19: Ghost in This House

19: Ghost in This House

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Country Music

Ghost in This House

Story by Hugh Prestwood

Song written by Hugh Prestwood

Recorded by Shenandoah, Alison Krauss

I’m from El Paso, but I moved up to New York about 30 years ago to pursue a music career. I lived in Manhattan for about 10 years and then moved out to the end of Long Island. I’ve never lived in Nashville, although I’ve spent a lot of time there over the years. If I were more of a co-writer, I probably would have moved there, but I tend to write by myself. I got to the point where I decided I really don’t like having the music business right in my face all the time. And if I’m in Nashville for more than a week or so at a time, I start feeling pressure to hurry up and write.

I am a pretty slow, methodical writer. I tend to write about one song a month and I only write one song at a time. The melody comes pretty fast, and then I chew on the lyric for a couple of weeks. There’s usually a line or two that I keep thinking I can improve and keep coming back to, and it usually drives me crazy until I get the last couple of pieces of the puzzle.

“Ghost in This House” was like that. I first got the idea for it while I was watching the movie, The Grapes of Wrath. There’s a scene where the character named Muley has just lost everything he has, and they’ve run him off this land. At one point, he says, “I’m just an old graveyard ghost. That’s all I am.” And I thought, “That would be an interesting idea for a song,” so I wrote it down in my song idea book.

About a year or so later, it was in the dead of winter. My wife had been in a minor car wreck, so she was in a lot of pain for a month or two. And I began thinking, “What if it had been a really serious accident, and I had lost her?” And it was a really dreary night and I started writing. That’s where the song came from, out of that mood that night.

I usually like to visualize a lot when I’m writing lyrics. I started imagining this big house with only one light on upstairs, with this great sense of emptiness and quiet. It came out of a real pure emotion I had, which is where a lot of my best songs come from. I didn’t have too much regard for whether it was going to be commercial or not. I kept getting these images of smoke and matches and fire, too, so I put them into the song.

I wrote this song in the 1980s. I really wrote it with Michael Johnson in mind. He had already done a couple of my songs, but he was actually in between deals, so he was not in a position to record it the time I wrote it. Then a little while later, Rick Hall down in Muscle Shoals got it. He was co-producing Shenandoah at the time with Robert Byrne, and he played it for them and they liked it. I really like Marty Raybon’s voice, so I was thrilled when I heard what they had done with the song.

I actually had envisioned a version that was a little darker — something a little darker than what they did — much slower and heavier. Then when Alison Krauss recorded it, she took it where I had initially thought I wanted the song to be. It’s just two different ways of looking at the same song. Marty’s was exactly right for radio.

When the Shenandoah version came out, I was kind of wishing it was less produced, but when Billboard reviewed it, they said it was a “numbingly sad song.” Alison’s version is a little more artistic, but I doubt hers would ever make it as a single. When she played it at the White House last year, she was there with Brad Paisley and both The New York Times and The Washington Post mentioned the song when they reviewed the show. So that was kind of cool.

Ghost in This House

I don’t pick up the mail

I don’t pick up the phone

I don’t answer the door

I’d just as soon be alone

I don’t keep this place up

I just keep the lights down

I don’t live in these rooms

I just rattle around


I’m just a ghost in this house

I’m just a shadow upon these walls

As quietly as a mouse I haunt these halls

I’m just a whisper of smoke

I’m all that’s left of two hearts on fire

That once burned out of control

You took my body and soul

I’m just a ghost in this house

I don’t mind if it rains

I don’t care if it’s clear

I don’t mind stayin’ in

There’s another ghost here

She sits down in your chair

And she shines with your light

And she lays down her head

On your pillow at night


Oh, I’m just a ghost in this house

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