boxes and let them take me back I don’t clean them out or second guess I leave it all intact as I look across this cluttered house from the mundane to the grave I think about these memories and wonder what to save fragments of my life it’s a wonder I survived greater than the whole breadcrumbs to the soul
Here at all 03:40
the father hunter fumbles in the neolithic dawn searching for his stone knife and his dog-eared Iron John to slay the scary monsters and appease his angry god takes a venti skinny latte spare the child spoil the rod danger Will Robinson my alarm clock blindly shrieks as it jolts me from one nightmare to the other in the street the red meat on the table from the dead beast in the hall sometimes I wonder if I’m here at all as the Tweedle Beetles battle over butter over guns the screeching clowns of virtue stoke their vengeance seeking Huns would you have the wherewithal to flee the breaking wave to seek the elevation or just crawl back in your cave I’ll slay the killer rabbit with my laser pointer then dispatch the dogs of darkness dad you got another ten a cash machine a beauty queen a slipper at the ball sometimes I wonder if I’m here at all would you leave your lover in the middle of her sighs would you dare to look a wild gift horse in the eyes a postcard from a hurricane a letter you won’t send but you’d blow out every old flame and then light the other end so I’ll pretend to be Gibraltar you pretend to be the Louvre and we’ll sublimate desire when it crawls into the room exhumed at o’dark’thirty just a shadow on the wall sometimes I wonder if I’m here at all I walk on mental beaches with my svelte and stoic twin but I don’t see his footprints and I wonder where he’s been the father hunter stumbles in the dark he feels so small sometimes I wonder if I’m here at all
there’s a unicorn somewhere that does not believe he exists there’s a love trapped in stasis hoping the memory persists the thing that reverberates still the bell in the church at the top of the hill the pheasant that’s trapped under glass hoping you can’t resist there’s a book in a universe I don’t inhabit at all an arguable premise statistically valid but small the thing that’ll snap like a twig the old man in robes and a wig deciding between saints and sinners as if it’s his call the saddest thing I've ever seen through mortal man’s eyes a butterfly covered in amber still struggling to fly the audacious sadness of hope drawn from the rack and the rope not knowing the logic of life is to lay down and die there’s a landscape of ghosts that inhabit this space I call me the things that I didn’t do didn’t become didn’t be unable to laugh at the moon stretched thin like a human balloon extruded into the cold digital sunshine rendered and lit and prepared to be writ in the book of your life cry those big analog tears do it now while you’re still here don’t be like the unicorn there’s a unicorn somewhere that does not believe it exists
the weekly open mike night waiting for your spot to strut your stuff with songsmiths show off what you’ve got from the storefront to the firehouse the hosts did come and go but it found its soul and center when Oen ran the show he shared the stage with spirits an emotional exchange a magnet for the misfits and the burned out and the strange introductions empathetic so connected to the flow you could not be lost or lonesome when Oen ran the show soon many would bear witness as the ranks of faithful spread some go to church on Sundays we came here instead three AM still full of people and we’d go round again sometimes we went out to breakfast ‘cause we didn’t want to end but something so organic can not survive for long we knew we were part of something we knew that we belonged there will be other venues fertile ground for roots to grow but man it sure was something when Oen ran the show
Nantucket I’m fishing vacation it’s relaxing to cast off the yoke I’m spending my kids’ education when I say that, they think it’s a joke I spent years casting only for bluefish they’ll bite on a cigarette butt for striped bass you need squid or mackerel and a good deal of old-fashioned luck surfside beach my prime spot at sunset the stripers were starting to bite with a twang the rod bent hard over and I hung on with all of my might and it’s hey hey haul the bass in I think it’s the real McCoy I like to stand with my toes in the sand and learn about patience and joy the line whizzed loud and fast as the fish took my cast but I worked him just like a pro I let him run ‘till it tired then started to reel him in slow a big striped bass on line will run lots of line I’d hooked a big fish no mistake when I reeled him in oh what a grin a striper the size of my leg and it’s hey hey haul the bass in I’ve reeled in the real McCoy I like to stand with my toes in the sand and learn about patience and joy I dragged him up out of the water with the sun setting had a good look the joy I had earned turned to concern he had totally swallowed the hook I worked hard with the fisherman’s pliers again again trying so hard not to kill it was swallowed so deeply embedded in tissue and taking too long the fish drowning in air three times I took the fish and the hook and the rod and the reel back down to the surf walked the fish back and forth to flush oxygen into his gills if I didn’t unhook him the fish would soon die so I looked in the back of the truck I found a small knife I reached down his throat and cut the flesh holding the hook he was finally free of the metal from me but the fish had one fin in the grave I put him back in the churning sea wrack and he went belly-up in the waves I’d killed him for sure so I pulled ashore I figured it’s me or the birds and there as we sat with the fish in my lap a most magical moment occurred now most people would say that a striper looks straight that its eyes are fixed in its head well this fish turned one eye and looked right up at aye as if to say “I’m not dead!” so once more we went back in the water I’m sure we were quite a display I walked him around he seemed to rebound he went from belly-up to his tail sticking up and his nose pointing down like a whale when it sounds and then slowly the fish swam away you may ask why I went to such measures for one striper I’d caught on a squid such a beautiful fish deserves its last wish and I still had last night’s catch in the fridge and it’s let the bass swim I released the real McCoy I like to stand with my toes in the sand and learn about patience and joy you can trust this story I’ve told you every word’s as it happened says aye believe what you wish I revived a dead fish though it’s well-known all fisherman lie and it’s hey hey haul the bass in I’ll do it all over oh boy I like to stand with my toes in the sand and learn about patience and joy
my aunt Flo and uncle Bernie used to have a place in Maine a little house in Bridgeton to escape the city’s strain it was a long drive from long island up to long lake but once there we’d run and swim and boat and fish and just enjoy the fresh Maine air but Bernie used to tell us an old Maine tradition said you should swear like a sailor when you crossed the Kittery Bridge “Maine is all ‘bout freedom, so let it out when you come here” and we’d roll down the car windows and we’d swear and swear and swear and we’d say… well I can’t tell you what we said but it’d curdle milk and steam off paint and probably wake the dead one of my best memories from when I was a kid was swearing with Uncle Bernie when we crossed the Kittery Bridge I’m sure you can imagine the zeal with which I did embrace the fine tradition of this language on that bridge but when vacation’s over and you’re heading home again Bernie said that you reverse it to take it all back in and we’d swear a blue streak backward it’s fun cussing in reverse we’d say kuf and tish and mad dog which sounded much less worse one of my fondest memories from when I was a kid was swearing backwards with Uncle Bernie when we crossed the Kittery Bridge 30 years later I was traveling up to Maine with Maire Anne and we crossed over bridge that looked awfully familiar then it all came flooding back I said excuse me I have to do this I’ll explain in a minute I rolled down the window stuck my head out and let fly George Carlin’s Seven Dirty Words loudly and with feeling I’m not sure who was more surprised Maire Anne or the guy in the car on my left when we got home, I told my aging auntie Flossie “we just drove up to Maine and when we crossed the Kittery Bridge I remembered the tradition and swore like we used to with Uncle Bernie but I didn’t see anyone else doing it. Is it possible I had the wrong bridge?” my auntie Flossie looked at me sad and wistful and said “I don’t know how to tell you this, but your uncle Bernie made that up” I said “you mean… it wasn’t a Maine tradition? it was just our tradition?” well that just made me love it all the more so if you’re traveling northward on I95 and you cross out of New Hampshire and you wish to feel alive do it for the freedom don’t you hesitate or doubt do it for my uncle Bernie go ahead and let it out and yell what ever the heck you want to it’s not up to me to say but make it real and salty you’ll feel good and free today and I don’t believe that heaven is where an old soul goes I don’t believe he’s looking down or that he even knows but can swear for certain he’d be laughing if he knew that when I cross the Kittery Bridge I still say fuck you


If you’re a performing songwriter, you know how to read a room, establish a rapport with an audience, lock onto vocal pitch by hearing yourself over a PA, and deliver a warm, human, and engaging performance using only your voice and your guitar by feeding off the vibe and wrapping songs in subtle variations of dynamics and tempo.

But when you go into the recording studio, you’re deprived of all that. Because most of us can’t pull off an entire CD of just guitar and vocal, we try to replace the ephemera of live performance with studio embellishment. In doing so, it’s easy to lose more than you gain. For this reason, this, my first CD in nearly 15 years, was the most challenging thing I’ve ever done. I tried to accept people’s input, to respect my own strong likes and dislikes while not rejecting ideas simply because they weren’t mine, and to do the best job I could.

Thanks to the musicians who contributed such beautiful tracks, to my Boston singer-songwriter friends (you know who you are) who were my sounding board, and to my wife Maire Anne Diamond and my mother Bernice Siegel for their unwavering support. But above all, thanks to Doug Kwartler for sculpting the sonic landscape of the CD and giving me so much more than I ever could’ve dreamed. And for not strangling me for being such a head case.

For my absent friends, especially Jon Davidoff, whose voice still rings in my head four decades after I last heard it. I’m still here to see the giant with the dagger and the bow…


released March 24, 2018

Rob Siegel: Acoustic guitar and vocal, bass (1), drums (end of 11)
Tim Roper: Fiddle
Bronwyn Keith-Hynes: Fiddle (8, 11)
Peter Tillotson: Upright, fretted, and fretless bass
Doug Kwartler: Percussion, guitars, keyboards, percussion, bass (4), drums
Rudy Borkowski: Piano (1, 11)
All songs by Rob Siegel ©℗2018
Rural Electrification Music, BMI
All rights reserved
Recorded at Hollow Body Studios
(except 6, recorded live by Steve Friedman, additional tracks at Hollow Body Studios,
and 13 and 14, recorded live by Steve Frieidman)
Engineered, and mixed, and mastered by Doug Kwartler
Produced by Doug Kwartler and Rob Siegel
Design: LisaThompsonGraphicDesign.com
Front cover photo: Rob Siegel
Back cover photo: Howard Canon
Lyrics available at www.robsiegel.com/music


all rights reserved



Rob Siegel Boston, Massachusetts

Rob Siegel is well-known in Boston folk music circles as an innovative songwriter who draws from his idyllic yet stressed- out middle-class suburban existence and produces memorable, intelligent, well-crafted songs.

His first new CD in 14 years, "A Landscape of Ghosts," will be out in April, with a CD release show at Club Passim on Monday April 30th.
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