The end of fall semester was never an easy time for me – looking back on these mix tapes, I can always detect a bit of tumult going on with the “fall” and “winter” mixes, in comparison to the often sunnier state of the “spring” and “summer” mixes. The winter that would follow would be one of the wettest and hardest ones for me to deal with – I wasn’t as outright depressed as I had been the previous winter, but I had a lot of tough stuff to deal with. The funny thing is, even when the music brings back sad memories, I can still see how well it all fits together in light of who I am now, and I find myself missing the ultra-awareness that I had of some of the valuable lessons I was learning back then.
In with the New:
Listen on Spotify:
This is a shot of Campus by the Sea, viewed from the ferry as it left the dock. We spent fall conference there every year. During junior year, I kind of had to look at it in a different light. A lot of the new freshmen involved in the fellowship came along, including Sharon, who I had been getting to know a lot better over the preceding months. She wasn’t fully comfortable with the way things worked there. She felt that dumping a bunch of tired students off of a boat and herding them into a building to have worship late on a Friday night, only to immerse them in sermons and Bible study for the weekend, was akin to brainwashing. I was a bit offended at the time because I loved the camp and the fellowship so dearly, but thinking back, she had a point. As much as IV had been a great community for me, I could see occasions when those who were eager to get fellow students to come on these trips weren’t fully honest about the nature of them. I don’t blame the people who planned and facilitated the conferences. But I think it’s fair to say that if you’re going to ask someone to come with you and study your religion for a weekend (or an entire week!), you should at least be forthright about what they’ll be getting themselves into. I suppose there were students who unknowingly stumbled across the Gospel and ended up liking what they found and becoming Christians as a result, but all the same, I’m not a big fan of the bait-and-switch form of evangelism – I think these students would have also responded well if approached only and honestly. Having to ask tough questions like that about a community of genuinely good people whom I previously took for granted was an important first step along a tricky journey for me. It was the beginning of learning that while I needed to have faith in God, I shouldn’t necessarily have faith that everything God’s followers did was always God’s will.
Where in the world is this?
1) “Cup”, Considering Lily (Considering Lily, 1997)
One freshman I met that year was Dawningstar, who would often sign her name “D*”, which I thought was cute since I sometimes saw such notation in math classes, and sometimes folks would call her “D-Star” in verbal conversation. she was one of few people I knew who had an active interest in Christian music. She remembered liking this song from hearing it on the radio earlier in the year when she was in high school, and I dutifully went out and tracked it down for her.
2) “Smash Hit”, All Star United (All Star United, 1997)
Another great satirical piece from ASU, about all of the junk that gets sold in Jesus’ name. For some reason, Dawningstar and Tim and Krista and I were in a rather silly mood one Friday night while we waited for the boat to take us to Catalina Island for Fall Conference, and we were mimicking the Queen-esque “LA LA LA!”s from this song. Silliness always proves to be an indelible memory.
3) “Plastic”, Reality Check (Reality Check, 1997)
Songs about fake people always struck a chord with me. This was one of my favorites, all about “plastic friends” who acted like they cared about you, but who melted when the heat was on and you really needed them. I related to it because I had a lot of friends who seemed like fairweather acquaintances, especially when midterms were in full swing. Of course, the term “plastic friends” could take on an entirely different meaning in L.A., but we won’t go there.
4) “Overjoyed”, Jars of Clay (Much Afraid, 1997)
Of course I was bound to love this song, because it was the first thing I heard on the new Jars CD and it had a gorgeous melody. But I had a deeper appreciation of it that was tied to a conversation I had with Nate, who was on InterVarsity staff that year, about why I was feeling distant from God. I remember sitting out there in the cool night air, on the steps of the Greek Bowl (Oxy’s outdoor amphitheater), and realizing through our conversation that part of feeling God’s love was encapsulated in the act of showing love. I needed to show God’s love to others, and then I would be more aware of it within myself. That was what I wanted – to love God so much that it couldn’t help to spill over to other people. To me, that was the true meaning of being “overjoyed”.
5) “Flight of the Wild Goose (live)”, Iona (Heaven’s Bright Sun, 1997)
Another fine performance from the Heaven’s Bright Sun concert. That was the year I became a true Iona fanatic, borrowing all of their CD’s from Kairos and discovering their beautiful history. This song was meant to be a meditation on the Holy Spirit, which the wild goose symbolized in Celtic culture… I always thought that was funny, because I thought of the commonly used metaphor “wild goose chase”.
6) “Deeper”, Delirious? (King of Fools, 1997)
I got into Delirious? before almost all of my friends in the States did. My friend Nick, who I had met while working in the kitchen on Catalina Island a year and half prior, sent me a tape of King of Fools as a Christmas present. I had no clue who Delirious? was, but I really enjoyed the tape upon listening to it, and not surprisingly, this was the standout song. Calvin actually did recognize the band because he knew some of Martin Smith’s worship songs. It wouldn’t be long before I’d be hearing “I Could Sing of Your Love Forever” ad nauseum, but it was nice while it lasted to have them as one of my little secrets.
7) “Alien”, Third Day (Conspiracy No. 5, 1997)
“I am just like the alien, the fatherless, and the widow.” This song was a reminder that it was OK to feel a little out of place and alienated in the world around you from time to time. Not that I was always alienated for reasons directly relating to my faith (most of the time it was just because I was a dork!), but it was still a good reminder. This one also had significance as the very first song I put on that first mixtape for Sharon. It was a good case of a mixtape (I made them often for friends) forming a bridge between us that led to a rapidly developing friendship.
8) “This World”, Caedmon’s Call (Caedmon’s Call, 1997)
Another song that really hit home with me about selfishness vs. sacrifice. The vocal intertwining between Danielle, Cliff and Derek was priceless here. It was also an early indicator that I really had an ear for music despite not knowing how to play an instrument – I realized that I could sing the worship song “Father, I Adore You” along with the verses because the chords lined up so neatly.
9) “Drinking Water”, Sarah Jahn (Sparkle, 1997)
Another song about patience – a major theme all throughout my life, because I hardly ever have any. Ironic that it was the fastest song on an otherwise rather mellow album.
10) “Jonah”, Grammatrain (Flying, 1997)
There was a lot of rain that started that fall and didn’t let up until the following summer – definitely an El Niño year. I also felt like I was drowning in a deluge of sin that year, from always trying to make a way for myself and not trusting God to take care of me when the waters got rough. Grammatrain was one of the first “hard” bands I got into, and this song just fit perfectly.
11) “Endure”, Plumb (Plumb, 1997)
Another rain song. It went on here because it fit the overall theme and my mood at the time.
12) “Waves”, Christine Glass (Human, 1997)
And yet another water-themed song. I listened to that Christine Glass record a lot that year. “O find me in this dark, uncertain state, and lead me to Your everlasting grace.” That was an appropriate sentiment at the time.
13) “Winter Sun”, Out of the Grey ((see inside), 1997)
California’s weird. We’ll get freak heatwaves at unexpected times of year, and rain in the early summer some years, and totally sunny days where it’s cold. This brilliant, rhythmically tricky song by OOTG used unpredictable sunny days at an unexpected time of year as a metaphor for a deceptive goal that could never be reached – the promise of answers that weren’t ours to be known. Too often I let my mood be determined by the weather, and that’s why a lot of my winters were depressing – obviously this is a fairly common thing, but I seemed to be especially susceptible to it.
14) “Saturn”, Skillet (Skillet, 1996)
Ironic that my first exposure to the raspy, hard-edged Skillet was an acoustic ballad that had a similar chord structure to U2’s “With or Without You” (something that was also very easy for me to notice, even back then). This one fit with the theme of God’s invisible love, something that I often couldn’t see or feel, but that I just had to believe was there.
This was another of my “prayer spots” on campus – a tree in a secluded grassy area behind the Alumni House, which was just up an easily scalable hill from the parking lot behind Chilcott and Haines halls. Sometimes, late at night, when I needed to get away from the stale social atmosphere of the men’s floor in our dorm (it was quiet, but the fact that it was quiet bugged me – the guys seemed to never be around and never really interact much with each other when they were around), I’d escape out the back door and climb up into the lower branches of this tree, hidden from the world, and pray. It was nice to have a campus where I felt safe walking around alone at like 1 in the morning – I miss that now on evenings when I feel like the confines of my apartment and all of the things around me that I could potentially spend time doing are keeping me from getting spiritually focused.
Where in the world is this?
1) “Stupid Kid”, Caedmon’s Call (Caedmon’s Call, 1997)
I think I put this song on there to annoy Tim, because he hated the whiny organ that dominated the song. It was also reflective of my lazy attitude when my classes and my part-time job at the Wherehouse were in full swing.
2) “Resolution”, Supertones (Supertones Strike Back, 1997)
When I was in college, I was the kind of person who was always longing to turn over a new leaf and make a fresh start. I think I had one too many moments where I woke up and told myself I was a completely different person, because I couldn’t acknowledge that change had to come gradually for me. On the flipside, it’s always been nice to know that it’s never too late to start over with God when you’ve messed up.
3) “The Distance”, Cake (Fashion Nugget, 1996)
I came downstairs one day to find Sharon and her roommate Carrie doing silly dances around the room and whatnot to the tune of various tracks on this smug and sometimes vulgar CD by Cake. I had heard “The Distance” pretty much everywhere earlier in the year, and loved that song (it reminded me of something out of a spy movie, for some reason), and thought a few other tracks like their version of “I Will Survive” were fun, but I had to object at the song “Nugget”, with its chorus of “Shut the f*** up!”, which Sharon and Carrie found rather cathartic. Those two seemed to have a lot of fun together; it was a bummer when Carrie left Oxy after only one semester.
4) “This Song Was Meant for You”, Third Day (Conspiracy No. 5, 1997)
Definitely one of the most enigmatic songs in Third Day’s repertoire – rumor has it that this song is sort of an unsent letter to a friend who committed suicide. I was enchanted by its odd chorus melody and its sudden, cold ending.
5) “O Holy Night”, Rebecca St. James (Christmas, 1997)
I think RSJ’s Christmas was the first full-length Christmas album I ever dared to spend my money on. I had worn out God enough over the course of the past year that I was willing to grab anything RSJ put out. I found some of the arrangements to be really odd, as if forcing an “alternative” attitude that didn’t really need to be there, and you’d think that this techno-ish reinterpretation of my favorite Christmas carol (which is supposed to be played in 3/4 time) would have been total blasphemy, but for some reason, I thought it was awesome, and I do still enjoy it.
6) “Come Rest”, Considering Lily (Considering Lily, 1997)
The melody to this song always struck me as being rather Christmas-y even though it wasn’t a Christmas song, which is probably why I put it after the RSJ song. This was the song on Considering Lily’s CD that Dawningstar really fell in love with. It kind of paved the way for me to fall for the ethereal goodness of Chasing Furies a few years later. It was just a calming, haunting song about taking the time to rest and remember that God would take on our burdens and keep us from drowning (again, there’s that water theme popping up).
7) “Who Am I?”, Plumb (Plumb, 1997)
Self-identity was a big struggle for me that year. I kept questioning what my purpose was, why God kept dangling my dreams out in front of me and then snatching me away, what my purpose was, and why I was so insensitive to other people whose pain seemed to run a lot deeper than mine. Heavy issues – the kind that were best pondered over thick, acidic beats and funky guitar sounds. Man, I miss the old Plumb sound.
8) “Chronic”, Sarah Jahn (Sparkle, 1997)
No, this song is not about marijuana. It’s about Sarah’s mother, who suffered from chronic fatigue syndrome. I didn’t have that problem, but I related to the song because I’ve always been a person who has a hard time getting to sleep. My mind tends to run ninety miles an hour, even long after my body has settled down for the night. The ambiance of crickets and cicadas and the dark, thumping beats of this song just captivated me.
9) “Angels”, All Star United (All Star United, 1997)
This is kind of an upbeat and playful song about a girl who has lost her way and who the singer is confident God will guide home in due time, but it took on more of a serious meaning for me. I remember being really concerned after a conversation with Sharon, who was always very honest with me about having kind of a different spin on her Christian beliefs than I was used to. Call it more of a liberal stance if you want – at the time I found it to be cause for concern, and I was convinced that I had to do something in order to save her from being “lost”. And you know, she wasn’t lost. She was just on a different path to discovering the same truth that I was. I was wrong about God in my own ways, and I could be her friend through her search and we could learn from each other, but ultimately I did not know how to trust God to know where her journey should take her. I’m not saying that it’s all relative and that either of us believing something was true made it true – I just realize now that those who earnestly seek God will find God, even if they go through phases of believing strange things along the way.
10) “Tea and Sympathy”, Jars of Clay (Much Afraid, 1997)
Jars of Clay and Plumb came around on the “Bubblemaker’s Dream Tour” that fall, and Esther was the only one other than me who was available to attend, so she and I caught a ride with a friend. I was convinced, since we were alone together for the evening, that this would be the night for the lightblub to come on and her to start thinking, “I like this guy”. I think I spent a bit too much effort trying to show her at that concert that I was a fun-loving guy who could make her laugh (pogoing up and down in the middle of “Flood” and so forth). It was a great concert, and she was pondering the meaning of “Tea and Sympathy”, a prominent song in the setlist, as we were waiting for Chris to come and pick us up afterward. Her evaluation of the lyric was, “Don’t trade real love for politeness”. I was so captivated by her willingness to look deeper and dig up such a meaning that I fell hard for her at that moment. But the advice of the song came in handy when it came time for her to be honest with me later on, after I finally confessed my feelings to her (which in those days, tended to come out as more of an apology than something I was excited about – like I knew I was making some poor girl’s life difficult by having feelings for her). I wanted the straight and honest answer – that she didn’t like me back in that way – rather than a “polite” evasive maneuver that kept me guessing. And she was gracious enough to give me that.
11) “Know You Better”, Reality Check (Reality Check, 1997)
Tim and I attended a lot of prayer meetings that semester, something he started with his friend Joo as a time to relax in our campus’s beautiful chapel for half an hour on weeknights, take a break from studying, and just worship and pray over our needs. On a lot of evenings, it was just the three of us guys. One day, the lyric to this song was really convicting Tim, so he read it to us out loud, and it struck me that this was exactly what I wanted – to get over my impatience and my easily frustrated nature and just trust.
12) “When Worlds Collide”, Christine Glass (Human, 1997)
The final track on Christine Glass’s excellent first album – it had a nice, reflective ambiance that reflected a feeling of human fragility. This is song isn’t specifically tied to any event or person, but it makes me think of quiet days – usually Saturday or Sunday afternoons/evenings, when I could just take a relaxing walk around campus and things weren’t hectic like they were during the week.
13) “Rain”, Dryve (Thrifty Mr. Kickstar, 1997)
And we close with yet another rain song. The harmonica and acoustic guitar at the beginning of this song were beautiful – like stepping out onto a broad plain and seeing the sky darken, and feeling those first few drops as they began to saturate the thirsty ground. To this day, it’s one of my favorite “alternative worship” songs. Drew got me into this band, and he was really bummed that they broke up after only cutting one album.