Second semester of junior year was an awful lot like a grueling class in Humility 101. It’s funny how some of the worst memories triggered the placement of some of these songs, while some of the happy and silly moments of that year (which were numerous) didn’t get documented as well, but that’s just the nature of the music that connects with me, I guess.
In with the New:
Seven Day Jesus
Out with the Old:
Church of Rhythm
Listen on Spotify:
This is Samuelson Pavilion, a popular hangout area for students at Oxy. It has (or at least had at the time) a grill/pizza-type restaurant called the Tiger Cooler, and a coffee shop called the O-Zone. Students also like to lie out on the grass and study or just people-watch around meal hours to see if their friends are passing by on their way to or from the dining hall. I often passed by this way between class and my dorm that year, since it was the only year I lived on lower campus.
Where in the world is this?
1) “Less of Me”, Grammatrain (Flying, 1997)
“Like a snowfall dropping down in June, I do what I know I should not do.” These cycle-of-sin, thorn-in-my-side type songs always resonated with me. Pete Stewart may be rather peeved at the CCM industry these days, but he articulated wisdom to me through it when he was still part of it.
2) “Someday”, Plankeye (The One and Only, 1997)
I remember 7Ball Magazine having an article about Plankeye that year, in which they talked about being Calvinists and how that affected their take on evangelism, and how people misunderstood the need for them to even still take part in that. I didn’t realize at the time how well this song summed up their views – basically that God will get you one way or another and “You’ll talk just like me, but it’s not really all that bad” – but it was a fun song with a great little harmonica rip, and tempo-wise, it led out of “Less of Me”, perfectly. And not that it’s an overtly doctrinal song that concentrates on the Calvinism/Arminianism debate – even the side of me that wants to go back to a naive and unquestioned belief in freewill can handle what’s being said here because it really isn’t all that specific.
3) “Blitz”, Audio Adrenaline feat. the Supertones (Some Kind of Zombie, 1997)
During Spring Break, some friends and I went to see Audio Adrenaline and the Supertones perform at UC Irvine. Strike that. During Spring Break, some friends went to see Audio Adrenaline and the Supertones, while I only got to see Audio A because Rebi came back from New Mexico that day and was late returning from the airport, thus making us late to the concert (we took her as a belated birthday present). But, true to the recording, the band’s section came out to help the band on this encore song about a bunch of rowdy youth group kids taken a Chevy van down to Mexico (which breaks down, and a humorous conversation with a clueless mechanic ensues).
4) “Butterfly”, Seven Day Jesus (Seven Day Jesus, 1997)
This song defined “catchy” like no other in the spring of 1998. The bouncy, zig-zagging rhythm and frequent use of incidentals as the grungy chords slid up and back down made for a jaunty, sunny modern rock number that I just had to have on tape for myself. Looking back, SDJ was a much darker band forced to be poppy by a label who didn’t really see eye-to-eye with them, but the strange thing is, they were actually really good at being poppy. This song about the gradual transformation of faith exemplified that well, right down to its abrupt ending (SDJ had a penchant for those).
5) “What I Got”, Zilch (Platinum, 1997)
The little dc Talk backup band that could strikes again, with another zippy little tune that offers little in the way of substance, but has fun horns and guitar parts and weird synthesized stuff and all that. Yay.
6) “Get to Heaven”, The Electrics (The Electrics, 1997)
The Electrics were definitely a novelty – basically they took Irish jigs and made them rock, which has been done before. But when you’ve gut a gruff, hyperactive frontman encouraging you to “Get to Heaven half an hour before the Devil knows you’re dead”, it’s hard not to smile and do a little Irish dance that would put Ashlee Simpson to shame.
7) “Five Candles (You Were There)”, Jars of Clay (Much Afraid, 1997)
This song (which the liars who made Liar, Liar cut out of the end of the movie) was carefully upbeat in the sort of way that only really caught on with me 10 or 20 listens later, and I wasn’t sure how it would do as a single, but apparently the general public loved it, because it was all over the place that spring (or at least all over CCM-land). It hit home with because it was about a father, who was never there, deciding to be there for a change… or something like that. It kind of spoke to the abandonment issues that have bubbled underneath the surface for most of my life. I never understood why, if it was about an absentee father, they said, “You were there when I needed you”, but that was all part of the Jars of Clay enigma back then.
8) “Saving the World”, Clay Crosse (Stained Glass, 1997)
Dude, it’s Clay Crosse with neat guitar licks and loud, feisty drums! Who saw that coming? Can’t say much about this song other than that – I think this was at the height of my “catchy” phase where I was trying to cram as many fun songs in a row as possible.
9) “Hope to Carry On”, Caedmon’s Call (Caedmon’s Call, 1997)
It took this song a while to grow on me, because it seemed a little too lyrically straightforward for both Rich Mullins (who originally wrote and performed the song) and Caedmon’s Call. I finally developed a strong attachment to it when it was played as the encore song during the first Caedmon’s Call concert I attended, at the House of Blues in Hollywood, April 1998. It seemed like everyone on stage who didn’t have another instrument to attend to was playing the guitar (making it the only time I’ve ever seen Danielle play an instrument), including opening acts Andrew Peterson and Bebo Norman, who also got to sing a few of Cliff’s lead parts. At the end of the song, they all threw out their guitar picks, and Danielle’s bounced off of Sharon’s glasses and landed on the floor in front of me. I hung on to it, promising myself I’d learn to play guitar one of these days. It’s still tucked away in the cassette case that holds the original version of this mixtape.
10) “Undo Me”, Jennifer Knapp (Kansas, 1997)
Jennifer Knapp was our new find of the year 1998. I have to credit Tim with finding her – she was going to open for the Audio A/Supertones tour, and at first, he was a bit miffed about there being some girl with just a guitar on what was meant to be a rock tour. But apparently (remember, I missed the opening acts), she was really good. In those days, it took a lot to impress Tim when he already had a reason to be biased against an artist. And that made me take another look at the few JK songs I had already heard, and I in turn decided that she was truly awesome. “Undo Me” was the beginning of it all for me and pretty much everyone – a song about hurting pretty much everyone you know and only being able to fall on grace. Jennifer’s music captured humility and the ongoing struggle with sin like nothing else that year. Kansas was just plain good for the soul.
11) “Revenger”, Fold Zandura (Ultraforever, 1997)
One thing you’ll learn about me if you’ve known me for more than a few months is that I have this unhealthy desire for revenge. Not necessarily to hurt a person back who hurts me, but just to make them feel guilty and have a strong desire to never do again, to me or anyone, what they did to hurt me the first time. And sometimes I plot and scheme ways to purposefully make people feel that guilt. This frantic little song by the enigmatic Fold Zandura hit me right between the eyes that year, when I really wanted to make a girl I had previously liked feel bad for leaving me hanging so long and then kind of shying away from me as a friend after turning me down. I had to let it go and let God deal with it, and you know what? Out friendship was back to normal before the year was out. So no more need to resent those “treacherous marine eyes”.
12) “Forgive + Forget”, Avalon (A Maze of Grace, 1997)
This one kind of went with the revenge theme. Forgetting that I should forgive others often came hand-in-hand with a refusal to forgive myself when I did dumb things. I was kind of getting in the way of the work of grace – not that I could stop God from being able to forgive me, but I definitely stooped myself from growing spiritually due to my refusal to accept that forgiveness.
13) “Break Hard the Wishbone”, Sarah Masen (Sarah Masen, 1996)
I had no idea what the hell this song meant for a good year and a half. I think a conversation with Sharon, for whom I had put this song on a second mix tape that I made for her called “23 Songs for You to Ponder”, kind of brought it to light – sometimes when praying to God about a decision and wanting so badly to step completely in time with the rhythm God has set out for the world, God instead gives us a blank page and allows us to go out and create a destiny. Not to say that God relinquishes control – it’s more that God is so in control that God isn’t threatened by allowing some room for us to scribble. In other words, our every single thought, action, and whatever else isn’t necessarily micro-managed, but we have some freedom to act in accordance with the principles God taught us and just be ourselves in the process. We break that wishbone, and figuratively speaking, end up with the bigger part, and God says, “Go for it. Do what you dreamed of doing”. My view of God often doesn’t usually allow for the fact that what I want might actually be a good and right thing, which is kind of messed up of me – I mean, some of the things I want have to be in line with God’s will, right? Anyway, brilliant song. The way that it works as poetry but eventually makes sense theologically is just brilliant.
14) “Missing Person”, Michael W. Smith (Live the Life, 1998)
Tim and Krista and I often bought, borrowed from one another, and discussed a lot of new albums that came out while we were in college, but I believe that Live the Life was the first one that we all actually experienced for the first time together. I remember being kind of underwhelmed with it near the end, but the one-two-three punch at the beginning, starting off with this song, was nothing short of fabulous. This is, hands down, my favorite MWS song (though “Secret Ambition” is a close second), because it connects back to that theme of “faith like a child” that has been so central in my spiritual development. In this case, it mourns the apparent death of that childlike faith, and wonders where the “missing person” ran off to.
I’ve never been much into musical theater, but during my junior year, the Glee Club did a hilarious madrigal dinner performance based on Titanic. I had a few friends in the Glee Club who were younger members of InterVarsity that I was trying to get to know better (Eric and Jeff, the two guys in the picture, shown alongside Jenn and Irma), and I was trying to give new things in general a chance that year, so I went. That was the year our dining hall was being renovated and we had a makeshift cafeteria in one of the school’s gyms (where this performance took place), which wasn’t so great. But the performance was hilarious, and this photo, which these four Glee Club members spontaneously posed for when I asked for a snapshot of them after the show, definitely was great.
Where in the world is this?
1) “Television”, Dryve (Thrifty Mr. Kickstar, 1997)
I don’t know a single person who heard this song and didn’t think they were saying “She likes naked pictures”. It’s supposed to be “She likes making pictures”, but the enunciation is pretty bad. As for the significance of the song, well, at the time it didn’t mean a whole lot but it was just a nice rock-fest with its rolling drums and harsh start-stopping guitar and its desperate organ lines. Later on, when Sharon and I inexorably became something more than friends, it occurred to me that I ended up playing second fiddle to the TV quite a bit. So, this kind of became my defiant little theme song when I was annoyed with her over that. At the time this tape was made, though, we were just friends and I only had a small inkling that she might feel something more for me – it wasn’t reciprocated at that point.
2) “Down with the Ship”, Seven Day Jesus (Seven Day Jesus, 1997)
I sure thought I was clever, placing a song that starts off with “I look at the TV, everybody’s going crazy right in front of me” right after “Television”. Hey, if you want a catchy faux-alternative song that decries the way the media poisons everyone’s minds (a favorite subject in Christian rock circles), then here you go. I liked this one quite a bit back then, and it’s still fun, but sheesh, what’s with the bad grammar (“You and me could find a better way”) and the cheesy synth solo where there really oughta be a big bad guitar solo?
3) “100 Million Eyeballs”, Miss Angie (100 Million Eyeballs, 1997)
Another one of those What-Was-I-Thinking moments. Miss Angie had a few fun songs, including this one mostly for its utter strangeness, but for the most part, she sucked as a songwriter. That was easy to ignore when she was taking Madonna, the Cardigans, Blondie, and Lord knows what else and throwing them into a blender and calling it modern worship. Nothing like a little pixie girl whispering “The whole Earth is full of Your glory” to a decidedly 80’s dance beat, and then later breathing “Ha-ha-holy, Haha-haha-holy” like she’s either about to sneeze or experience an orgasm.
4) “Midnight Confessions”, Reality Check (Reality Check, 1997)
“Pullin’ down strongholds labeled as carnal desires, got me crazy, crossin’ up my wires.” This slightly experimental and atonal rap number really hit home regarding those same old struggles that pretty much every guy deals with and nobody wants to talk about. Enough said.
5) “Some Kind of Zombie”, Audio Adrenaline (Some Kind of Zombie, 1997)
I loved the way that this song’s music matched its theme, with the cold, harsh guitars buzzing in monotone and the creepy piano plinking away in the background while Mark Stuart went into weird falsetto histrionics. I loved the concept here, of being dead to sin and responding only to God’s commands, an undead zombie being guided every step of the way through a ridiculously complex maze. (You know, there just aren’t enough songs about mazes in the world.)
6) “Little Man”, Supertones (Supertones Strike Back, 1997)
And here we have the best song that the Supertones ever recorded – fun little intro with the rolling drums and all the “Oi!”s, rap verses from assorted band members, and an overall feel that manages to invoke the glitz and glamor of a fast and fun L.A. lifestyle while simultaneously mocking that lifestyle. I remember a kid at the Audio A concert, who had a shirt that quoted the line from this song, “Let my pride fall down”. He was sitting on his dad’s shoulders and we couldn’t see a thing because they were right in front of us, so Tim made some sort of a joke like, “Let this kid fall down, he’s a little man”.
7) “Another 10 Miles (live)”, Caedmon’s Call (The Guild Collection, Vol. 1, 1997)
Now here’s a great find, culled from one of Caedmon’s fanclub CD’s (but I have it thanks to the eclectic 7Ball sampler CD’s). It’s a great moment for Derek Webb, remaking a very old Caedmon’s song while the band inserts generous solos from almost every instrument and Derek gets to wail that oldies song that goes “They say the neon lights shine bright on Broadway” right in the middle.
8) “Testify to Love”, Avalon (A Maze of Grace, 1997)
Here it is – Avalon’s most massive hit, #1 for 5 weeks straight, and I believe the first song to do that since Steven Curtis Chapman’s “The Great Adventure”. (These days, its a common occurrence for them to go 9 or 10 weeks, or half the year if it’s a MercyMe song, because CCM radio playlists have like 10 songs at any given time.) I was on the Avalon bandwagon at that time, and while I’m not a fan any more, this song has actually aged well. Never mind that the radio listeners never got to hear the neat little vocal extras that the group put into this song – the layers are much more apparent on the album version.
9) “Good”, Zilch (Platinum, 1997)
Another upbeat and ultimately fluffy Zilch song. I was coming out of a funk that spring, as El Niño finally backed off and we got some actual sun, and it felt good to sing, “Things are better than they seem, there’s no ending to the dream. We all know that God is good.” I was growing up in a way as I prepared to move to an apartment in Boyle Heights with some friends that summer and experience life in Christian community apart from the campus. So hey, I needed happy songs to mark the new horizons I was staking out.
10) “Prone to Wander”, Chris Rice (Deep Enough to Dream, 1997)
Flip-flopping back to the melancholy, this gentle but lush acoustic ballad was probably my favorite of Rice’s early songs. Once again, it hooked into the nature of sin, and how everything can look fine on the surface but a spiritual war is really being waged inside of a man. I was that man, trying to fend off jealousy that I felt toward friends and strangers who appeared to be happy couples with no real sensitivity to my singleness, and also trying to prepare myself to really commit to living in community that summer with a few friends and a few people that I didn’t necessarily get along with that well. I almost bailed on them when I realized it would require more of me than just eating and sleeping there. We spent a lot of Sundays visiting various churches in the Boyle Heights area and looking around for apartments, and my heart often just wasn’t in it. God was trying to mature me through that process, but I was ready to bolt for the door as soon as a commitment was requested of me.
11) “Stained Glass Window”, Clay Crosse (Stained Glass, 1997)
I really liked the idea presented in this delicate song, of humanity being a stained glass window reflecting different facets of God’s glory. A lot of its beauty would be lost without the light to shine through it.
12) “Life Is Worth Fighting For”, Church of Rhythm (Not Perfect, 1996)
May, who I knew from InterVarsity and who was in my History of Chinese Thought (ironically, it was my only non-math class and the only class I really liked that semester) was a person who I found it difficult to have common ground with, musically speaking. Records which I thought were undisputable classics, she couldn’t stand. Jars of Clay was too depressing now, according to her, and dc Talk’s Jesus Freak was too harsh and unlistenable. This song was common ground though. I overheard her and another girl who went by the name “Skippy” talking about it over lunch – they had heard it on the radio and were struck by the heartfelt words to a friend who had attempted suicide and failed. I didn’t get to know either of them that well, but I was glad to at least know that someone else in our fellowship was up on Christian music (I didn’t understand at the time why a lot of my fellow Christians couldn’t get into it – now it makes a little more sense, though to stereotype it all as being superficial was a bit unfair.)
13) “Pain”, Grammatrain (Flying, 1997)
“I find through every ounce of pain I feel, that my mind cannot deny that God is real.” I think that was a foreign concept to me at the time. I felt that if things were going wrong, I must be doing something wrong and therefore things weren’t right between me and God. Other people I knew saw the reality of pain as a reason not to believe in God. And here came this wonderfully dark song telling me that yes, it’s normal to hurt, and you know what, that’s actually a part of your spiritual growth and not something you should fear. These days, I think I still have a pretty low threshold for pain, and not that I think God inflicts it on me maliciously, but in the end, I always do learn from it. Well, almost always.
14) “If You’ll Let Me Love You”, Smalltown Poets (Smalltown Poets, 1997)
I figured that pain needed to be followed up by the comfort of a friend. Learning to not be bitter, but instead to open up, let someone who cared pray for me, and not just whine and cry about it until they couldn’t stand to be near me any more. This one was there to represent the tough love of the friends that stuck by me when I was being a whiny little brat.
15) “Please Believe”, Fold Zandura (Ultraforever, 1997)
I did quite a bit of apologizing that year – apologizing to InterVarsity leadership because I sometimes loudly protested the decisions they made, apologizing to Tim because we would get into numerous petty arguments (hey, it’s a bi-product of close friendship for some of us), apologizing to Sharon because I felt awkward around her and would sometimes snub her when it was a choice between hanging out with her or hanging out with some other girl who I liked (since I hadn’t yet admitted to myself that I was attracted to Sharon) and who, ultimately, didn’t really care about me beyond being a simple acquaintance. And apologizing to God for just continuing to struggle with the same old stupid stuff. This sweet little synthesized rock ballad seemed to sum up that apology well to almost everyone I knew – not that I literally played it for them all or anything, but it made it easier to suck it up and get ready to go say, “My bad. I screwed up. I still love you, so… friends?”