Life was good in the Spring of 1999. It felt like I was preparing for adventures that I might not get to have ever again, and as I wrapped up my senior comps, I found myself with a lot of time on my hands, which I tried to make count by spending it with friends that I might not see a lot of after graduating. I came in a wide-eyed, ignorant freshman in the fall of 1995, and that felt like it had only been yesterday – who was I to suddenly be one of the big guys, the ones everyone would be giving a warm send-off, the people expected to go out and create a brighter future? I was barely 21. I was still a kid. But those days felt rich, and God was setting me up for big changes. This set kind of becomes my “commissioning mix” towards the end, because several songs focus on leaving my current life behind and having God lead me out into the unknown with some sense of missional purpose. In some ways, I saw my aspiration to go back to Campus By the Sea for the summer as a sort of “mission”, a way that I could serve and learn new things, because it had been that for me the first time around.
In with the New:
Out with the Old:
Listen on Spotify:
This picture was taken during a Spring Break trip that Sharon and I took to Lake Tahoe. We stayed with her Zeta sister Aleda and her roommate Tori in a cabin owned by one of Sharon’s uncles. Her Neon wasn’t really fit for winter weather, so it got stuck in the snow after the first night we spent there. We had to rely on the other girls for transportation, and the four of us spent most of our time holed up in the cabin, playing board games and doing puzzles and so forth. But the scenery was serene and beautiful, and it was probably one of the most unique Spring Breaks ever.
Where in the world is this?
1) “Thankful”, Caedmon’s Call (40 Acres, 1999)
At long last, we finally had the “trashcan song” on CD! It had been a highlight of the first Caedmon’s Call that Sharon, Tim, Krista, and I had attended last year, and we would soon be seeing them again at the same House of Blues, and that turned out to be another excellent show. Derek’s musings about his own depravity kind of caught me off guard the first time I really paid attention to what the chorus was saying – why would you be thankful that you couldn’t do any good on your own? Oh wait, that would mean that if you did something good, it had to be God. That made sense. But I often didn’t realize it, and I’d give myself too much credit.
2) “King of Polyester”, The W’s (Fourth from the Last, 1998)
There was an incessant mystery surrounding this goofy swing song, which was the opening number when we saw The W’s take the stage before dc Talk and Jennifer Knapp at the end of February. Listening carefully in concert didn’t help, nor did paying very close attention to the CD, when we were trying to figure out what on Earth the answer was that the guys shouted at the very end, in response to the question “What does he do?” We humorously suggested responses such as “Your mom!”, but none of us knew. It wasn’t until later that I learned they were shouting, “Marks ’em up!”, which is a reference to knocking down bowling pins, apparently. The King of Polyester is a pro bowler, and the “rednecks” that he causes to fall are bowling pins.
3) “Original”, Silage (Vegas Car Chasers, 1998)
Short but sweet, a cocky little hip-hop-inflected rocker about how “It’s alright to write a song that sounds like everyone else’s song”. To this day I haven’t figured out whether this song is satirizing Christian bands who say a whole lot of nothing as they rip off other bands, or whether they’re genuinely defending their right to make total fluff for fluff’s sake.
4) “Dive”, dc Talk (Supernatural, 1998)
There’s no good way to transition into “Dive”, given how “It’s Killing Me” bleeds into it on the album, but I did my best here. I guess I had the beachfront camp at Catalina on my mind, because I put several ocean-themed songs in a row on this mix. This one was actually a fabulous opener at the dc Talk concert that none of us had been able to successfully predict.
5) “Underwater”, Switchfoot (The Legend of Chin, 1997)
Drew was getting into Switchfoot, so I borrowed the disc from him to see what they were all about (they already had a second album out by then, so I was running a little behind). I still wasn’t sure how I felt about them. But I liked this off-kilter song about a girl living a depressing life in an imaginary world, so I threw it on to fit with the theme. It’s funny that what I thought was some sort of a jazzy keyboard solo in the middle of the song was actually Jon Foreman singing in a really high voice. Didn’t figure that out until I saw them in concert later on.
6) “Stranded”, Plumb (candycoatedwaterdrops, 1999)
Technically, this version of the song isn’t from Plumb’s album – it’s a demo that was released in late 1998, that our local Christian radio station had picked up and started playing. I decided after I got the album that I preferred this version – it was less processed and had more raw emotion to it. Krista thought it was “depressing” when she first heard it, but I was getting to the stage in my relationship with Sharon where I knew what it was like to have to reach out after a fight had put a big rift between us and make an effort to grab her hand and not let the tidal wave of frustration wash away what we had built. Soon, instead of a metaphorical sea separating us, there would be a literal one, so that realization was weighing on me, too.
7) “One Voice”, Supertones (Chase the Sun, 1999)
You can always count on rap-influenced acts to tell you either who they are or what year it is – that pretty much ruined this song’s chances of making much sense after the year 1999 was over. (Or at least, the first line of the song.) But the Supertones always had this joyous way about them, even when they were tossing off aggressive spitfire raps amidst loud blurting horns. Tim and I had gotten into them, but the rest of this album took a while for me. Now I might be convinced that it’s their best.
8) “I Want to Know You (In the Secret)”, SonicFlood (SonicFlood, 1999)
This song, to me, is where the modern worship trend hit its stride. (You might argue that Delirious? and their song “I Could Sing of our Love Forever” really characterized the genre being on an upswing, but SonicFlood played a big role in exposing that song, too.) Sharon and I heard it on the Central Valley station KDUV while driving up to see her family during Spring Break. We recognized the familiar worship song but were impressed by how they turned it into such a fun-loving modern rock song. Then later on, she realized that you could sing the intro to Third Eye Blind’s “Semi-Charmed Life” in unision with the “ba-ba-da-ba”s at the beginning, which produced hilarious results.
9) “Seasons Always Change”, Sarah Masen (Carry Us Through, 1998)
The dead of winter was when Sarah Masen’s second album really came alive for me. Listening to it in the calm, quiet evening while snow fell around the cabin Sharon and I were staying in, suddenly all of the textures and moods on that album made perfect sense. I was especially enraptured with this song, about a relationship staying strong through the trying times of various seasons – the line “There are some angels in the snow, dear” solidified it for me, because making snow angels was one of the first things that we had done upon arriving at the cabin. You know that final scene in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind where there’s this random memory of the couple chasing each other in the snow? I get similar visions when I hear this song. I remember how wonderful that day was, walking down to the frozen dock, sliding down random snow dunes on our jackets, throwing snowballs, etc. – a classic scene of two lovers at play. But just because you can make those wonderful memories doesn’t necessarily mean that what you have was meant to last.
10) “Irish Sea”, Margaret Becker (Falling Forward, 1998)
Another ocean-themed song. This one seems to be about asking God what He wants of us, and God responding to us by way of our own wishes. Sometimes it’s tough to accept that something we’ve personally wished for is actually something God wants us to do – we’re afraid that we’re just being selfish. I felt that at times about wanting to go back to the summer – what if I was just seking to relive my own glory days in a comfortable place? But it seemed like God was just giving me the go-ahead to take the gift of that time spent on the island, and just run with it.
11) “Anybody Out There?”, Burlap to Cashmere (Burlap to Cashmere, 1998)
Another gem from B2C’s album that I had lamentably overlooked the first time, and failed to add to this mix, so I went back and fixed it, because seriously, the Greek-flavored acoustic guitar solo in this one is just jaw-droppingly awesome.
12) “Human”, Lloyd (Thoughts from a Driveway, 1998)
Stupid as it might sound, one of the first fights Sharon and I had about music was over this band. Not that she had anything against ’em, but I bought the CD while we were briefly in Fresno during our long-haul drive back to Oxy from Tahoe. She was exhausted, and really wanted to spend the night at her parents’ house, returning to Oxy on Saturday instead of Friday night, but I had to work Saturday, and I insisted I’d be too tired if we had a 3-hour drive the same day that I had an 8-hour shift. But despite knowing she was tired, I still made her go out of the way so I could track down this difficult-to-find album at the local Christian bookstore, since I’d had no luck in L.A. (Man, had I never heard of a special order? IDIOT.) And as soon as I finally located it, I wanted to play it in the car, assuming she’d be up for whatever music I wanted to listen to. She was not. She’d just received some stuff in the mail like the City of Angels soundtrack that she wanted to listen to in order to make the drive back a little more relaxing, and I was stubborn about it, and presto, first fight about music. I started to learn from that argument that sometimes I can press the issue and get the other person to give up, but “winning” the argument doesn’t feel very good, so as a result, I didn’t really enjoy the CD the first time around. I came to appreciate it later, though – especially this song that insightfully noted how if God explained the inner workings of His plan to us, it’d be like “teaching rocket science to a butterfly”. There are some things that humans just aren’t capable of getting.
13) “Bullet the Blue Sky”, Human (Out of the Dust, 1998)
Another one of my “clever” tricks – follow up a song with a particular title by a band with the same name as the preceding song. Fortunately, this one’s presence was justified, since it’s a solid cover of a song by U2 that would later become one of my favorites by the band. Interestingly, this one was a hidden track on Human’s album – and it appeared in the middle of the album instead of at the end.
14) “Come Quickly Lord”, Rebecca St. James (Pray, 1998)
The imagery at the end of “Bullet the Blue Sky” about the sky ripping open and the rain falling on the mothers and the children of America, or whatever (I think Human changed the words slightly) always sounded a bit apocalyptic to me, so I figured I’d follow that song up with one about the imminent return of Christ. This song actually confronted me with something I didn’t want to think about – I loved the music, but I’ll admit that it was hard to sing the chorus and genuinely mean it. I felt, selfishly, that there was so much new going on in my life that I didn’t want Jesus to just come back and stop the world and cut short my life as a young adult, my relationship with Sharon, etc. It’s another song that represents my nervousness about the pending rollover of the numbers – the year 2000 fast arriving, and me becoming more and more worried that maybe the doomsayers were right.
15) “I’ll Try”, Polarboy (Back from Nowhere, 1998)
This one was a pretty random way to end. It was another one of those quirky fun songs that I stumbled across on a 7Ball sampler and I figured it’d be weird and off-kilter to place a short, quick, gritty little rock song to punctuate the end of Side 1. Now I kind if wish I’d positioned it between songs that flowed well into and out of it, but there’s something to be said for unconventional endings, too.
The Asian American and Pacific Islander clubs on campus would join together each year and put on an event they called the “Torii Banquet”, which featured a smorgsboard of Asian foods (not something I liked all that much at the time, but I was willing to give it a try), and a show of various traditional and modern Asian dances. Most impressive that year was a Filipino dance that featured hunters chasing down a goddess, or demoness, or something like that. But this picture of the Hawaii Club doing the hula came out best – and it kind of foreshadows the fondness I would come to have for the state of Hawaii.
Where in the world is this?
1) “I Testify”, Margaret Becker (Falling Forward, 1998)
Speaking of unorthodox endings… I felt that it was weird how this confident, testimonial rocker kind of fizzled out at the end of Margaret Becker’s album, so I decided it’d work better as a beginning rather than an ending.
2) “Verb”, Silage feat. Knowdaverbs (Vegas Car Chasers, 1998)
Another fun rap-oriented song which caused me to get my tongue twisted as I tried to memorize it. I didn’t know anyone else who could get into this odd little band. They just gave me funny looks and were like, “You actually like this?” I guess thought it was cool how they could sing a song about the beats and lights and glamour of the celebrity lifestyle, and admit that they thought these things were fun while still saying it would all be meaningless with recognizing the one who created “the stars over Nashville”. So many Christian songs set up anything having to do with fame or money as automatically being bad, so I guess appreciated the distinction here.
3) “Worldwide Socialites Unite”, All Star United (International Anthems for the Human Race, 1998)
This might just be the best song about superficiality ever. I hated parties and dances in high school and college. It just felt like something people did to be seen and to find temporary meaningless hookups. You couldn’t really talk over the loud music, so there was little chance that I’d have any meaningful interaction with anyone. (It never occurred to me that gee, maybe some people just like dancing with their friends and having a good time; nothing wrong with that. I just wasn’t into dancing.) In general, I tended to regard society as being superficial, and I’d become increasingly impatient with people who asked “How are you?” when I could tell they didn’t really want to know. So I identified with this one, because I’d much rather have been talking about “impolite” conversation topics that really got the synapses firing. Sharon was highly amused by this song because of lines like “Don’t ask, don’t tell, and please don’t stare at the emperor in his underwear”, and the little Beach Boys-styled vocal bits that they’d stick in there.
4) “Gasoline”, Skillet (Skillet, 1996)
I finally got around to hearing Skillet’s first album thanks to Sharon’s sorority sister Jas, who let me borrow it. It was a lot more raw than the Skillet I was used to, with very little electronic stuff and more of a “garage” feel. This song was one of the most abrasive and atonal of the bunch, but I was intrigued by the imagery of a heart being lit on fire for some strange reason. Skillet could get obsessive with their violent imagery at times, but here it really brought the idea of dying to self to life in a vivid and slightly uncomfortable way.
5) “Consume Me”, dc Talk (Supernatural, 1998)
And when you’re on fire, the fire consumes you! So there’s another slick thematic transition. Tim and I were kind of “meh” about this one when we bought Supernatural, but it grew on us in a major way and now I think it’s one of their most beautiful songs. The video was weird enough, with the people wearing oxygen masks even though they didn’t need to, which of course nobody realized until an accident at the end of the video proved to be completely non-fatal.
6) “Empath”, The Echoing Green (The Echoing Green, 1998)
I was a person who was obsessed with feeling in those days – I didn’t want to have to deal with anything that seemed cold and unfeeling. What I didn’t realize is how, hypocritically, I could become very callous and uncaring myself when it came to homeless people, or people suffering from deep emotional trauma, etc. Even though I could be very needy, I shunned other needy people. I could work up a mountain of tears over the smallest of my own hurts, but I didn’t know how to cry for others. I still struggle with that concept of “compassion” quite a bit, actually.
7) “Feel”, Human (Out of the Dust, 1998)
This happy Southern rock track at the end of Human’s album was so Third Day-ish that it wasn’t even funny. But I liked Third Day, so I was cool with that.
8) “That’s All the Lumber You Sent”, Ceili Rain (Ceili Rain, 1997)
I don’t really buy the idea presented in this song that the more work you do for God on Earth, the better the mansion will be that is built for you in Heaven. Whatever, it’s all metaphorical. What struck a chord with me (other than the lively Celtic folk instrumentation) was the idea that I didn’t want to get to the end of my life, and find out that all I had to say for myself was that I believed in Jesus and kind of floated through. I’d get into Heaven, I suppose, but I wanted to be able to say I’d done something valuable with the time God gave me on Earth. That was part of my motivation to go back to camp that summer and serve again – get my hands dirty and “build” something that would last. That work didn’t save my soul, of course, but it certainly refreshed it. It made me value the things that God valued a little more.
9) “Shifting Sand”, Caedmon’s Call (40 Acres, 1999)
Tragedies happen that seriously shake our faith sometimes. Even for those not directly affected, we find that we struggle with questions we can’t answer about why God would let something so awful happen. I’m sure that some people had really difficult questions to ask of God when the Columbine massacre happened. I remember that day, because we went to a Caedmon’s Call show that night. I don’t know if everyone in the room had heard about the tragedy yet – I don’t recall the band speaking about it from stage. But I do recall some guys from Colorado huddling around the pay phone by the restrooms, trying desperately to get through to friends back home and find out if everyone was OK. One of the songs played by Caedmon’s that night was this beautiful piece about how our faith can sometimes be very weak, because we base our trust in God on some very weak premises sometimes, and then life rattles us and we start to question if God even cares. Fortunately, God still carries us through those times, even when we totally don’t trust him. Thank God that my salvation doesn’t depend on always having rock-solid trust, because I often don’t have it. I kick and scream and ask God difficult questions, and sometimes I base my beliefs on foolhardy foundations. Grace – a force greater than my own ability to believe all the right things – has always been at work beneath that.
10) “Divorce”, Burlap to Cashmere (Anybody Out There?, 1998)
A lot of people who knew me and Tim just assumed that we were the best of friends and that we totally thought on the same wavelength, due to being math majors and also being roommates that year. There came a point during the second semester where nothing could have been further from the truth. Best friends don’t always make great roommates, and sometimes we got into shouting matches about the stupidest things, with one or both of our girlfriends present. This was hard for Sharon, since she had become good friends with Tim and Krista due to how well I had known them before I met her, and I remember one day near the end of the school year, when I was particularly fed up with Tim and I basically said I was going to just go my own separate way and not be friends with them any more after I graduated and didn’t have to see them on campus every day. Sharon didn’t like that approach very much, and she warned me that I could hold my grudges, but I couldn’t expect her to just “divorce” herself from people she cared about. It wasn’t fair for me to ask that of her, and I’m glad she didn’t comply, because it was due to her and Tim hanging out over the summer (when Krista and I were both gone) that he and I were able to realize, after some time passed, that we regretted hurting each other and wanted to reconcile. This song is here to remind me of those difficult days in that friendship that are thankfully over, and that the friendship survived.
11) “Moving On”, Sixpence None the Richer (Sixpence None the Richer, 1997)
“I will not let them ruin me.” As I realized that I had already started to burn some bridges with Tim and also with some of my InterVarsity friends due to differences we had, I kind of acted like I was the victim, and everything would be fine if I just picked up and went on and didn’t make any effort to keep those people in my life. While it may be right to let go of the bond you had to someone if they’re being excessively destructive to you and not realizing it or not wanting to stop, I think I assumed way too soon that I should just sever ties with certain people. I couldn’t see how some of those rifts that had been formed were my fault, too. With some of those people, I reconciled after having the summer away and a lot of time to think about stuff. There were others who I never saw again.
12) “Edge of the World”, Iona (Beyond These Shores, 1993)
I was listening to Beyond These Shores quite a bit as I prepared for my own little voyage to Catalina Island for the summer, identifying with the album’s protagonist who set out on a mission from God to explore the new world – a lonely, but beautiful voyage. This song depicts the sailor saying one last prayer on his native soil before setting out, thinking of people he will leave behind who will miss him, but knowing that he has a calling. This one really captured the emotion of my pending separation from Sharon and from several of my college friends, to go off and be on an island with no roads leading out of the camp I’d be staying at, and handwritten letters and occasional phone calls being my only contact with the outside world. Was I really ready to do that again? Too late to back out now!
13) “Be Thou My Vision”, Rebecca St. James (Pray, 1998)
I had come to really identify with this hymn (which was recorded as a hidden track on RSJ’s album, but I liked it well enough before that) as I prepared to go away for the summer. I was temporarily giving up things that I would have otherwise held onto rather tightly – I couldn’t necessarily see where all of this was going, but I trusted that God would reward the obedience. I wanted to be focused on what God was focused on. I was perhaps more willing to be obedient at that point in my life than at any other point – it’s kind of easier when you’re still looking forward to being in an exciting, different place, and you haven’t yet been burned by the reality of missing what is familiar. Once the summer ended, sadly, a lot of my willingness to obey was overshadowed by a sense of entitlement – “OK, God, now give me what I want since I did Your thing all summer.”
14) “Heaven Will Be Near Me”, Michelle Tumes (Listen, 1998)
This song was kind of how I romanticized my time at camp. Being on that beach, watching family campers wander up and down the shore and play in the waves, hiking around that small segment of the island between camp and Avalon, thinking of loved ones back home who would long for my return – these things all inspired me to take a minute and thank God for His creation. I wasn’t even physically there yet, but given these songs that I was choosing, my heart had already moved on. In some ways, I had chosen the simple, idyllic way of life that I’d find again on that island because I dreaded what life would be life back in the city after I was no longer in school and therefore not living in the dorms, and community would be a much harder thing to maintain. At camp that community was built-in, and I felt that Christian fellowship plus easy access to nature equaled an easy way to stay close to God.
15) “Forever Song”, Lloyd (Thoughts from a Driveway, 1998)
This song was about a paralyzed young woman who refused to be bitter about her condition, but instead looked forward to Heaven as a time to be free. For me, where the “Heaven” I was awaiting wasn’t the actual afterlife, but a return to Sharon and to my other friends after a summer of self-imposed separation where I underwent a sort of spiritual cleansing. It felt like cutting off something that was near and dear to my heart, but I wanted to have a good attitude going into that summer, so that I could serve and learn some patience again, and then return and be a better man for it. The separation was just a few months, not forever, I told myself. But at times, that looming date when I’d have to say goodbye to her did seem quite paralyzing.