This collection covers a relatively short period of time – just two months as I wrapped up first semester of sophomore year. It was an important time, though – the promise of a new beginning as I prepared to finally get baptized collided with ghosts that wouldn’t stop haunting me as I spent certain cold days feeling a bit of despair about whether anyone could truly love the grungy, socially awkward kid that I knew I was. I started getting pretty down on myself during those days. You might not have noticed it if you were around me then, just due to my ever-present sense of humor and my restless need to be a social butterfly. But I could be rather melancholy when left to my own devices. (Probably still true in some ways, but I think I’m a little better about not falling into the whole “I hate myself” thing as often.)
In with the New:
Out with the Old:
Listen on Spotify:
This is a photo of me getting baptized in Taylor Pool, part of Oxy’s athletic facilities, on November 10, 1996. I had been putting off getting baptized because honestly, before college, faith was just a thing that I did because my family did it. It was only in college that my own devotion to Christianity became real and meaningful. So it made sense to make this commitment among the first group of Christians that I truly felt a sense of family with – the InterVarsity fellowship. I remember being told that this was an important decision – possibly the most life-changing thing I’d decide to do, aside from getting married. And I had the gut feeling that I’d meet some enemy opposition in deciding to do it, and that God would start to rearrange some furniture after I decided to do it. Man, I had no idea!
Where in the world is this?
1) “Greater Love”, Out of Eden (More than You Know, 1996)
Out of Eden was pure syrupy fun, and I got hooked on this bumpin’ dance track the minute I heard it, which was when I received their second album for Christmas that year. I made this mix tape like 2 days after Christmas, hence the prominent placement of a song I had just discovered.
2) “Flood (Savage Flavor Remix)”, Jars of Clay (Vibe:Central Remixes, 1996)
I’m not usually a big fan of remixes, but hearing “Flood” tweaked with dance beats and electronically warped guitar strumming was a blast – and a great thing to play to shock friends. You know how they halt the music when they sing the line “Can’t feel my feet touching the ground” in concert? I think this was where they got that from. Also, Charlie’s piano interlude that sometimes replaces the violin solo in concert seems to be derived from this version.
3) “Go and Sin No More”, Rebecca St. James (God, 1996)
A crucial song for me at that point in my life – I was struggling with some habitual sins that really frustrated me at the time, and I felt really ugly about all of it. This song served the dual purpose of reminding me that I couldn’t mess up too badly or too may times for God to forgive me, and that I could move forward with the determination to “sin no more”… or at least less often. We all have to start somewhere.
4) “Never See the Day”, Nouveaux (…And This Is How I Feel, 1996)
The subject of how much I would miss people was always prominent on my mind when finals week approached in December and the weather started to get grey and rainy. I latched onto this song as a way to deal with the pending separation (it was only a month, but it was mostly a boring month being stuck at home, and it seemed like a much longer period of time then than it does now). I really wasn’t the type of person who enjoyed being by myself back then, which is so opposite from how I am now – a person who doesn’t mind having a good dose of “me” time now and then. I really depended on other people for my happiness, which strained some friendships a bit (especially with women).
5) “Take Me to Your Leader”, Newsboys (Take Me to Your Leader, 1996)
This was one of Tim’s favorite songs at the time. It, and several others from the same album, undoubtedly took on new significance when he went to a Newsboys concert with Krista, a girl who lived upstairs in Bell-Young who he really had a thing for. Apparently they discovered a common spark during that concert (I’m not sure why I didn’t go, but all the better for them!), and they started dating. I remember the day he pulled me aside after lunch to tell me all about her. I was sure that it was like one of those situations I always got into, where I had a fun experience with a girl and misread her excitement and enjoyment as her liking me. So I cautioned him that it might not really be anything. Really encouraging of me, huh? Thankfully, I was dead wrong. They became probably the most iconic couple out of any couple I’ve ever known, in terms of how I got to watch their relationship unfold and the influence that it had on me. And now they’re married and two kids. All because of a silly Newsboys album with pictures of aliens and a hovercraft car on it.
6) “They Say It’s Love (Stars)”, Cindy Morgan (Listen, 1996)
One of the most carefree, spirited, and all-around classy love songs in my collection. I love how the clarinets and stuff imitate… well, some bygone era and genre of music that I can’t quite classify. Maybe the 40’s or 50’s, I can’t tell. In any event, Cindy Morgan is a genius.
7) “Baptize Me”, Jaci Velasquez (Heavenly Place, 1996)
This song kind of summed up the commitment I was making when I got baptized – though looking back, the metaphors of baptism and bathing combined with the moody melody and sometimes whispered vocals of this song make it sound oddly sensual. It’s still a lovely piece of pop music, though.
8) “Sacred Hideaway”, 4Him (The Message, 1996)
I really liked the metaphors of having a safe place to hide from the unseen spiritual warfare going on around us that was depicted in this song. I also thought the tribal flute, or whatever it is, sounded extremely cool. And the vocal placed was very subdued, almost edgy even, for 4Him. It was like the soundtrack to the ancient temple level on some Nintendo game or something. This one became really significant to me during the months that followed… once I made the commitment of baptism, it seemed like the enemy made a much more concentrated attempt to shake my faith.
9) “In the Light”, dc Talk feat. Charlie Peacock (Jesus Freak, 1995)
Classic. dc Talk took Charlie Peacock’s hit from a few years prior and did this acoustic/reggae thing to it. Mark, my accountability partner that year, liked to talk about bringing sins into the light, so we could see what it was that we were trying to kill. He was the first person that I really did accountability with on a regular basis. Unfortunately, he left Oxy after our sophomore year and went up to San Luis Obispo to finish school.
10) “Forever”, Third Day (Third Day, 1996)
Third Day might be guilty as charged as far as the Hootie comparisons go on this song, but I’ll be darned if it ain’t a fun slab of Southern Rock. I had the weird little ending thing where Mac blurts out “I’m just not much of a guitar man” as my identifier on my voice mail for a while. People got really annoyed by that.
11) “No Better Place”, Erin O’Donnell (A Scrapbook of Sorts, 1996)
I hate, hate, HATED this song for the longest time. It seemed like one of those perky radio songs that just took up space in the Top 20 Countdown every week. And it didn’t even RHYME! Then something weird happened – the song was played during the year-end countdown, and I finally caved in and decided it was catchy. I broke down and bought Erin’s A Scrapbook of Sorts a few months later, and added this song to the mix retroactively. It’s a fine acoustic pop album that came out during a time when a lot of CCM pop acts were trying to go the more “organic” route. I miss those days.
12) “Lonely River”, Susan Ashton (A Distant Call, 1996)
This song always had an air of mystery about it, partially because of the loneliness of its titular metaphor, and partially because I had a copy of my friend Angela’s CD for a while, and the end of this song got cut off at the end of one side of the tape. It was a cliffhanger of sorts, and I didn’t get to hear the last few lyrics and the fadeout until I got my own copy for Christmas. Incidentally, Michael W. Smith plays piano on this one.
13) “Them”, PfR (Them, 1996)
I decided to be shifty and ironic and end side one of this tape (before I tacked on an extra song, anyway) with an eerie song about the evilness of the media. I always get images of a ragamuffin army marching through the desert and seeing mirages when I hear this one – probably the after-effects of listening to the tape at Joshua Tree.
14) “Don’t Speak”, No Doubt (Tragic Kingdom, 1995)
This song was virtually unescapable in the fall of 1996, especially since I had several neighbors in B-Y who were obsessed with No Doubt (especially this one guy named Spencer who had papered every inch of his walls with pictures of Gwen Stefani). Even though I was pretty sick of them by the end of fall semester, I had to admit that I was pretty hooked whenever this song came on the radio with its downcast, minor key melody. It’s probably one of the most addictive breakup songs of all time. I went back and added it to this mix, because what’s sophomore year without a little of the music that my neighbors were constantly driving me nuts with? (I wasn’t gonna put the Bee Gees or Westside Connection on here, after all.)
These two buildings are Norris Hall – unique dorms at Oxy because, instead of the typical “hall” layout, each floor has “quads” – common areas adjacent to four rooms. Tim lived in one of these quads, and he and I would hang out up there discussing our common hobby – music – at all hours. We soon developed deeper level of trust that led to us becoming close friends and having countless interesting conversations. The reason why he spent so much time in my dorm was mainly because Krista lived there. And she became one of my best friends, too. I never got to live in these “quads” – some said it was a great experience of small community; others said it felt like an off-campus apartment and made you and your friends into a bit of a clique (either that or you’d start hating each other toward the end of the year). I was just never able to pull the group of friends together come room draw time in the spring. No regrets; I think I preferred the more traditional dorms where you had easy access to everyone’s doors and could get to know more people more easily.
Where in the world is this?
1) “Land of Mercy”, 4Him (The Message, 1996)
One of the only times I can ever recall being able to rock out to a 4Him song. The sitars (or whatever they were) were a nice touch, too.
2) “Me Without You”, Rebecca St. James (God, 1996)
OK, so the harmonica that jumps out at the beginning of this song is an obvious Alanis Morissette ripoff. And the metaphors RSJ uses in this song are borderline absurd. I guess those things didn’t bother me so much back then. Hey, it was good clean fun, and I was even able to make a funny parody out of this one that made Tim laugh. It’s an inside joke. You wouldn’t understand.
3) “Un Lugar Celestial (A Heavenly Place)”, Jaci Velasquez (Heavenly Place, 1996)
I think I put this one on here because it was on the radio a lot towards the end of that year. I liked the fusion of Latin and CCM pop sounds, and the Spanish interjections in the middle. Little did I know that Jaci would find acceptance in the Latin music market only a few years later.
4) “Moon Days”, Cindy Morgan (Listen, 1996)
Cindy Morgan does a funky psuedo-rock song. Or something. It’s weird because it’s supposed to be. Listen was probably one of the first singer/songwriter albums I got into that made me realize even established adult contemporary voices from CCM land were capable of making really good art.
5) “The Color Green”, Rich Mullins (A Liturgy, a Legacy, and a Ragamuffin Band, 1993)
It took me a long time to finally admit that I found Rich Mullins’ music to be interesting. He seemed to grown-up and not flashy enough for my tastes when I had heard him on Christian radio in high school. And I remember seeing the unusual video for this song, with its rapid flashes of Irish scenery (or wherever that weird countryside was that Rich was wandering around in), and thinking it was just a little bit too “all over the place” for my liking. But I guess getting into Iona was a bit of a gateway – suddenly I was intrigued by anything Celtic-sounding, and this one fit the bill nicely. And hey, it was about my favorite color! Looking back, this song was definitely one of the most artistic and breathtaking expressions of worship to come from a CCM artist in that era. The song still gives me chills when I listen to the Ragamuffin Band album today.
6) “Life Is Hard (God Is Good)”, Pam Thum (Feel the Healing, 1996)
Personally, I didn’t think Pam Thum was all that great beyond her first album. But this song struck me as genuine and memorable, and my friend Jade was really touched by it. She was into the more inspirational stuff, even though she had been like a punk rocker in her earlier days. To make things even more confusing, I had two friends named Jade that year. The other Jade would put Tom Petty’s “Free Falling” on repeat and listen to it for hours.
7) “Tried to Tell Her”, PfR (Them, 1996)
I don’t know what I was thinking, putting this after a soft piano ballad. But this song rocked and I loved the palm-muting guitar stuff and the usual poppy PfR chorus. Patrick Andrew was cool.
8) “Love Song”, Third Day (Third Day, 1996)
This one didn’t blow me away as much as “Thief” did, but it still made me a little teary and I just thought it was so simple and pure – just Mac and an acoustic guitar. It reminded me of Calvin, a freshman who lived across the hall that year and who would sometimes come over to my room to get away from his obnoxious roommate, and he’d do his homework and play praise songs on his guitar. This particular song wasn’t really his playing style, but it definitely fit his personality. He was kind of a third roommate that year, and I ended up officially rooming with him the following year.
9) “Little Drummer Boy”, Jars of Clay (Drummer Boy EP, 1995)
I don’t tend to get into modern recordings of Christmas songs very often. It’s even more rare that I’ll put them on a mix tape that I know I’ll be listening to at other times of year. But this rendition, as expected with Jars, was quite innovative and fun.
10) “Let Us Pray”, Steven Curtis Chapman (Signs of Life, 1996)
“Just because we’ve said the word ‘Amen’, it doesn’t mean this conversation needs to end.” I was really internalizing the meaning of such things as “prayer” and “worship” that year, and I was coming to realize that both didn’t need to be as formal as I thought. In truth, I could pray anywhere and at any time, and just feel free to talk to God without all the silly formalities. That was – and is – a tough lesson for me. I’ve always had a bit of a resistance to opening up and fully praying.
11) “No Higher Place”, Sierra (Devotion, 1996)
I thought the harmonies in this song were really sweet (again, far better than the often-shrill Point of Grace), and I thought it was funny to put thing song right before a song called “Higher”.
12) “Higher”, Eric Champion (Transformation, 1996)
The electronic notes that skittered up and down throughout this whole song, plus the energetic emphasis on drums, made sure that it was one of many points on Eric’s Transformation album that would remain stuck in my head. The imagery of sprouting wings and soaring in the air over a dangerous rocky landscape below, and being a freak unlike all the others, really resonated with me.
13) “People Get Ready… Jesus Is Comin'”, Crystal Lewis (Beauty for Ashes, 1996)
It was the #1 song of the year 1996, at least in terms of Christian radio. Perhaps it was a tad overrated (that was when going #1 for 5 weeks was an amazing feat instead of commonplace like it is now), but it had a sweet rhythm to it and some lovely instrumental work tacked on at the end (the part radio listeners never got to hear). I’d be kidding myself if I said that pre-millennial hysteria wasn’t part of what made this song so popular. I can’t believe I ever took the notion seriously that Jesus would come back in the year 2000. Like anyone could know the day or the hour!