Man, what a summer the year 1996 had in store for me. It was such an emotionally charged time, saying goodbye to friends that I wouldn’t see for three months, and taking off to commit my entire summer to serving others on an island that I had previously only spent two and a half days on. Maybe I was just naïve and didn’t realize how hard that would be. Or maybe I was just faithful to what God was calling me to do. There’s a lesson in that, I’m sure. In any event, it was a unique time in my life that I wouldn’t trade for anything, despite how impatient I got at times for it to be over with so I could go back to school and be with my friends again.
In with the New:
Out with the Old:
Point of Grace
It Was Worth a Try:
Phillips, Craig & Dean
Listen on Spotify:
This is a photo of the group that I did Mark 1 study with at Camp Cedar Crest, which is in between Lake Arrowhead and Big Bear, California, during a weeklong InterVarsity conference. It was my first weeklong camp with friends from the fellowship, and while I was initially wary of sitting in Bible study for so many hours a day, that exposure to the “inductive study” method meant that I would never approach another Bible study casually. I had a great time at the conference, even though I knew it was going to be tough to say goodbye to friends for the entire summer at the end of it. Along the top, from left to right, are Scott and Eric, who co-lead the study (sadly, Eric passed away last year), and my roommate Ryan. The middle row along the railing is me, then Kimmie (an RA from Newcomb Hall who I started to develop a rather unlikely friendship with – she was one of the kindest and sweetest people I had ever met, even looking for ways to volunteer to help the camp staff during her free time that week), then Nadra and Kowana. Bottom row is Jonathan a.k.a. Gundy, who was an off-campus roommate of mine a few times in later years and an absolutely hilarious storyteller, and Jason, who I primarily knew through my friend Mark – they did a lot of outdoor activities together.
Where in the world is this?
1) “Selah”, Christafari (Soulfire, 1995)
Ryan roommate overheard me listening to the Christafari CD that I had borrowed from Sean one day, and while he wasn’t as big on Christian music as I was (he was a Christian, but he preferred stuff like the Beastie Boys and a lot of classic jazz recordings), he thought this band did a pretty adequate job of Christianizing reggae music. Since he was a trumpet player, I think he had a soft spot for the horns.
2) “Love Like No Other”, Point of Grace (The Whole Truth, 1995)
Yes, there was a point in time when I liked POG. Please stop laughing at me. This song actually went #1 the week of Angela’s graduation, which she was excited about, so I guess that’s how it ended up here. This one was a real pain in the butt to put on a mix tape since it bled right into the next song, “God Is with Us”, on the album, and even having the ability to fade out when making the CD version didn’t make it that much less awkward.
3) “Reality”, Newsboys (Take Me to Your Leader, 1996)
I always thought the disco-esque sound of this prodigal-son-turned-circus-performer classic was a bit cheesy, but in a fun way. I remember being ticked off at Christian radio for cutting the line about “shoveling elephant dung” – it was the first of many instances where I started to realize how lame Christian radio could be.
4) “Mercy Came Running”, Phillips, Craig & Dean (Trust, 1995)
PC&D always did a rather predictable inspirational pop thing, but I remember that this song struck a chord with me after my friend Jade mentioned how much she liked it. Since these three guys were pastors, they were generally able to infuse their metaphors with more meaningful language that got closer to the heart of what they were trying to say.
5) “See Through”, Audio Adrenaline (bloOm, 1996)
I had a way of assigning “theme songs” to my friends back then, and usually, this was based on general ideas they expressed to me, or experiences we had together, more so than songs they actually liked or would listen to. This song, one of the more obscure numbers from bloOm, became representative of my friend Heather, who I got to know better late in the school year and corresponded with during that summer while I was away on Catalina Island. I remember having a conversation with her during one weekend when I came back to the mainland to visit people who were on Occidental’s campus over the summer – she was talking about wanting to be transparent and have God’s glory shine through her own weakness. She uttered the words “see through”, and it just stuck in my mind. I think that was why I liked her – she was always very real with people, a quiet servant, never trying to draw attention to herself, but she had succeeded to get my attention anyway.
6) “Dress Me Up”, Eric Champion (Transformation, 1996)
Eric’s Transformation album was the only new piece of music I was able to acquire during that summer on Catalina Island – I got it during my solitary visit to the mainland in June. I was incredibly confounded by it at first, since it was so different from Vertical Reality, but it grew on me and became one of my most overplayed albums that year. The faux-techno/disco energy of this song really grabbed my attention, and it probably helped to play the foundation for my love of electronic-oriented rock music that used live drums. Plus I liked the analogy of sin being like old, ratty smelly clothes.
7) “God”, Rebecca St. James (God, 1996)
’95 and ’96 seemed to be the years that a lot of popular CCM artists got the “alternative makeover” – this was RSJ’s version. Otherworldly flutes, driving guitars, a piercing chorus, and an unexpected key change in the middle – man, I still love this one. Alanis rip-off accusations be damned; this album was good stuff.
8) “Consuming Fire”, Third Day (Third Day, 1996)
This song was my first exposure to Third Day – I remember hearing it on The Ground Floor as early as fall ’95, back when the band was still indie. I had friends who listened to Hootie and Pearl Jam, and I thought this would be a good band to check out due to the vocal and musical similarities to the styles of both bands. I honestly never expected them to become such a major player in Christian music (or to get their edges smoothed out so much because of it).
9) “Inside My Heart”, Iona (Journey into the Morn, 1995)
I bought Iona’s Journey into the Morn as a present to myself for finishing my freshman year finals in May. I had no idea of the instrumental thrill ride that I was in for – and little did I know that this was their least complex album. This lovely folk song, which later erupts into an explosive guitar solo, was the first track to really grab my attention, and I found myself listening to a lot of Iona during my summer on the island. As a result, I can’t hear the album now without getting flashbacks to some of the hiking I did back and forth from camp to Avalon – just seeing the island’s majesty unfold beneath me as I ascended, while the music crescendoed in my ears.
10) “Sweet Days of Grace”, Cindy Morgan (Under the Waterfall, 1995)
I was listening to Under the Waterfall on the Catalina Express boat ride over to the island the day that I left home to spend the summer there, so now, whenever I put on the album and hear the lovely little “Prelude to Grace” intro and how it slickly transitions into this song (I put both tracks together on the mix CD), I can’t help but think of the promise of a whole summer ahead of me, to be spent in a seemingly far away place.
11) “He”, Jars of Clay (Jars of Clay, 1995)
“Daddy, don’t you love me? Then why do you hit me?” I may not have had a physically abusive father, but this song about child abuse hit home when I first heard it. I had a dad who, when he was around during my earlier years, had unrealistic expectations and was very verbally abusive. Looking back, I can see that a lot of it arose from his own insecurity, thinking he wasn’t good enough to be able to do the whole parent thing right, which was why he eventually bailed on the responsibility.
12) “What If I Stumble?”, dc Talk (Jesus Freak, 1995)
This was certainly a deeper song than I would have expected from dc Talk at the time – they were really flexing their songwriting muscles and their knack for musical diversity on the Jesus Freak album. Bryce, one of my fellow staff members at camp, knew how to play piano, and he was particularly taken by this song, so he and I performed it as a duet one evening at a coffeehouse-type event for the staff – just piano and vocals. It worked beautifully. One of the women at my table asked me when I sat back down, “Did you write that?” I wish!!!
13) “He Won’t Let You Go”, The Kry (You, 1994)
As in tune as I felt with God, like I knew I was doing what God had planned for me by spending that summer on the island, I had these gaping holes in my faith, these moments that would surface every now and then, where I wondered what would happen to me if some tragic thing happened in my life – would God be there to protect me? The question was weighing me down a bit as I boarded the ferry from Avalon back to Long Beach at the beginning of my weekend visit to the mainland. I was listening to The Kry, and this simple piano ballad spoke to me at that moment. I’m sure a million other inspirational songs could have done the trick, and what I needed was really more than a song, since those doubts turned into full-on depression during my sophomore year, but for the moment, this song did the job nicely.
Not long after the IV conference finished up at the end of the school year, I packed my things and shipped myself off to Catalina Island for the summer, to work at Campus by the Sea. It was hard work, and at times it was lonely – I missed my friends back home and there weren’t a whole lot of people on staff for the first month or so. Working in the kitchen, I got close to two of the guys who were in there dealing with the hectic food preparation alongside me and the rest of the crew. Nick was one of them – his style of humor was similar to mine and we could always find something goofy to laugh at, or some insightful subject for conversation after hours. The other guy was Brook, who in addition to being a good servant, was a good runner. He and I (and a few others) would time ourselves running up the trail to a cross on the hillside near camp, and back to the kitchen. He also liked to get up a lot earlier in the morning than most of us. On a day close to summer solstice, he and I decided to get up early together and ascend to the cross to watch the sunrise. It was breathtaking, despite the smog over Long Beach that obscured the clouds. This picture was taken on that serene morning.
Where in the world is this?
1) “Always There for You”, Michael Sweet (Real, 1995)
This was Michael Sweet’s attempt to relive his glory days and do an acoustic take on a classic Stryper song – which I had never heard, but I liked this version, cheesy as it may have been with its generic lyrics and so-obviously-fake strings.
2) “The Power of Love”, Carolyn Arends feat. Rich Mullins (I Can Hear You, 1995)
While this wasn’t one of the better lyrical moments on Carolyn’s debut album, I was taken by the hammered dulcimer that Rich contributed to the song. I hadn’t yet gotten into any of Rich’s music at the time – my loss, eh?
3) “Never Gonna Be as Big as Jesus”, Audio Adrenaline (bloOm, 1996)
It was a popular radio single at the time. I wasn’t too taken with it at first, but I came to love it over time. I liked how the song originated from the infamous Beatles quote about them being bigger than Jesus, which of course, Christians took the wrong way. I realize now that The Beatles weren’t intending to say that they thought of themselves as being more important than Jesus; it was just how a lot of their fans seemed to regard them. So the whole basis for this Audio A song is a bit misguided, but whatever, it’s a fun and classic song.
4) “One of Us”, Joan Osborne (Relish, 1995)
I guess this would be the first “secular” song to make it onto one of my mixes (if you don’t count Christian artists like Amy Grant and Jars of Clay who “crossed over”), though I wouldn’t call it that any more because the song is very much about a religious topic, just not necessarily from the point of view of a Christian. It was kind of written ambiguously enough to make that uncertain. I was very intrigued that a song which was a hit on mainstream radio and so freely asked questions about God. In my view, though the song was a bit tongue-in-cheek, it more or less described what Jesus was like when He came to Earth and had to experience hunger and getting dirty and having to go to the bathroom and all that… being a “slob like one of us”, and often being very misunderstood and even lonely. This song didn’t make the cut for the original mix tape, but that was only because I couldn’t find anyone who had the album. I remember the day that the song really jumped out at me – it was Easter Sunday, and ironically, I had gone on a field trip with some friends from an Asian American Culture Club, to have some great Thai food at a bazaar-type place underneath a Buddhist Temple, of all places.
5) “That Kind of Love”, PfR (Goldie’s Last Day, 1993)
This is basically me playing catch-up on some of PfR’s classics. This one should have made it to a mix tape a long time before the summer of ’96. After I added “One of Us” to the CD remake, I noticed that the two songs fit together thematically – this says that God was one of us and walked among us, and expresses a longing to know what it would have been like to be there and experience Jesus in human form.
6) “If I Had $1,000,000”, Barenaked Ladies (Gordon, 1992)
Early Barenaked Ladies songs will always remind me of Chris, who was to be my sophomore year roommate (he was going to be a senior), and who had spent a summer at Campus By the Sea the year before I did, in 1995. He came to visit one weekend that summer, and we did night chores in the kitchen together while he played Gordon on the cheap boombox that we had in there. This silly song about attempting to buy love was kind of a cult classic from the days before the BNL became a radio success in America… thanks to Chris, I can say I was familiar with some of their music before they hit it big. (Even if, at the time, I was reluctant to own any albums by a band with such a name.)
7) “Delilah”, Cindy Morgan (Under the Waterfall, 1995)
This one was kind of a predecessor to the stellar Listen, which would come out later that year. Cindy uses an R&B/jazz-inspired style to indict a selfish woman who digs herself further and further into despair by lashing out and hurting the people she once loved. This, too, was part of the “darkside” trilogy that I really loved on the Waterfall album. (Putting it on this mix wasn’t inspired by anyone that I knew, just in case you were curious.)
8) “Waiting for Your Love to Come Down”, Susan Ashton (Susan Ashton, 1993)
“All alone on a summer evening…” The opening line of this song, and its overall prayerful and outdoorsy mood, evoked some of the quiet evenings on the island when, after I had completed my kitchen duties following dinner, I would take the short hike up to where that simple wooden cross overlooked the channel between Catalina and the mainland, and I would look out over the water and pray.
9) “Worlds Apart”, Jars of Clay (Jars of Clay, 1995)
Why on Earth did it take me an entire year to realize how great this song was? I mean, I always liked it, but I think I really caught on when Carol Ann, one of my co-workers at camp, was talking to someone else about Jars of Clay, and how this was her favorite song due to the torrent of emotional lyrics starting with “I look beyond the empty cross…” that finished off the song. Come to think of it, that line about the empty cross fits quite well with the cover photo.
10) “Between You and Me”, dc Talk (Jesus Freak, 1995)
Another song that was popular on the radio at the time – albeit in a horribly edited form, with the vocals in the bridge cut out for no good reason. That made some sense later on when the song made a cameo appearance on mainstream radio, prompting the rare occurrence of advertisements for an album with an obviously Christian title like Jesus Freak to crop up, but I still didn’t like the edit. In any event, it posed challenges to me regarding reconciliation, because I had a habit of flying off the handle at people who committed the slightest offense, and then taking those offenses to bed with me instead of clearing things up. I really took to heart the notion that I needed to get things straight before the sun went down. I’d love to say that this song, too, fits with the cover photo, but the sun is actually coming up in that photo, so I’m not that cool.
11) “Crucified with Christ”, Phillips, Craig & Dean (Trust, 1995)
One week at camp, while we had a group of high school-aged athletes staying with us, I wandered through the lodge and noticed some of their crafts hanging on the wall. One of their creations featured the Bible verse “To live is Christ; to die is gain.” For some reason, that just stuck with me, which caused this song to stick with me as well.
12) “Heaven’s Bright Sun”, Iona (Journey into the Morn, 1995)
I don’t think I was big on purely instrumental music before this. But I discovered that a big part of Iona’s magic was how easily the songs linked themselves to mental images of nature. As I mentioned before, memories of this album are tied to memories of Catalina Island, and this particular song stood out to me because of that morning in June when Brook and I arose to witness one of the earliest sunrises of the year. The sunrise unfolded much like this song does – the first rays of light bursting forth across the water, then a period of eerie calmness as it disappeared behind a cloud, as if shielding us from God’s full glory (OK, so it was the smog over Long Beach – grant me some poetic license here), and then finally bringing the gift of light to the grateful people dancing in celebration on the Earth below.
13) “Lost the Plot”, Newsboys (Take Me to Your Leader, 1996)
Man… I don’t know what I was thinking ending a mix tape on such a tense note. Talk about a cliffhanger! I was pleasantly surprised by the moodiness of this song, and how the protagonist seemed to be so upset with his own laziness and unfaithfulness, and yet he was too complacent to really do anything about it, hence the tense ending that hangs in the air. I guess I related. This one remains my favorite Newsboys song – probably the best thing they’ll ever do at this point.