1997 would prove to be a tough year for me. There was a disappointing failed attempt to return to Joshua Tree for Spring Break (a trip which I helped to plan and didn’t even get to go on), further distance between me and a close friend due a crush that just wouldn’t go away, and just a lot of tough questions I would ask myself as I sat in my philosophy and creative writing classes and played metaphysical mind games with myself. Not that it was the classes’ fault – they were just exploring the thoughts of different writers, not trying to tell us definitively that any of their writings were true. It was another way to get to questions that I needed to ask, I guess. And while the weather got lighter and summer approached again, the darkest times were, in many ways, still to come in the months ahead.
In with the New:
Out with the Old:
It Was Worth a Try:
Listen on Spotify:
The beginning months of 1997 were when my first major depression kicked in. Honestly, I think part of it was just being bored in the dead of winter (well, the grey blah that we call winter in L.A.) and having few ways to get off campus. But part of it was due to grappling with questions about my own faith and what I believed, making it something than I could own and not just what my mother taught me. A lot of desperate prayers were prayed during those months, either from my dorm room, or from my “prayer spot” behind Bell-Young (the back of the dorm is pictured here), where I would sit overlooking Campus Road on some nights. It was interesting how a building that I looked forward to living in, and enjoyed so much during first semester, soon started to feel like a bit of a dungeon during the following semester.
Where in the world is this?
1) “Listen”, Cindy Morgan (Listen, 1996)
I loved the way that the horns swirled around this classy pop tune… it was like being on a crowded street with cars whizzing by. Looking back, this song, the centerpiece of Cindy Morgan’s best record, was a bit of a thematic predecessor to The Loving Kind, which dealt with Christ’s crucifixion in greater detail.
2) “Free Ride”, Audio Adrenaline (bloOm, 1996)
I thought this song was a blast long before I knew it was a cover song. I still think it’s a great take on a classic rock tune. I stuck it on here because it was one of the happier moments of an otherwise dark time – Tim took me to a Steven Curtis Chapman concert that February as a belated birthday present, and Audio A was one of the opening acts, and this was the song they led off with.
3) “Yahweh Love”, Sarah Jahn (Never Say Dinosaur, 1996)
I had heard the Petra original (from 1979 or so) on an old Release Magazine tape a few years prior, and I liked it despite the dated sound, so I was thrilled to hear newcomer Sarah Jahn offering a modern take on it for Never Say Dinosaur (a rather odd tribute record if I’ve ever heard one). I think I was trying to pile some of the happier songs onto the beginning of this tape as a sort of mood-booster for myself.
4) “Evidence of God”, Geoff Moore & the Distance (Home Run!, 1995)
This remains my favorite Geoff Moore song to this day. I just love the way it comes busting out of the gate with its open, celebratory rock sound, and many songs that use nature and romance, etc. as a pointer to God’s existence will score brownie points with me. I was listening to Home Run! a lot that semester, actually – it’s not a terribly intelligent record, but as far as pop confection goes, it’s a real winner. Tim had loaned it to me because I had never gotten around to picking it up back in 1995 when it came out. Something about the lyrical themes on that record – especially this song – just hit me really hard during a time when I was desperately searching for a reason to cling to the beliefs I had held to since my youth.
5) “Me, Myself & I”, Code of Ethics (Soulbait, 1996)
This song was the first one on side two of an album that was a rather strange reinvention for Code of Ethics. Apparently everyone was undergoing an “alternative revolution” and taking on a darker sound in that era, so Code of Ethics’ version of that was to become more industrial and less poppy techno. It kind of worked. Anyway, my stereo used to like to eat tapes at the beginning of either side, and it almost did that the very first time I listened to this song. I had a much worse temper back then, and I threw a fit over it. I was just frustrated over seemingly everything in my life ceasing to work the way I wanted it to. And when I finally went back and listened to the song later, it clued me in that maybe part of my depression problem was stemming from selfishness – I was equating not getting what I wanted with God not being there for me.
6) “It’s Heaven”, Crystal Lewis (Beauty for Ashes, 1996)
This would be the track before “People Get Ready… Jesus Is Comin'” that most folks ignored just because such a big hit followed it. I rather liked this one – it was a light, airy dance track that talked about grace while we were in the very process of stumbling. I related to that at the time, and I think I got easily attached to songs about Heaven because I was trying so desperately to convince myself that it actually did exist.
7) “You Brought the Sunshine”, Out of Eden (More than You Know, 1996)
I had a crush on a girl back then whose name was Sunshine. That pretty much explains the presence of this obnoxiously perky cover song. She was from Hawaii, and she had actually been gone for most of the previous semester because she had been in a car accident (my roommate was actually the driver) and needed to rehabilitate. For some reason, I became rather curious about her since we had some really good conversations after she got back in January. The crush didn’t last very long before things got awkward and I just had to get it out in the open – I could tell that her interests were elsewhere because she hung out a lot with the theater crowd and was really into musicals like Rent, and she probably wanted to date a theater-type guy. That was so not me.
8) “Pour Me Out”, PfR (Them, 1996)
When we did a Mark Study weekend that January, I was struck by the metaphor of the woman pouring out expensive perfume, and basically her month’s wages along with it, at Jesus’ feet. I had been listening to PfR a lot and so this weirdly-shaped, moprhing rocker seemed to fit the theme well enough.
9) “We Are Not as Strong as We Think We Are”, Rich Mullins (Songs, 1996)
This is one of those songs that just hit me like a train when I first heard it, and it’s actually my favorite Rich Mullins song. You don’t hear Christians singing songs about breakups all that often, and this was a particularly vulnerable note for Rich Mullins to end on (he worked on other songs before he died later that year, but I think this was the last new song released while he was still alive). His words about how hard we try sometimes to make someone like us, and how much damage we can end up doing when we’re trying to love someone, really struck me. I was going through a relapse of a crush one of my best friends, and I had this foreboding feeling that it was starting to undermine our friendship. Even though we never dated, and therefore never “broke up”, this song always made me think of her and the strain that I put on our relationship by not being able to let go.
10) “Kissing Tree”, Sarah Masen (Sarah Masen, 1996)
This was a fun and upbeat song on Sarah Masen’s CD – an album that really took me a while to get into, so I didn’t notice this one at first. It seemed weird to me that a breakup song would sound so upbeat and happy. I probably put it here because it fit thematically with the Rich Mullins song.
11) “You Breathe”, Nouveaux (…And This Is How I Feel, 1996)
I distinctly remember the day that my crisis of faith started. I was coming down with the flu, and it was really windy outside. Nothing major, really, but some despondent thought wormed its way into my brain when a sudden gust of wind hit my Mom’s tiny house, and I thought, “What if something bad really happened, and God wasn’t there for me?” And BOOM, just like that, I felt very distant from God and couldn’t shake that feeling for months. That was a week or so before school resumed in January, and I remember feeling very fragile after recovering from the flu, so one day I was out riding my bike (probably visiting somebody who was at school over the break), huffing and puffing up a hill, and listening to this song, and something about the worshipful desperation and fragility expressed really struck me. I had learned in the past to be fond of God and trust that God would do neat things for me. But now, I was perhaps learning to need God for the first time.
12) “Disappear”, Out of the Grey ((see inside), 1997)
I was stuck at school during Spring Break that year, without much of anything to occupy my time, and I was still reeling from the failed trip to Joshua Tree (which had happened due to Drew’s car breaking down on the war out there – everyone else made it and wondered what had happened to me, the guy who planned the trip!) Some days I just sat in my little dungeon of a dorm room and read or journaled while listening to the radio. This song came on one day, and aside from the dual thoughts of “Cool, Out of the Grey finally put out something new!” and “Man, this one sure sounds weird for them”, I was intrigued by this notion of the self disappearing. Maybe I was depressed because I was too selfish, I thought. Often times when I’ve been down in the dumps, if a situation came along where I was genuinely able to help someone else out, it helped me gain perspective on the whole thing and feel a lot betetr about myself. I was so tired of being me at that point. I wanted to just break out of the constraints and so something selfless, but I didn’t know what.
13) “Adore You”, Anointed (Under the Influence, 1996)
Anointed became a bit more poppy with the Under the Influence album, which I borrowed from Angela (she had graduated, but we still hung out from time to time) but never really got into enough to buy myself a copy. This song was the one on that album that really got my attention – there was something subtle and heavenly about the way it came sweeping into the room whenever it was played on the radio. One line in particular struck a chord with me: “It amazes me how the one who lets me wander always leads me home.” I was too scared to know it at the time, but I think God was allowing me to explore and challenge myself with questions about who I really believed God was. It was a strange and unwanted “freedom”, but God had no intent of ever “letting go” despite that distance that I felt during those months.
14) “Be Still and Know”, Erin O’Donnell (A Scrapbook of Sorts, 1996)
“And as time passes by, I’m forced to question my sincerity. Am I doing something wrong? Is the answer here in my periphery?” Erin O’Donnell managed to describe my sense of unrest and desperation so well that I just had to have her album. She summed up both the problem and the solution so perfectly – I needed to stop the desperate searching, and just be content to rest and talk to God about it and trust that it would make sense with time. That’s always been extremely difficult for me – when something appears to be wrong with me, I want answers, and I want them now.
15) “Do You Really”, Tony Vincent (One Deed, 1997)
I don’t even remember what happened on the abysmal Saturday night that found me alone in my dorm room listening to the radio program 20: The Countdown Magazine when I would have rather been out doing fun stuff with friends. I had probably come back from a brief visit to some dance or party where I couldn’t find any friends who were interested in actually hanging out with me. Goes to show how small my problems really were back then, I guess. I just know that this song came floating across the radio waves like a smooth caress from a lover, and suddenly here was this gentle voice, Tony Vincent attempting to imagine what God would want to say to someone who was scared to trust Him. “What have I ever done to make you fear your faith?” I couldn’t answer that question. I just knew I was afraid. But this song made it just a little bit easier.
Spring conference that year was held at a Lutheran Church in La Jolla, near San Diego. I don’t even remember what the conference was specifically about at this point, but I remember four things distinctly. One was learning the worship song “Knowing You”. One was talking to Angela, who had graduated the previous year but was helping out with the conference, about a similar “dark period” in her faith where she wondered if things would ever change, which encouraged me because it let me know this difficult experience of God feeling distant wasn’t unique to me, and that it wasn’t guaranteed to last forever. One was walking the streets of La Jolla with Tim during our morning free time, thinking about whether we should perform a song for talent night and having fun running through an acapella version of dc Talk’s cover of “In the Light” (we ultimately decided not to do it and he sang “I Wish We’d All Been Ready” on his own), and one being an afternoon spent at Windansea Beach, which is pictured here, and is within walking distance of the church. I had hoped that getting away to somewhere farther from home than I’d been in a while would help me to escape the nagging doubts and start to feel some sense of faith again. It didn’t come that easily. But I remember that gray, somewhat chilly afternoon spent playing frisbee and relaxing with friends on the beach fondly. If nothing else, getting out of the small bubble of my college campus world showed me that there was a bigger world and more places God wanted to lead me, even to share a quiet moment without necessarily teaching me anything profound. God still had plans for me and He was not about to give up on me and just terminate my life then and there due to my lack of strong faith.
Where in the world is this?
1) “Crooked Man”, Susan Ashton (A Distant Call, 1996)
Nothing like a sinister and judgmental country song to start off Side Two! This one was way more fun than it should have been, with all the fiddling and gritty guitars and stuff. The lyrics, about a crotchety old man who lived for himself and never repented of it, are more or less classic Wayne Kirkpatrick. I guess I connected with it because I felt like life was slipping away from me – it was already freaking 1997, after all – and before I knew it, I’d be an old guy wondering where my life went and how I lost the optimism of my youth. I feared ending up like this guy. I feared that I was predestined for a life of Hell and there was no way out of it.
2) “Eleven”, Bleach (Space, 1996)
I’ve always connected with songs about superficiality, about hiding behind the makeup when you have a lot of dirty stuff going on inside of you. I don’t know what compelled me to pick up this Bleach album, to tell you the truth – I hadn’t heard a note of the band’s music, but I grabbed it on a whim because it seemed like it’d be a good alternative album to immerse myself in. Turned out it was largely boring. But this song was fun.
3) “Shake Me”, Code of Ethics (Soulbait, 1996)
This edgy, Nine Inch Nails-inspired song hooked me quickly with its off-kilter timing in the chorus and desperate cries of “Shake me!” I soon realized that it was about accountability, needing brothers and sisters in Christ to not let us nod off and become complacent with sin. It reminded me of my accountability partner, Mark, and how we were learning to be brutally honest with each other. I was sad that Mark had to leave Oxy after that year.
4) “Rose Colored Stained Glass Windows”, Jars of Clay (Never Say Dinosaur, 1996)
Another clever cover of a Petra song, though this time I hadn’t heard the original. I was just drawn in by the intricate rhythm of the opening acoustic riff – was that 13/16, or 6/8 and 7/8? I wasn’t a music major. The lyrics here were great, too – definitely surprising for Petra. I was starting to think that maybe if I spent more time caring for others around me who were hurting instead of wallowing in my own self-pity, I might discover something of God in that and feel better about myself in the long run. Throughout much of my life, I’ve always delighted in being able to let someone talk it out when they’re having problems – I enjoy being trusted and being able to comfort someone when I can relate to their situation. It makes what I’m dealing with feel a whole lot less significant, and I figure that’s a big way that I’ve encountered God over the years. Whatever I do for those who are suffering, I do for Christ, right? it may not be much, but I know I always appreciate a listening ear (and I definitely needed a great many of them that year).
5) “Didn’t He”, PfR (Pray for Rain, 1992)
I finally went back and bought PfR’s first album as a birthday gift to myself, and this was the song that really hit home with me out of the ones that I hadn’t heard. Again, it was that theme of selfishness, challenging me to reach out and care for someone else instead of worrying about how their suffering would affect me. I knew of at least three people in our fellowship who had become Christians during that school year and had a lot of tough questions to ask. I knew that they needed my support, instead of my resentment, when friends that we had in common needed to spend time within them instead of me due to the difficult phase of questioning they were going through. And I really could have learned something from that, because here I was wondering why a “rational” person who wasn’t raised a Christian and felt that they could get everything they needed out of life for themselves would ever turn to the Christian faith. These people were my answer, staring me right in the face – everyone gets to that “rock bottom” point where they’re faced with the notion that they can’t make it all happen for themselves, and it’s what they do with that realization that matters. I had called myself a Christian for pretty much all of my life, but I too was facing that hard truth for perhaps the first time.
6) “Mama”, Third Day (Third Day, 1996)
I became a Christian at a young age due to my Mom taking us kids to church. A lot of what I believed at the start of college came from here. I may have never been like the protagonist in this song, who flat out denied his need for Jesus and wrote off his mother’s concerns, but I did go through that tough process of realizing that “everything’s going wrong” and realizing that the things my mother taught me, I had to internalize and know, in the sense of experiencing them, for myself, before I would really “get it” in terms of my need for Jesus.
7) “It’s All Who You Know”, Newsboys (Take Me to Your Leader, 1996)
I had a rather frustrating birthday that year. I had managed to avoid Oxy’s grand tradition of throwing the birthday boy or girl into the fountain, and I was rather proud of that fact, but I hardly saw any of my friends for that entire day. They weren’t even really gonna do anything until I assumed that they were and started spying on them in their dorms and calling them up and taunting them about how they couldn’t find me. This prompted Drew to come looking for me. Later that night, I was in B-Y’s study lounge with Jade, playing the card game Set, which she had recently taught me, and she heard someone banging on the door and went to go let them in, coming back and telling me (because she knew I was paranoid but promised me she was safe) that “it was nobody”. It turned out to be Drew, and Jade was in on it – he came in and sat on the couch and I suddenly got very nervous even though he acted innocent. He had comspired with my roommate Chris, who proceeded to sneak up behind me and dump a large amount of water over my head. At that moment, Drew taunted me with a line from this Newsboys song: “And the sitcom folded, and the network flopped.” I was crazy angry, but looking back, I got what I deserved, and it was pretty funny.
8) “Unveiled Faces”, Sarah Masen (Sarah Masen, 1996)
Another catchy track from an album that I was slowly getting more and more into. That’s pretty much why it’s here – the song has a deeper meaning, but at the time I hadn’t really explored it.
9) “Signs of Life”, Steven Curtis Chapman (Signs of Life, 1996)
This song was a highlight of SCC’s set from the concert that Tim took me to, which was at Arrowhead Pond in Anaheim – the only place I’ve ever seen SCC perform live.
10) “Get to Heaven”, Out of Eden (More than You Know, 1996)
Out of Eden was always very straightforward and evangelistic with their catchy little pop/R&B songs. This one was pretty much “Do this, and you’ll get to Heaven”, and perhaps it’s a little too “altar call” for my tastes now, but back then, I clung to songs like this, because it spelled out what I desperately wanted. The thing was, salvation was already mine and I didn’t quite realize that it couldn’t be lost so easily, just because of a lack of being able to feel it. But I needed to experience that fear and ask those questions, and look up at God and say, “Am I really sure I understand what is required of me to be with You in the end?” What was required was my belief, which, depending on how you look at it, was something that God gave to me (not that I conjured up on my own) and that God was trying to strengthen through allowing me to doubt.
11) “Come Near to Me”, Geoff Moore & the Distance (Home Run!, 1995)
Being depressed puts you inside of this weird shell. People can be all around and part of your daily life, but you feel like there’s this impenetrable layer between you and them – you don’t really know them, and sometimes you’re not even sure they really exist. Maybe it’s all a big philosophical sham and they’re all figments of your imagination, right? I heard this gentle acoustic song on one of Krista’s mix tapes while I was hanging out in her room, upstairs in Bell-Young Hall, one winter night. The fragility of it, the longing to truly be known, just grabbed me, and it’s kind of become “her song” in my mind ever since then. She was one of many people who reached out, who didn’t turn away a friend who was depressed, who truly sought to know me, and who often affirmed that she was excited to know me. Something as simple as just being able to make her laugh cheered me up a great deal.
12) “Gravity”, Cindy Morgan (Listen, 1996)
You can’t always have what you want. This was the theme of this song, the climactic moment on Listen, and I hadn’t heard it phrased so eloquently and artistically before. Sometimes God doesn’t answer your prayers the way you want, and you feel like you’re left out in the cold. But in the end, that letdown is the gravity that pulls us back to needing Jesus. Man, I loved the way this thing ascended to a huge peak and then dropped off into cold silence. It was just so perfect. I remember tears streaming down my face one afternoon while I listened to this one and realized the truth behind the lyrics – I think it was right after I got a letter saying that my application to be a part of next year’s Orientation Team for the new freshmen had been turned down. I had tried something new in an effort to reinvent myself (I was so desperate to be someone other than the Divad people already knew back then), and I had failed. Tough lesson, but a necessary one.
13) “Fighting Over Love Songs”, Tony Vincent (One Deed, 1997)
The first time I heard this one, I had been expecting more poppy and programmed stuff out of One Deed, and I was a bit dismayed at the more organic feel of it. I remembered thinking that everything was slowly becoming more “alternative” and that the world in general was becoming dark and depressing. Looking back, though, that was some of the best music to get me through that period, and I’ve come to enjoy the organic stuff more than the processed stuff anyway. This song was always a bit of an enigma to me – lots of weird images flying by and I couldn’t understand what point Tony was trying to make. But, with such a killer melody and slick key changes, I didn’t really care.
14) “Just Wait”, Blues Traveler (Four, 1994)
If I could pick one song to sum up that semester, my downtrodden state of mind, and God’s response to it, it would be this one. An odd pick, perhaps, because I only listened to Christian music back then. Drew had Blues Traveler’s Four album; I had heard a few songs from it and thought they were kind of fun. But he told me that he felt God spoke to him through one of the songs, and I was like, “They’re not a Christian band; how is that possible?” And he played this one for me, and my jaw just dropped on the floor. It’s a pretty simple song of encouragement, nothing too fancy in the music department either, but man, it hit home. “There’s no such thing as a failure who keeps trying. Coasting to the bottom is the only disgrace.” It was a “tough love” kind of a song, that at once spoke unabashedly of loving a person who was feeling down and out, and at the same time kicked them in the butt and told them to get up off of it. I so needed that.