These few months are best characterized by two words: “hard summer”. It was Nate, who prayed with me one night at the end of the semester when I was despondent over having to live at home again and be away from everybody and work a retail job I didn’t really want for several months, who didn’t beat around the bush in order to console me. He said point blank, “I think this is gonna be a hard summer for you, Divad.” But he didn’t say it to be cruel. Something in his voice seemed to affirm that the sheer difficulty of it would be a growing experience for me. And he was right. This period of my life was a lot like flowers pushing their way up through concrete – a frustrating struggle that eventually led me to some beautiful realizations.
In with the New:
All Star United
Out with the Old:
It Was Worth a Try:
The Walter Eugenes
Listen on Spotify:
This picture represents one of my favorite memories from college. Having no girlfriend of my own during the first few years, I tended to live vicariously through others. Tim and Krista’s relationship, which I got to watch develop from an extremely close vantage point, was both an inspiration to me and something that I found myself jealous of at times. When it came time to celebrate their “six-month anniversary” in April of 1997, I was impressed by the great lengths Tim went to to create a scavenger hunt for Krista, that culminated in a rendezvous atop Mt. Fiji (an undeveloped hill at the back end of Oxy’s campus where students often went to clear their heads and get a little perspective on their problems) where they ate ice cream and jelly beans and sang worship songs together on a sunny afternoon. I helped put the plan together, and I was the one who got to escort Krista up that small mountain, sensing her joy and bewilderment as she wondered what he had in store for her. It made me want to have someone to go all-out for like that. Despite having a rather depressing semester, I felt a real ray of hope that afternoon – it left me with a buoyant feeling that I hadn’t experienced in a long time.
Where in the world is this?
1) “Brightside”, Code of Ethics (Soulbait, 1996)
This crazy little techno-punk song was so cheesily happy that it was the antithesis to the humdrum emotional slump that I had fallen into during that semester of college. For some reason, I loved this song for that.
2) “Even in My Youth”, Erin O’Donnell (A Scrapbook of Sorts, 1996)
I had a few friends in college who had become Christians later in life, who hadn’t grown up in Christian families, and yet looking back, they could see the subtle calling of Jesus from very early on, through different people who planted seeds by their behavior. I always wondered what it would be like to become a Christian as a cognizant adult, rather than a child who more or less did it because he was brought to Sunday school and figured he might as well. So this tasty little acoustic song about a young girl who came to faith as a result of her grandmother’s witness hit pretty close to home for me.
3) “This Love”, Avalon (Avalon, 1996)
This is pure, mindless dance-pop, but boy was it catchy! Back in the “alternative” era, I didn’t hear as much of this stuff out of the CCM camp – it was all rock, or adult contemporary. That’s how Avalon got their foot in the door where other pre-fab pop groups couldn’t.
4) “Sobering (Don’t Turn Around)”, Plumb (Plumb, 1997)
“Bitterness trickles through this vein of tenderness”. This rambunctious industrial rocker really hit home with me when I picked up Plumb’s debut (it was the first album I bought with money from my new job at Wherehouse that summer). I was very upset about a falling out that I’d had due to my “crush relapse”. She couldn’t handle it any more, and she kind of pushed me away that summer (looking back, her need for space was totally justifiable). But I was bitter. I think I made myself hate her at some points, because I had to force myself to get over her somehow. That wasn’t the right approach.
5) “Colored People”, dc Talk (Jesus Freak, 1995)
dc Talk hit #1 on Christian AC radio that summer, with a two-year old song. It was very weird, and I was totally surprised to actually hear Toby’s brief rap verse when this was played on the radio. Plus I thought the cold stop of “Sobering” led brilliantly into “Colored People”, so this song had to go on the tape.
6) “No Leaving”, Out of the Grey ((see inside), 1997)
I have the suspicion that the Dentés are Calvinists. It’s just implicit in songs like this one and “Not a Chance”. All arguments over theology aside, it was cool to hear them attempting a fuzzy rock song, and Christine’s musings on all of the ways she tried in vain to run away from God are filled with the clever wordplay we’ve come to love her for. That was a message I needed to hear that summer, when I wondered if God had left me for dead.
7) “Close of Autumn”, Caedmon’s Call (Caedmon’s Call, 1997)
I remember the night I first listened to Caedmon’s Call’s album. I was really impressed with the lyricism, but disappointed to not hear more of Danielle Young (Glenn at the time). I thought this song, which was penned by Derek Webb, was especially gorgeous. That night was the day before I would find out about a summer job on campus that I wanted – mostly for the sake of staying on campus and not having to go home for the summer. I wanted so desperately to be around my friends, and I couldn’t see why exactly I needed a break from all of that. I misheard a line in this song – I thought it was “dream” instead of “drink” when she sang “Guess I need to be careful when I ask for a drink/I just might get what I ask for.” That line really jumped out at me that day. Too bad it wasn’t the intent of the song!
8) “Faith”, Church of Rhythm (Not Perfect, 1996)
“My faith is my own”. That was a creed that I really wanted to adopt that year, so this strange rock-meets-R&B hybrid song from CoR’s second album kind of became a second theme song for me.
9) “I Can Be Friends with You”, MxPx (Never Say Dinosaur, 1996)
I always thought it was weird that someone said “Buzzzzz” at the end of “Faith”, so I thought it would be funny to follow that up with the buzzing guitars that lead into this obnoxious punk remake of one of the cheesiest songs Petra has ever written. I’m not sure what appealed to me about this cover, other than the sheer absurdity of it. I’m willing to bet good money that the members of MxPx would prefer to never hear it again.
10) “Fight”, PfR (Them, 1996)
Continuing with my love of whiplash transitions, I decided to put a mellow acoustic song right after the abrupt ending of a fast-paced punk song. This tune was one of the finest moments on Them – the band definitely channeled the Beatles once again, but judging from the clever key changes and the sharing of vocals between Joel and Pat (something I didn’t notice until later), I’d say that sometimes it’s OK to channel another band, if you do so respectfully and build upon what you’ve learned from them.
11) “Did You Mean It?”, Third Day (Third Day, 1996)
This is basically a song about a person who begs and pleads for God to save their life, saying they’ll do anything in return, and then proceeds to totally forget or disregard that promise once they feel safe again. I felt like this person at times this year. I blamed my depression and the distance I felt from God on repeated instances of this sin/repent pattern, as if there was a finite number of chances that I would get from God before He would just give up on me. That’s not ascribing a lot of power to God’s grace, is it? But it’s tempting for me to be legalistic and self-critical and think of it this way.
12) “Open Your Window”, Tony Vincent (One Deed, 1997)
“Good can be found, little one, from the rise of the moon to the setting sun.” I loved the calming atmosphere of this song, and the way that it affirmed that peaceful, beautiful moments could occur amidst the darkest nights of the soul. Listening to it, I could picture a warm, gentle breeze coming through the window of the dorm room I planned to have up in Norris that summer. I was applying for an on-campus job for the summer, and I was sure that being part of that environment during a more relaxed, quiet time of year would help restore some peace to my soul. It turned out God had other plans. But that mental picture still remained in my head whenever I heard that song, even if I never listened to it in that particular location.
13) “There You Are”, Carolyn Arends (Feel Free, 1996)
“I was hoping You would write to me a message in the stars, as if the stars themselves were not enough.” Carolyn had a way of cutting straight to the heart with her keen observations back in those days. I had to learn the hard way that God didn’t have to break the laws of physics and send a big booming voice from the sky in order to remind me I was loved and that I would be restored to an awareness of God’s presence if I persevered through this dark period.
This is the Colorado Street Bridge in Pasadena – a landmark which is unfortunately famous for being a “Suicide Bridge”. I wasn’t anywhere near that depressed that year, but the summer was a challenging one for me. I got turned down for a job I had applied for on campus, the camp I had worked at the previous summer didn’t have room for me on their staff, and I had no choice but to live at home and take a retail job at the Wherehouse. The job wasn’t terrible; the long summer separated from friends was. A few Oxy friends spent the summer working on campus, so naturally I tried to spend as much time there with them as I could, figuring that would be second best to actually living there. But they were often busy and didn’t work the same schedule I did, and my mother wasn’t going to play chauffeur at my every whim, so I spent a lot of days randomly wandering around Eagle Rock, killing time, hoping I’d run into someone on campus around dinner time just to get away from the monotony of being by myself. The Colorado Street Bridge was significant during this time because it was my main link to campus from Pasadena, a trip which I made many times on my bicycle (I even walked it once – took about three hours from work to home!) Looking back, I spent a lot of time outdoors that summer, getting way more exercise than I do now. Funny how I miss an aspect of those days that I certainly didn’t appreciate then.
Where in the world is this?
1) “Crazy”, Plumb (Plumb, 1997)
This is the song that got me into Plumb. I loved the tweaked, atonal guitars and the trip-hop feel of it. OK, so it more or less ripped off Garbage and Portishead, but dangit, no other Christian bands had that sound back then.
2) “Lead of Love”, Caedmon’s Call (Caedmon’s Call, 1997)
“Had to walk the rocks to see the mountain view.” That lyric made a whole lot of sense to me in the midst of a time where I was grappling with the reasons for struggle, and wondering why I kept hitting dead ends at each attempt to go forward and achieve what I wanted. God was sending me on a much-needed detour.
3) “So Help Me God”, dc Talk (Jesus Freak, 1995)
I remember Tim telling me that Jesus Freak was a great CD to put on when you were frustrated, because you could crank this song’s dissonant intro to eleven, bang your head, and sing “BA! Ba ba ba ba, BA!” at the top of your lungs. I did that once when I was mad at him over something stupid and inconsequential. Then I called him and left a message trying to reconcile things, strategically timed while “Between You and Me” played in the background. I’d be lying if I said that I never tried to use music to play on people’s emotions back then.
4) “Every Heartbeat”, Eric Champion (Transformation, 1996)
Well, “So Help Me God” cut very suddenly into “Colored People” on the CD, so I thought it should be followed up with a similarly sharp transition here, and I decided to make it another obnoxious punk song. This is one of those covers that works on the basis of sheer shock value, because you just can’t imagine anyone murdering this Amy Grant song and actually getting away with it. Eric Champion just did it as a joke, since Charlie Peacock (who co-wrote the song) was producing his album, and I guess when Charlie first listened to the tape of it, he was driving his car and he laughed so hard he almost crashed! Sometimes I’m just in a crazy mood and I need something like this to get it out of my system. “Yeah, sure, maybe I’m on the edge…”
5) “Saviour of My Universe”, All Star United (All Star United, 1997)
This was punchy, acoustic-driven, power-pop at its finest (with a guest cello appearance by Matt Slocum from Sixpence None the Richer). I don’t know why, but it seems like I stumbled across a real abundance of insanely catchy songs that year. God bless Original Recipe All Star United!
6) “Take My Hand”, Church of Rhythm (Not Perfect, 1996)
Looking back, CoR’s shift from R&B/urban stuff into more alt-pop territory was probably a calculated attempt to copy dc Talk, but they weren’t without their memorable songs. This was one because, uh, it was catchy. I liked the incendiary little guitar riff that would jump out right before the verse got going.
7) “I’ll Cry, Too”, Nouveaux (…And This Is How I Feel, 1996)
I was pretty devastated when I found out that my last-ditch attempt to get a summer job on campus had been turned down (probably in favor of something who actually had some real knowledge of the computers they’d be working with!) One of the first people I told about it was Lina. I broke down and started crying while I was on the phone with her, which was doubly embarrassing because Chris was in the room at the time. Those two put up with a lot of my pity parties that year. Anyway, I did learn through that vulnerable moment that tears could actually be a big relief. Sometimes the anger and sadness stayed pent up for days when something bad happened to me, and it just sucked and I would fume at anyone and everything, but when I finally cut my losses and had a good cry, as non-manly as that might have seemed to some people, the world seemed like less of a big formidable threat that I’d never overcome once it was all over.
8) “The Greatest Story”, Avalon (Avalon, 1996)
It’s rare that a typical AC pop song actually makes me cry. This one hit me at exactly the right moment, though. Since I wrote short stories back then, I liked to think of my life as a story God was writing, and I remember that the thought occurred to me once that I would never so much as consider suicide, because no matter how bad things got, I was an explorer at heart, and I simply had to turn the next page to see what would happen. There were times when I was tempted to give up – not to kill myself or anything – but just to resign myself to the fact that life was going to suck more and more the older I got. This song took those thoughts and assured me that there were plot twists yet to be uncovered. I probably read more deeply into it than Avalon intended, but oh well, that’s the song they got me hooked with.
9) “Judas’ Kiss”, The Walter Eugenes (Never Say Dinosaur, 1996)
Man, there were some good tracks on that Never Say Dinosaur record. This one took what was definitely one of Petra’s more powerful lyrics and matched it to a mournful but urgent rock sound, complete with a great harmonica riff. I definitely felt the weight of betraying Jesus that semester, what with my ever-sinking self-worth, sins that I couldn’t seem to curb, my inability to let go of a crush on a girl who clearly wasn’t meant to be mine, etc. I hated knowing that my mistakes hurt God as well, but all the same, I was strangely glad for the empathy. God is no stranger to suffering, but gladly takes it on because it’s far more pleasurable in the end for God to love us than abandon us.
10) “My Hope Is You”, Third Day (Conspiracy No. 5, 1997)
I didn’t have much to do that summer, and I was hungry for new music but didn’t have a ton of spare cash to spend. So that was when I got into 7Ball Magazine, which I first bought because it had this nifty sampler with Jars of Clay and a lot of other up-and-coming rock acts (and some that rightfully never up-and-came!) for a couple bucks. Those magazine samplers were more fun than the ones put out by record labels because they were a lot more unpredictable. This particular one had a new Third Day song on it – a worship song which I really enjoyed at the time despite its simplicity. Back in those days, I was excited at any chance to hear a song before the album came out, since it was rare for me at the time.
11) “Joy”, Out of the Grey ((see inside), 1997)
I liked this abstract, shimmering piano ballad – it was different than anything I’d ever heard from Christine Denté. It really captured the elusive nature of joy, the seeming impossibility of capturing a peace far beyond happiness and tangible comprehensibility.
12) “The Eternal Spring”, Erin O’Donnell (A Scrapbook of Sorts, 1996)
I’ve always hated the winter months, even though Southern California is far from being a harsh climate – our seasons are essentially summer, summer, summer, and grey blah. Still, I always get excited when we spring forward an hour and suddenly it’s light after dinner again. It’s a point in the year where it suddenly feels like I’ve got all the time in the world, and that feels good. Picturing Heaven as the emergence from a winter which will never return again is just too enticing of a picture, and this song painted it with a beautiful melody and the tasteful use of a children’s choir to fade it out. It allowed me to just picture that other side of mortality that I hoped and prayed God would still allow me to enter one day.
13) “On My Knees”, Jaci Velasquez (Heavenly Place, 1996)
I’ve always had problems with prayer. As candid as I can be with other people, I have problems truly expressing things like dependence and affection sometimes, especially when it’s just me and God. I was stuck at home that summer, and often, just to get a few hours alone without my Mom or my brother around to bug me (they’re nice people and all, but it was a small house), I’d stay up until the wee hours of the morning and write my journal while sitting in the living room. One night, this song came into my head and I thought that even if it felt awkward, I’d try praying on my knees for a change. It still feels awkward to do that, and it’s not that I think God is more likely to answer prayers prayed in a certain position, but something about it just represents desperation to me. And that was what I was feeling at that point in time. I came to love that desperation. Now, when I don’t feel it, I miss it, because I know something’s wrong if I’m not desperate for God.