First semester of junior year… man, what a strange semester that was. The sun was out, the days were long, and I felt like I was actually doing something worthwhile with my life instead of moping around… life was good. But at the same time, even though I could easily meet tons of new people (mostly freshmen) and endear myself to them, my lack of ability to attract any of the ladies (and I had romantic interest in several that year) still frustrated me, causing me to find solace in Sharon, one of the female friends I didn’t feel awkward around, due to her already having a boyfriend and us being “just friends”. She was a freshman living downstairs in Chilcott that year, and she listened to so much of my crap that year as we stayed up late and talked about random stuff – about my job, about why I thought math was fascinating, about the latest crush on the girl over in that other dorm clear across campus, about music, about my failure at tutoring high schoolers, etc. Tim put up with a lot of it, too. Thank God for friends like the ones I had at Oxy!
In with the New:
Out with the Old:
It Was Worth a Try:
Listen on Spotify:
This is a picture of the Brookside Golf Course, which is adjacent to the Rose Bowl, at sunset. Scott, an InterVarsity staffer at Oxy, had a grandmother who lived near the Rose Bowl, so a few of us got premium parking and a great hillside seat overlooking this golf course to watch fireworks that 4th of July. That was actually a strange day for me – part of what made the summer so tough was being so close and yet so far from the woman who had needed some distance from me due to the intense crush I’d had on her for so long. Another woman who was new to the fellowship and who had been a bit clingy with a lot of my other friends had befriended her, and I felt a little bit jealous, as if I had been replaced by this needy person. It was especially apparent that night when we were all in the same car together, stuck in traffic, and the two women were chatting it up with each other and I just felt left out. I felt that way a lot during that summer. But it was kind of my own fault for being overzealous and not knowing when to let go.
Where in the world is this?
1) “Crazy All Around”, Christine Glass (Human, 1997)
As the long, hot summer wore on and I found myself at home a lot of days without a whole lot to do, I found solace in the new music I was discovering. I discovered this, possibly the most addictive rock single to come out that entire summer, on that sampler from 7Ball Magazine that I was listening to a lot, which would become the source of a lot of the more “fringe” discoveries that I would make in the next few years. The looping acoustic guitars, the electric noise that came slicing in during the aggressive chorus, the odd spoken-word verses – this song had “quirky” down to a T, and quirky pop/rock was, and still is, one of my very favorite things. This song summed up my feelings perfectly as I began a new school year and tried to balance my existing job with my new load of classes, a bunch of new friends, and some short-lived extracurricular activities: “Things are crazy all around… and I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
2) “Carousel”, Reality Check (Reality Check, 1997)
I’ve always been drawn to songs that lament the patterns of habitual sin. Especially when they’re as fun and danceable as this one. When I can get my angst about my own failings, and my urge to bop to a catchy beat, out of my system all in one song, I figure that’s a healthy thing. This was an odd song for this group, doing more of a vintage dance-pop thing on an album otherwise filled with rap/rock concoctions, but it got me hooked, and I remained a fan of Nathan Barlowe’s work even as this band called it quits and he went on to form Luna Halo. The weird little siren sound at the end of the song used to freak my Mom out when I played this song in the car while she was driving.
3) “Flood (Adrian Belew Electric Mix)”, Jars of Clay (Flood Single, 1996)
I was really obsessed with this song. I had the original mix, the dance mix, this mix, and even the John Jonethis lounge mix (thanks again 7Ball!), and I thought they were all pretty darn cool. At the time, I hadn’t really heard Jars of Clay kicked up with electric guitars, so I loved the edginess that this version brought to the song. I was ticked that they edited out the strings, which were perhaps the most unique part of the song, but no worries – Tim discovered a few years later that some clever cutting and pasting in an audio editing program would fix that problem quite nicely.
4) “La La Land”, All Star United (All Star United, 1997)
I loved the sarcasm that this band used to possess. This has got to be one of the greatest tongue-in-cheek songs ever written – it gives consumer Christianity a rather thorough skewering, and when I first heard it, I couldn’t help but chuckle as I thought of some of the slap-happy Christians back at my old church (which was very Charismatic – nothing against any Charismatics out there, but these folks would have definitely been the type to claim the Holy Ghost rode in the back of their car and protected them from getting speeding tickets and stuff).
5) “Water & Blood”, Say-So (Say-So, 1997)
I’m not sure what it was about Kim Thomas’s voice that appealed to me – I recently re-purchased Say-So’s album on CD and I had a tough time getting through it. These days, they kind of strike me as poseurs trying to be a poppier version of Over the Rhine. Anyway, this was one of those quirky folk-pop hits that I couldn’t resist, and I thought it was pretty clever and poetic at the time. After the first dorm hallspread where I met Sharon and we started to hang out, she and I became pretty good friends rather quickly, and I made her a mixtape loosely themed around a science-fiction concept and the overall question of what it meant to be human. This song ended up on it, and its insistent catchiness meant that it would stay stuck in her head even though she didn’t really like it.
6) “Chem 6A”, Switchfoot (The Legend of Chin, 1997)
I wasn’t terribly impressed with my first taste of Switchfoot, truth be told. It took a while for their debut single to grow on me. I think it was Krista, and her dislike of her O-Chem class, that added some humorous value to this song for me. I’d like to say that I got in on the ground floor with good ol’ Switchfoot, but I didn’t even get around to listening to The Legend of Chin until almost 2 years later.
7) “Discothèque”, U2 (Pop, 1997)
This one’s kind of cheating, since I didn’t get into U2 until later, but this song was their single at the time, and I do remember thinking it was catchy. I remember one of the RA’s from Chilcott putting the CD on their portable stereo when they started checking all of the freshmen in on the first day and I was there to help them all move in. It was the start of a year that I had been looking forward to for so long, so now whenever I hear that “swirly” sound at the beginning of the song, I think back to that moment of bliss that signaled another new beginning in my life. Incidentally, this song, which has its share of detractors among the U2 fandom, is actually my favorite of all their songs.
8) “Do What You Do”, Carolyn Arends (Feel Free, 1997)
The feeling that you know what you’re doing is one of the greatest things that you can feel, I think. And the distinct realization that you have no clue what you’re doing can be paralyzing. At least, that’s true for me. But the beginning of my junior year, like many points in my life where there was some sort of a distinct chance to “start over”, found me uncharacteristically taking chances and trying new things. Perhaps I got a little overzealous with some of it (the tutoring program I helped out with turned out to be a disaster – they put me with high school kids, and nobody in the room wanted to be there!), but the fact that I had the willingness to try made me feel so alive.
9) “Face”, Sarah Jahn (Sparkle, 1997)
Wow. Sarah Jahn was one of those young, enigmatic artists that I took a chance on because I was starting to tire of the typical CCM lyricism and I wanted something a little more poetic, and her debut album (apparently the only one she ever recorded) paid off in spades. The quick strum of an acoustic guitar and the slick accordion playing roped me in well before the stage when I had really learned to appreciate acoustic music. Maybe I just loved Sarah’s strange, low voice and the sense of poetic playfulness that this song had.
10) “Today (live)”, Iona (Heaven’s Bright Sun, 1997)
I’ve never been a big fan of live albums, but Iona’s first live album, Heaven’s Bright Sun, made me appreciate the band in a host of new ways. Journey into the Morn helped me get my feet wet, but live versions like this one, which was more of a full-on jam than the album version, really brought the band’s versatility to my attention. I knew a guy named Kairos (name derived from the Greek letters “Chi” and “Rho” – fitting that he’d be an Iona fan, eh?) who had all of their albums, and I proceeded to borrow them all one by one and become a hardcore fan by the end of that year.
11) “Concrete”, Plumb (Plumb, 1997)
I loved the dark, creepy feel of the churning beats and brooding guitars in this song. It had a haunting feel to it, not unlike something that Evanescence would do, and I really identified with the longing to be able to believe in things that we had never seen.
12) “Not the Land”, Caedmon’s Call (Caedmon’s Call, 1997)
And so my autobiographical mixes got their first taste of the genius of Derek Webb. Not that I could fully appreciate that at the time – there were so many subtle lyrical references going on here that it took me years to discover them all. (Sharon figured out the “It’s 11:12, and nothing’s changed” thing pretty quickly, though – some people apparently make wishes when their clocks display “11:11”.) What I knew at the time was that this song freaking rocked – and how many Caedmon’s Call songs can you say that about?
13) “I Deserve?”, Third Day feat. Riki Michele (Conspiracy No. 5, 1997)
Third Day got a lot of attention for collaborating with Gene Eugene in his final days, but did anyone know that they had once collaborated with Gene’s ex-wife and former bandmate, Riki Michele? OK, I had no clue who Adam Again was back then – they were kind of before my time. But Riki added just the right haunting touch to this brooding, cathartic ballad about sin and grace. Not surprisingly, it grabbed a hold of me and didn’t let go. It struck me as the type of song that would do a good job of ending side one of an album, so I put it at the end of side one here.
At long last, summer break ended and I was officially a junior! I had really looked forward to living in the newly-renovated Chilcott Hall – my first time on lower campus. It was another instance of taking a room that had previously belonged to a friend of mine – this time it was Sandra, who would spend that semester studying abroad in Italy. I lived with Calvin that year – he had been a freshman who I had met in Bell-Young, who often studied in my room that year when his roommate was being too loud and obnoxious. I figured we were practically already sharing a room, might as well make it official the following year. When I think back upon those first few weeks of junior year, and how happy I was to be out and about in the bright summer sun, seeing most of my friends returning after what felt like an agonizingly long absence, and being able to be present during orientation week and help the freshmen in our dorm move in, I’m reminded of a time in my life when I felt true joy. The picture here shows the lawn between Chilcott and the neighboring hall, Erdman, where students would often lie out in the sun and study or sunbathe. For some reason, I often get a visual of this calm little corner of the campus when listening to a lot of these songs.
Where in the world is this?
1) “Masquerade”, Reality Check (Reality Check, 1997)
Along with dc Talk, Reality Check did rap/rock before it was popular in Christian music. I gotta give ’em props for that. I always thought that it would have been a cool combination, even back in my high school days when all the metalheads and the hip-hoppers hated each other. Of course, it had already been done by then, but I was happy to hear Christian bands embracing it.
2) “Brand New Name”, Sarah Jahn (Sparkle, 1997)
I thought this weird little R&B shuffle, complete with vintage synthesizers, was the absolute weirdest way to open an album. But it wormed its way into my heart. Something about the repeated line “I have failed” in the second verse really grabbed me – I was still suffering from a broken friendship with someone who didn’t want to talk to me about it any more, and it really hurt, and I knew it was all my fault.
3) “Didn’t Even Know”, Erin O’Donnell (A Scrapbook of Sorts, 1996)
As I’m sure I mentioned before, Erin O’Donnell’s album was instrumental in helping me cope with my depression earlier that year. This colorful song, driven by the irresistible combination of acoustic strumming and programmed drum loops, kind of represented the light at the end of the tunnel – the realization that what I had been searching for the entire time had been buried deep inside of me all along. That’s not crazy New Agey philosophy talking – it’s just a realization of the way God designed me. I wasn’t going to find my satisfaction in external things, and it took a lot of trial and error to figure that out.
4) “Number 9”, The Waiting (The Waiting, 1997)
I had no clue what this enigmatic song was about back then, but I thought it was cool and worth puzzling over, so it too went on that first mix tape for Sharon, since I knew she had cats, and cats supposedly had nine lives. I later figured out that it was a somewhat goofy take on the whole “live fast, die young” philosophy.
5) “Fade to Grey”, Jars of Clay (Much Afraid, 1997)
September 17, 1997. I had been looking forward to that day since I don’t even know when. That was the day that Much Afraid hit stores, and since I was working at a music store, I was likely one of the first to get his hands on it. I didn’t get to listen to it until much later that night, and it left me mostly baffled – who knew that this dramatic divergence from the sound that made them so popular would come to separate the true fans from the poseurs, and that this would become my favorite album of all time, by anyone? Well, certainly not me. I didn’t know what to do with the majority of it, but I sure thought this, a re-invention of the first song the band ever wrote together, was pretty darn cool. No clue what the song was about – but it was that desire to unravel meaning that kept me returning to the album.
6) “You Want”, Christine Glass (Human, 1997)
This slow, spacey song seemed to ask God a question that was at once defiant and reverent – “What do You want from me?” It’s probably one of those that wouldn’t hold up well if placed in the center of a debate on freewill vs. predestination, because of the idea that “Your frozen fingers steal Your own freedom”, but it was a series of honest questions coming from a vulnerable songwriter, and that sort of approach to Christian music has always appealed to me. This was another song that went on that first mix I made for Sharon – I loved that she liked to examine songs like this and pull them apart.
7) “Bus Driver”, Caedmon’s Call (Caedmon’s Call, 1997)
The usage of a saloon piano in a song about a bus driver was so ridiculous that when I first heard it, it made me grin from ear to ear. It still does – there’s just something subversive, bizarre, and yet totally right on about it. In addition to becoming the most notoriously requested song in CC’s career, this one ended up being a bit of an in-joke with Tim and Sharon and a few of our other friends who had a lot of physics classes that kept them up until hours of the night when they were delirious – when one of them realized that it was 4 in the morning, they’d put in the Caedmon’s Call album and play this song.
8) “Better”, Say-So (Say-So, 1997)
This was one of those songs that, though I didn’t want to admit it, was aimed directly at people like me. I had to deal with a lot of customers at work from the surrounding neighborhood that I thought were dumb as a brick wall. I would often cringe when certain “trouble customers” or people who looked generally unkempt or overweight, or had kids that they couldn’t keep under control, would come into my little video rental domain. And I would kind of give them arrogant answers to their questions, as if to indicate that they should have already known the answers. I’m surprised that this only got a customer pissed off at me once. This trend was less pronounced, but still present, back on campus – I tended to treat people who I saw around the dorm, but who never socialized with others, with a bit of quiet contempt. Nothing outward, but I’d just have this feeling of “Ugh, there goes another creep” when one entered a room. (We had a rather anti-social men’s floor, which I resented because it meant that the girls never came upstairs and I always had to go down to them.) Anyway, this song kind of knocked me over as it asked, “Who do you think you are, somebody better?” I didn’t have a “stupid car” to drive back then, but I definitely touted my intelligence and social skills as being better than theirs, and I deserved to be knocked down a few pegs for that.
9) “Wonder”, Nouveaux (…And This Is How I Feel, 1996)
Backtracking to the 4th of July, and watching fireworks at the Rose Bowl… I remember Lina saying something that day about getting a sense of wonder from spectacular displays like that and being able to feel like she was a kid again. Since this was still the middle of a depressing summer for me, and I felt very suddenly detached from the innocence of youth, that word “Wonder” stuck in my head, and I desperately wanted to feel that sense of childlike awe again. Suddenly I was jaded, scared, feeling like a stressed out adult before my time. This song takes on the voice of God, and asks a lapsed Christian if he remembers what it was like to look up at the night sky and sense God’s presence and know that he was not alone… that was me and I couldn’t figure out how to get back to that place of peace.
10) “Free”, Steven Curtis Chapman (Signs of Life, 1996)
When I was unpacking my stuff on the first or second day in my new dorm room in Chilcott, Tim was there helping me set up my stereo, and we were talking about how our summers had been and the things we were struggling with, spiritually speaking, at the beginning of the new school year. I put an SCC album on, and we later decided to pray for each other, and this song happened to be playing while we were doing it, and I just felt this sense that we really could be free from the sins and frustrating patterns that had bogged us down and made us not like ourselves so much during the past year. Despite the sometimes contentious relationship that we had during college, Tim was a pretty dedicated friend and he was very good about holding me accountable when I’d promise to try to change something about myself for the better.
11) “Your Love Endures”, Third Day (Conspiracy No. 5, 1997)
This lovely acoustic praise song, which has gone mystifyingly unnoticed despite Third Day’s extreme popularity as a worship band, will always remind me of my “prayer spot”. I had a certain spot on campus every year that I felt like I could go to and not be disturbed, and that year, all I had to do was walk out the back door of Chilcott Hall, ascend the hill behind Haines, and climb the tree in the yard behind the Alumni House. It was a pretty safe and secluded spot on campus, and no one would know I was there at 1 in the morning or whenever I got the urge to be somewhere quiet. I sat there one night, listening to this song, and trying to collect my thoughts and pray, and it was just one of those moments where all seemed right with the world.
12) “You Rescued Me”, Kent Henry (This God Is Our God, 1995)
You know, I used to really love worship music back when it wasn’t so trendy. Perhaps it was just a lack of exposure, but I often stumbled across new songs at InterVarsity services that really stuck with me and became personal creeds. This particular song quickly became significant to me because of Esther, a freshman who already had a number of other friends in the fellowship that she had met during the school’s Multicultural Summer Institute. I found myself a part of that circle of friends since she knew Rebi, who I had met in my dorm, and so one Sunday night I was hanging out with them all, and since the next day was Labor Day and there was no class, Esther spontaneously decided that we should all go climb Mt. Fiji and have our own little worship time under the stars. I just remember being so impressed with this girl as she played her guitar and taught us a few new songs, one of which was this song. I was quite surprised to later discover a recording of this song on one of Calvin’s worship CD’s, though I was never sure where to end it when I copied it to tape because the song just continued on into the spontaneous tracks that followed it (which is why the CD version I have now runs 11 minutes long before I finally faded it out).
13) “Tenderness”, All Star United (All Star United, 1997)
I’m not sure why I put this swingy little love song at the tail end of my mix tape. Sometimes I liked to end with a fast song just to shake things up. It sure annoyed the heck out of Krista, who liked ASU but didn’t like this song, for some strange reason, because I remember listening to this in her room once and having her give me this mean glare when the tape ended and she realized she’d have that song stuck in her head while she tried to finish her aforementioned chemistry homework. Ha ha!