This is the music I was into at the beginning of my senior year of college, which was a crossroads if my life had ever seen one. Part of me was all but ready to go to a young woman who had been waiting all summer for me to make up my mind about her, and tell her that I wanted to be all hers and experience all the joys that such a relationship had to offer with her. The other part of me took a “wait and see” attitude, because, among other things, I still had this stupid little crush on someone else lingering from last year, plus I had the funny feeling I might meet someone new at the beginning of the school year. I definitely had come face-to-face with the “typical guy” desire to keep my options open, despite how I thought I’d jump at any chance to have a relationship regardless of how it came about. Maybe it was better that way, even though it frustrated Sharon. It meant that I really had to think through my motivations before finally making a commitment to a “steady” relationship.
In with the New:
Five Iron Frenzy
Out with the Old:
Listen on Spotify:
This is the house of Zeta Tau Zeta, a former sorority at Occidental College. Sharon was a member at the time, and she moved into the house late that summer. Since I was her almost-boyfriend in those days, I would end up spending quite a bit of time there. I’d say that the Zetas were more interesting and diverse than other sororities on campus – they were also a smaller and quirkier group. Still, I learned the Greek life is pretty similar among girls to how it appeared to be among guys, in terms of the things members of one gender will talk about and how they’ll just kind of let the need to maintain an appearance drop when members of the opposite sex weren’t around. I was often an exception to the “members of the opposite sex” who weren’t privy to these conversations, since I guess I was a “safe guy” and more of a “little brother” to some of the Zetas. Those conversations became good ammo later in life whenever someone would try to claim that women were inherently more pure and less base and raunchy than men were. Sorry ladies, but y’all can be just as bad sometimes.
Where in the world is this?
1) “Supernatural”, dc Talk (Supernatural, 1998)
This was the most anticipated album of the year for me and Tim… and a sneak preview of the title track at that year’s L.A. County Fair didn’t disappoint. We were blown away by the way that this song just pummeled through the crowd with its mysterious, reverent, but unapologetically loud attitude, and then sudenly shut down, leaving us in excited awe.
2) “Every New Day”, Five Iron Frenzy (Our Newest Album Ever!, 1997)
This was Five Iron’s signature song, and the one that got me hooked. It touched on a lot of subjects that got me fired up – the innocence of youth and being determined not to let negative forces keep you in a downcast state were chief among them. It was the start of my senior year, and against all odds, the ska band that had once been too wacky for me had provided a theme song for my optimistic future.
3) “The Devil Is Bad”, The W’s (Fourth from the Last, 1998)
I thought it would be appropriate to follow up my first FIF song with the debut single from their swing-oriented protegés. This song was total Sunday School silliness, but at the same time, it was awesome.
4) “666 Degrees”, Ceili Rain (Ceili Rain, 1997)
Why not follow up a song about the devil with a song about the number of the beast? This lively Celtic rock band caught my attention thanks to a Christian rock radio program actually daring to play something as uncool as “Celtic rock” that summer, and I went to great lengths to track down the album, only to find out that Bob Halligan had written a few good tunes and a lot of schmaltz. Oh well, this track’s still a classic.
5) “Bucket Brigade”, Mayfair Laundry (Scrub, 1997)
And here comes this a bucket brigade to quench the fire! That would be clever if I hadn’t mixed my metaphors, since this one wasn’t about hellfire, but the fire of the Holy Spirit. God was rearranging my life, getting me to open my mind to new possibilities as I prepared for the “real world” that would face me after my final year of school. I tried to resist some of the difficult changes – to pour water on the proverbial flames. This song reminded me that such efforts were futile.
6) “Am I Lookin’ Good?”, Eric Champion (Natural, 1998)
A tongue-in-cheek song about pure narcissism, only caring about yourself and not really listening to other people’s pain. This one was a fun way to dance while getting your toes stepped on. Too bad Eric retired after this album.
7) “Truth Be Known – Everybody Gets a Shot”, Newsboys (Step Up to the Microphone, 1998)
I loved the clever Steve Taylor-isms of this song. I’ve never been one to decry the influence of “secular” learning institutions, but when you’re exposed to people with a great variance of beliefs, it can be tempting to think, “Maybe we’re all right in some weird cosmic way.” And there may be grains of truth in everyone’s experience, but still, ideas that directly contradict each other can’t both be true. And it can’t be true that there is no truth. So at some point we have to stop playing coy with the whole relativistic truth thing – even if one isn’t a Christian, one has to admit that Christ can’t both be the only way (as He said) and just one of many ways. I loved the line about the girl who “hopes to God He doesn’t exist”. Maybe a bit of a cheapshot at atheism, but it was humorously phrased.
8) “Weathervanes”, Model Engine (The Lean Years Tradition, 1997)
This one intrigued me, as it appeared to be a song about internal tension between the members of a band – not necessarily fighting, but just feeling different callings and questioning whether keeping the group together was the best thing to do. Model Engine really challenged me to “plumb the depths” and analyze lyrics to an extent that I wasn’t used to at the time. They were a bit difficult at times and definitely not my favorite band, but they taught me something – in this case, with bone-crushing riffs to back it up.
9) “Whirlwind”, Skillet (Hey You, I Love Your Soul, 1998)
Weathervanes measure the wind, so… pseudo-clever song juxtaposition strikes again. This song compelled me more than a lot of other songs on the subject to let God take control and actually enjoy what seemed to be chaotic. It’s been rare in my life that I’ve actually known that kind of surrender – to just jump into whatever God’s doing and not be bogged down with concern about the outcome. There’s a definite theme of letting God take control as I go through the songs on this mix.
10) “Faithful to Me”, Jennifer Knapp (Kansas, 1997)
I loved the acapella beginning and ending of Jennifer Knapp’s first album – I thought it made a great prayer to bookend her thoughts with. But I was annoyed that the song appeared in two pieces and never in full, so I made this edit which took the echoing intro from the first track, and cut over in a virtually undetectable manner to the second verse from the final track.
11) “Read Your Mind”, Human (Out of the Dust, 1998)
Human was a short-lived alternative rock band from the Organic Records roster. Didn’t know much about them at the time, but this thick, addictive little tune was on that sampler CD that Sharon kept playing in her car, and one day when I wennt out to lunch or something with her (the beginning of the year was still that tentative time where we weren’t sure whether we were dating or what was going on), we cranked this song up and it just felt so good.
12) “Everything (Apron Full of Stains)”, The Normals (Better than This, 1998)
Kind of a more serious mirror to the Eric Champion song – Tim found it on the birthday album that ForeFront had put out that year, which showcased two of their new artists. Andy Osenga’s account of a mere smile brightening an overworked waitress’s day, and especially his take on how he should treat a homeless man, really got to me. It made me think about certain friends who were noticeably very selfless people, sometimes to the point of beguiling me because I felt they were giving too much of themselves to others in need. Was there really a “too much”, or was I just making excuses about what I didn’t have to offer? “Feels like I don’t have anything to give, so I guess I’ve got nothing to lose.”
13) “Needful Hands”, Jars of Clay (Exodus, 1998)
This beautiful worship song was another highlight from Exodus – Tim and I loved the transition between Jars’ whispery acoustics and the MWS influence that provided the layered drums and vocals during the bridge. An excellent collaboration, which I wish we could have used as a worship song in our prayer meetings, but Tim was still learning guitar at the time and I think the chords were a bit too difficult to figure out.
14) “Mirror”, Rebecca St. James (Pray, 1998)
I decided to end “side one” on an upbeat note with this new, electronic drum-heavy song from the upcoming RSJ album. I wanted to be that mirror of God. I was tired of being myself. New school years were always a huge encouragement for me to “start over” and have that clean slate, and this time I was a senior, a leader – I wanted to be someone who could be looked up to.
This is the room that Tim and I shared in Bell-Young that year. It was on the third floor, so instead of a view of a wall, I had a view of a tree. It pretty much blocked everything else, but the shade kept the room cool. This picture was taken at the beginning of my senior year, so the room hadn’t had time to get terribly messy – though Tim was fairly organized, so at least his portion of the room was usually clutter-free. We had our share of late night study sessions and arguments in this room, but somehow, we managed to avoid killing each other and are still good friends to this day. Oh, and all of those little pieces of paper stuck to the walls and furniture? That was “The Lexicon”, a collection of strange/amusing words that Sharon and I had constructed, such as “defenestrate” and “pariah” and “duly” so forth. I got the brilliant idea one day to write them all down on strips of paper and paste them all over the room. Tim wasn’t pleased, so they quickly got relocated to my side of the room.
Where in the world is this?
1) “75 Grains of Sand”, Sarah Masen (Carry Us Through, 1998)
I was rather infatuated with this quirky pop number, with all its little idiosyncracies (thank you, Charlie Peacock) that ruminated rather strangely on how many “grains of sand” we get before the clock runs out. The line that really grabbed me was, “The tension is evidence that I’m alive, and able to respond to the movement of Spirit, the good, the terrible.” Why was I trying to live a life that completely avoided stress and difficult decisions, when God had placed these things there to build character? Sharon thought the spoken ending sounded like some sort of Madonna song or something.
2) “Hallelujah”, Newsboys (Step Up to the Microphone, 1998)
“She sings hallelujah when all has becoming nothing”. Again, there was that theme of praising God even when things were tense and uncertain. I wanted that, but easy for me to say when I was having the time of my life in college and was in the process of falling in love. It would take the shock of graduating and facing the real world the following year to really make me put my money where my mouth was – would I trust God and offers up “hallelujahs” for the work on progress, or just get all frustrated and beat down?
3) “Child of Mine”, Jaci Velasquez (Jaci Velasquez, 1998)
I wouldn’t normally characterize Jaci as a “challenging” artist, but the author of this song tried to imagine what the voice of God might have to say about a wayward child who refused to trust Him. Somehow it worked, grabbing my attention with a tough question: “How can I help? You’re still holding on to something more precious than Me.” God can do anything He wants, but sometimes if we’re gonna be stubborn I think He just lets us do that for a while and learn why life doesn’t work out so well trying to do it our own way.
4) “Suckerpunch”, Five Iron Frenzy (Our Newest Album Ever!, 1997)
Another classic FIF song, about being a socially inept nerd in junior high school. I remembered those days. The band approached the subject with some humor, but still made clear something that I didn’t really think much about back then – that God would fight on behalf of the “least of these”, even if they were dorky losers.
5) “Natural”, Eric Champion (Natural, 1998)
I originally wanted to put this song after “Supernatural”, but the “rules” dictated I couldn’t put two Eric Champion songs on side one. This was another one of those “struggle of the flesh” songs that suited me well when I was frustrated with myself for being so gosh darn human. No matter how pious and holy I tried to appear to my colleagues, I was still susceptible to a lot of temptations. Discipline never had been my strong suit. This song at least reminded me that resisting temptation can be like “bending steel” for even the strongest Christians.
6) “La Futura”, Fold Zandura (Ultraforever, 1997)
I loved how the transition between the electronic fly-buzzing of “Natural” and the warm synthetic hum of this aptly-titled song (well, the Spanish baffled me, but it means “The Future”). Part of me couldn’t believe I was already a senior in college – one of the big men on campus. I felt like I was only barely learning my way around my own little corner of the world, but I had a certain measure of independence that gave me a lot of confidence. “You’ve stepped into the future” indeed. At least for the next twelve months or so, I was pretty sure that life was gonna be exciting in all of the best ways.
7) “Greater than We Understand”, Michael W. Smith (Live the Life Single, 1997)
I thought this B-side was awesome and that it had deserved the spot it didn’t get on Live the Life, which really slowed down in its back half. Tim made an attempt to edit it back into his custom version of the album; I just stuck it on my mix tape so that it would have a home. I hadn’t heard Smitty rock like this in a while, and I would probably never hear it again. It fit the song, which considered tragic things like floods and volcanoes and tried to remind us that God was still in control, and that the tragedies might even be part of His plan.
8) “Agnus Dei”, Third Day (Exodus, 1998)
Why not follow up an MWS song with an MWS cover? Third Day’s version, which helped to eventually popularize this one as a worship song, was actually my first exposure to it (I later went back and listened to the choral version from Go West Young Man, but I still see this as the definitive version). Tim and Krista and I loved the fakeout after the second verse where everything fell silent for a second before taking a breath and diving into the chorus – we’d try to see if we could start singing “Holy!” at the right time in order to avoid “falling into the hole”.
9) “More Faithful”, Skillet (Hey You, I Love Your Soul, 1997)
I was impressed that a “hard” band like Skillet could do a thoughtful, dazzling, colorful worship song like this one. Modern worship was on the upswing in those days; it was still special for a Christian rock band to shift gears mid-album and do something reflective and mature like this. I miss the days when that was the exception rather than the rule, because it excited me and I loved the thought that maybe one day, I could learn how to lead worship myself and use songs like this one.
10) “Listen to Our Hearts”, Considering Lily (X: The Birthday Album, 1998)
Another cover, from the aforementioned “birthday album” that Tim got Krista for her birthday that year (she unwittingly peeked into a bag that he was keeping it in, to see what he had bought at the Christian bookstore that day, not realizing he was saving it as a gift for her, but oh well, she liked it anyway) was a surprising cover of a Geoff Moore & the Distance song that recast it into a 6/8 rhythm. Sounds weird, but it worked really well.
11) “Martyrs & Thieves”, Jennifer Knapp (Kansas, 1997)
Another lovely, sparse folk song from Kansas that lingered in my brain and haunted me with its quiet acoustics and whatever that flute that was near the end. The weird ending (that transitioned so amusingly into “Romans” on the album) presented a bit of a challenge – how could I pair it off with another song that would create a similarly unexpected, but satisfying transition?
12) “Halcyon Days”, Model Engine (The Lean Years Tradition, 1997)
The answer: An uncharacteristically poppy, but still off-kilter song from Model Engine that started off immediately with vocals (to mirror “Romans”). I had no idea what a “Halcyon” was back then, nor did I recognize many of the other “vocabulary words” in this song (too bad; they could have gone into the Lexicon), but I found its rambling 7/4 rhythm (or whatever it was) rattling around in my head quite a bit.
13) “Lullaby”, Mayfair Laundry (Scrub, 1997)
Speaking of weird, I’m not sure why I fell in love with this strangely yelped romantic ballad from an already wacky band, but guess it excited me in those days to hear an “alternative” band make a left turn and come up with a quirky but feel-good pop song. There was something very floral about this one – the earthy production and the female vocals probably helped – and I guess I pictured myself being surrounded in some sort of a supernatural embrace and my frustrations just crumbling away when I listened to it.
14) “Hymn”, Jars of Clay (Much Afraid, 1997)
It took me a loooooong time to appreciate the final track on one of my favorite albums. I claimed at one point that it was my least favorite track from Much Afraid. It was Sharon who got me to appreciate the poetic, olde-English inspired lyrics, so this went onto a mix from the year after the CD came out to acknowledge how the song finally earned my respect at around that time. It’s now one of my favorite worship songs.
15) “Things I Cannot Say”, Erin O’Donnell (A Scrapbook of Sorts, 1996)
I decided that it made sense to close with a proper ballad, one that hinted at the difficult-to-explain nature of being in love. I had put this song on a mix tape for Sharon during the previous school year, and it kind of lingered as a song that hinted at my intentions before I had been willing to fully admit to them. I still hadn’t made up my mind whether I was in love at that point. I left Sharon in limbo, and at one point I even got scared of a relationship becoming a huge commitment of time and emotional energy (yeah, me: the guy who wanted a girlfriend so badly… can you believe it?), and I called the whole thing off, only to cave in a few weeks later and realize how much I missed her. It was the unspoken things that did it – the way that we were on a wavelength and could finish a lot of each other’s thoughts. Looking back, that may have been a better sign that we really sharpened each other as friends, and not so much an indication that we were meant to be involved romantically. But it was good and right that I learned to appreciate those kinship qualities that our friendship exhibited. It led to a relationship that ultimately didn’t work out – and I don’t look back wishing that it did. But I’m still glad that I got over my fears and gave it a fighting chance.