This mix represents the summer of a lifetime, Part II. (1996 being Part I.) Most of this time was spent on Catalina Island, serving in and around the kitchen, and missing loved ones dearly, but figuring I must have been growing from the experience… right? I doubted it at times. After about the halfway point, I was nearly insufferable, counting the days and hardly being able to talk about anything other than wanting to be with my girlfriend again. But let’s not count out the friends I made at camp that summer – fellow staff members who played a variety of roles, some who challenged me to be more patient and forgiving, and some who I clicked with as if they’d been college friends living in the dorms with me for four years. Now I think about some of those folks and miss them dearly, and that’s the thing about graduating from college and wholeheartedly investing different parts of my life in different places – for the rest of my life, there’ll always be someone across a body of water or a long stretch of land who I will miss dearly. But I was challenged a lot that summer – by willingly giving up time with someone I loved during the summer, and by the time I spent with her when I came back in July and had to start adjusting to life as a full-fledged adult looking for work in the “real world”. The bulk of that didn’t hit until August, so this mix mainly covers that nomadic and difficult, but highly memorable summer.
In with the New:
The Juliana Theory
It Was Worth a Try:
Listen on Spotify:
I graduated from Occidental College in May 1999, with a major in Mathematics and a minor in Philosophy. I honestly didn’t look forward to graduating, because it meant I had to leave the ideally engineered social setting known as the dorms, and go get a “real job”. But it was an important milestone in my life, even if I really didn’t want to have to sit in the hot sun wearing a black gown while keynote speakers talked about stuff that wasn’t even all that relevant to us. This picture of the Glee Club performing in the school’s Greek Amphitheatre came out rather colorful, I think, so that’s why I used it rather than a so-far-away-you-can’t-tell-it’s-me shot of me receiving a note that said I would get my diploma in about twenty years when I was finished paying for my education.
Where in the world is this?
1) “Love Travels”, Ceili Rain (Ceili Rain, 1997)
This is one of those “missing someone who is far away on the other side of the ocean” songs. When I was stuck on an island for the summer and in love with someone who was back on the mainland, that seemed to be such a great distance to me. Now I look back and laugh – that was such an easy distance to overcome, and the separation was only a few months. Once my relationship with Sharon ended a few years later and I met Christine, I would then be dating someone 3,000 miles away who was truly separated from me by a great length of ocean, and this song became way more relevant. Funny how the years change your perspective. Either way, long-distance relationships are hard. I had a lot less patience for that sort of thing in my college days, though. I had the confidence that I could do well as my own person, independently of Sharon, for a summer, but I broke down pretty quickly once the actual separation began. I learned to be a lot more stoic about that sort of thing in the next relationship.
2) “Why Won’t Josh Dance?”, Buck (Buck, 1999)
Another fun song from the short-lived swing craze. I related to the guy in this song because he’s just stand by the wall, watching everyone else moving about like crazy, and he’d just tap his toe a little bit and remain mostly still, but he was having just as much fun as everyone else. We had a swing dancing lesson one Saturday night at camp. Pam, a girl on kitchen staff whom I had gotten to know quite well, encouraged me to give it a try because then I’d be able to dance with Sharon when I got back to the mainland. I couldn’t even grasp the basics of it, and though she was trying to encourage me, she just kind of giggled at how I didn’t get it, and I gave up.
3) “Bliss”, Delirious? (Mezzamorphis, 1999)
Tim tried to stand in the gap for me and keep me up on new music while I didn’t have a record store handy that summer. He taped the new Delirious? album and sent me a copy. First time I heard this song with its furious electronics and confident cries of “I’m not backing down!”, I knew this would probably be his new favorite Delirious? track. It certainly became mine. I listened to the song, and to the entire Mezzamorphis album, many times that summer – its soundscape kind of came to define the places I went during those few months.
4) “The Call”, Plaid (Understanding God, 1998)
Though their lone album was short and a bit light on content, I really got into Plaid’s rocking energy. This song ended up here as part of a string of songs that confidently stood up in the face of a “dying world” and took a stand, determined to be a light. I wanted to retain that sort of confidence despite rumors that all hell was going to break loose come January 1.
5) “Late Great Planet Earth”, Plumb (candycoatedwaterdrops, 1999)
“The world ends without a tragedy”. So says this strangely apocalyptic, Matrix-esque track that I immediately fell in love with. Maybe it wasn’t going to be some big technological meltdown that brought civilization to its knees. Maybe the apocalypse, as it were, would be more of a quiet and personal thing. And the tragedy would not be any sort of physical disaster, but simply the fact that humans had grown apathetic, assuming they could save themselves if crisis ever arose, but never seeing the looming crisis within.
6) “Don’t Wanna Know”, Lloyd (Thoughts from a Driveway, 1998)
I was never one to believe tabloid headlines. But I remember walking around Avalon that summer, and noticing a headline on a newsstand that purported to have details on how the Millennium Bug would end the world. Because of that small part of me that worried about this, I started to realize that I couldn’t ignore my worries forever, and I needed to square with myself about how much I trusted God in a time of potential crisis (despite the actual scientific possibility of such a thing, which turned out to be pretty slim). What I eventually came back to was the Bible’s assurance that “no man knows the day or the hour” – it wasn’t for me to worry about how or when God would end it all. I needed to always be prepared and always be attenative to what God wanted me to do. God would decide when it was my time to go. I’ve become a lot more skeptical towards fellow Christians who beleive Christ will return in their lifetime ever since 2000 came and basically nothing happened. And it’s not that I know Christ won’t return in my lifetime – it’s just that I know I’m not supposed to preoccupy myself with that. Time is of the essence either way, and I have no right to live like I’ll be around forever, even if I end up living to be an old man and dying of natural causes.
7) “My Refuge”, SonicFlood (SonicFlood, 1999)
At some point during that summer, this became my favorite worship song. It had a lot to do with the sheer power of how the song was played, the way it confidently mowed down all of the worries in its path and said, “Despite all of this so-called impending chaos, I trust You, God.” I’ve always had a tough time trusting and not trying to do everything myself to assure my safety. I had to learn to trust more when faced with the possibility of pending troubles that I could do nothing to stop.
8) “It’s Killing Me”, dc Talk (Supernatural, 1998)
I thought the “whoosh” at the end of “My Refuge” led brilliantly into the abrupt intro of this song – “Hello, goodbye”. This song always intrigued me becuase it admitted that, despite Christians being called to love their neighbors as themselves, there were times when it was healthier to break ties with someone when your friendship had become spiritually detrimental. It didn’t mean hating the person or wishing harm upon them – it just meant recognizing that you’d be healthier apart. It kind of related to the uncertainty I had about my friendship with Tim at the end of the school year (ironically, dc Talk was his favorite group). It turned out that we just needed a break from each other, rather than a permanent severance, but it takes time to figure these things out sometimes.
9) “Dive”, Steven Curtis Chapman (Speechless, 1999)
Since “It’s Killing Me” bled seamlessly into “Dive” on the dc Talk album, I tried to be cute by putting a different song called “Dive” here. This was also from a tape that Tim sent me, to catch me up on SCC’s latest. I couldn’t help but think “I get knocked down, but I get up again!”, in reference to Chumbawamba’s “Tubthumper”, when I first heard the chorus to this one. But I liked what it had to say about letting go of the need to guarantee one’s own security, and just jumping in and trusting God. I thought back to three summers ago, when I had been working at the same camp and felt unsure about my ability to swim. I just had to trust God, and trust the lifeguards on duty, and give it a try. it all came back to me, and by the end of that day, I was diving off the pier into deep water. Three years later, I was once again enjoying that privilege, which I wouldn’t have been able to enjoy without a little trust.
10) “Yo Tengo”, Silage (Vegas Car Chasers, 1998)
This one’s mostly here for silliness’ sake. It’s a bunch of fun, but odd metaphors about what it feels like to have a really great girlfriend, with a teeny bit of Spanish thrown in. “Jazz super stereophonic, that’s how you make me feel.”
11) “Open-Minded”, The W’s (Fourth from the Last, 1998)
Backtracking a bit to before I left for camp, the IV fellowship spent the week after graduation at Apline Meadows Conference Center, near Lake Arrowhead. It would be the last week that I would spend with that group as a member of the fellowship. One random memory that I have of that time is the PA system that they would use to wake us up for breakfast, usually with verbal announcements, but apparently one day they played music, and only the girls heard it, because the speakers were broken in the guys’ bunks that day or something. So the girls got to wake up to The W’s, presumably with this song first. When Dawningstar told me about that, I had this song stuck in my head for the rest of the day.
12) “I Need You Now”, All Star United (International Anthems for the Human Race, 1998)
This confessional power ballad with its strings and heavy guitar coda accurately summed up how I felt at the end of that school year, when my world was drastically changing and I just needed something constant to hold on to. We say a lot that God is the only constant in our lives and the one thing we can count on, but how often do we really believe that to be true? I’m not the kind who cries out in prayer over every little thing, but this song was good for the times when I realized I could no nothing for myself other than asking God to stabilize things and/or help me make some sense of the instability.
13) “My Constant One”, Michelle Tumes (Listen, 1998)
“I want to kiss the mouth that soothes me, when the smile has vanished from my face.” One of many devotional/worshipful songs with a “romantic” sort of theme to it that I connected with as I journaled in my little quiet spot overlooking the ocean that summer.
14) “Murlough Bay”, Iona (Beyond These Shores, 1993)
This has become my ultimate “alone time with God and/or someone I love” song. I knew that part of the reason why I had chosen to go to camp for the summer would be so that I had some time to clear my head, be alone with God, and seek direction for my future. Sometimes you just need a quiet cove all to yourself to reflect on something like that, the waves quietly lapping against the rocks, and everyone else either asleep or off doing other things. It was easy to romanticize that in my mind, but harder to actually take advantage of that time when I had it and not spend it whining about all of the things I missed about life on the mainland. The simple chorus – “And here at last, I’m on my own with you” – has stuck with me throughout the years, to the point where the Irish cove named in the title became the inspiration for an online screen name that several people now know me by, and Christine and I ended up using this song as our first dance when we got married in 2005.
15) “Skin Is Burning”, Burlap to Cashmere (Anybody Out There?, 1998)
This one built on the theme of getting away from the busy-ness of the world for a while so that I could learn to see things straight for a while. I’m not one to believe that big cities like L.A. are veritable Sodoms and Gomorrahs, but I know that the hurried pace of modern life can drain and distract a person, and toy with their priorities. Sometimes an extended time of spiritual retreat is needed just to cleanse oneself of that infectious disease.
16) “Petrified Heart”, Caedmon’s Call (40 Acres, 1999)
Caedmon’s Call with Celtic overtones! I fell in love with this one pretty easily. I was a romantic at heart, and I easily fell in love with anything that gave me a sense of purpose. Yet when push came to shove and it came time to implement the desire I had to show love to people – be it in a relationship, or in service of God by going away for the summer – suddenly I felt terrified. We crave change and purpose, but then we get scared when those opportunities are actually presented to us.
I spent my second summer working at Campus by the Sea in 1999, this time as a sort of “random task boy” who helped stock the pantry, go on boat runs to town to pick up groceries, wash a lot of dishes, and bring slop up canyon to dispose of by way of dumping it out for the wild pigs to eat. It was a fun summer, but difficult, due to the life on the mainland that I missed so much. I did a lot of hiking in my spare time, exploring some of the outskirts of the city of Avalon. This colorful picture of the city’s harbor was taken from its upper east side.
Where in the world is this?
1) “Frank”, The W’s (Fourth from the Last, 1998)
In one of the letters that Sharon wrote me that summer, she mentioned that her family, already the owners of three cats, had found a stray, grey cat who had fallen into a cement pit by one of their basement windows and been trapped there without food for several days. They found the cat and adopted him, and named him Franklin. And for the rest of that cat’s days on Earth, he ate like there was no tomorrow! The cat was often called “Frank” for short, and it made me think of this odd little song about some kids who made life difficult for a contractor named “Frank” who was a scary guy that skinned cats and stuff. Guess that came around to bite him in the next life or something.
2) “Mr. Warner”, Lloyd (Thoughts from a Driveway, 1998)
Maybe I was getting some angst out after quitting my old job at Wherehouse and no longer having to hear a bunch of offensive music. Whatever the case, this song, which is basically an ad hominem attack on Marilyn Manson, amused me greatly. Ironically, part of the attack on his credibility comes when they say “You’re no more a sinner than a man like me” and challenge Manson by saying he’s not as much of a badass as he likes to think he is.
3) “Musicbox Superhero”, The Juliana Theory (Understand This Is a Dream, 1999)
Another one of those “celebrity on a pedestal” songs, this time coming from a dejected celebrity who doubts that he really has anything special to offer an obsessed listener. I didn’t really get into The Juliana Theory until Emotion Is Dead a few years later, but this track was a great introduction.
4) “I Can’t Catch You”, Sixpence None the Richer (Sixpence None the Richer, 1997)
Since the basic premise of my going away for the summer was a sort of spiritual cleansing and getting closer to God, there was a part of me that wondered if it would be time well spent. God wasn’t always found where we expected Him to be found, sometimes even in those seemingly spiritual and peaceful places. Would I be granted that sense of peace and communion with God, or would His face remain hidden? Was I too afraid to take the risk and find out? I knew from the Prayer Seminar course I had taken at that last IV conference in May that sometimes God appeared to hide his face on purpose, as a sort of test. Did it mean anything if we only remained loyal to God when His face was clearly visible?
5) “Here with Me”, Plumb (candycoatedwaterdrops, 1999)
On that first afternoon when I arrived at camp, they put me to work almost immediately after lunch, and it was weird, because there were barely any other staff there to meet, and the last group of campers had just left, so it was a very quiet Friday afternoon. I was in a linen closet folding laundry, and I had this foreboding sense of dread – what if my whole summer was gonna feel lonely like this? Had I made a colossal mistake? I calmed myself down a little by singing this song to myself while I worked. “It doesn’t mean anything without You here with me.” I had to trust that God would keep my eyes on the purpose for this choice that I had made – to reveal the “answers to love left behind”.
6) “Peace”, Rebecca St. James (Pray, 1998)
A pretty simple, but lovely and layered, song from a CD that I kept coming back to again and again during devotional, reflective breaks in my schedule. “You ask that I be still, and know You are God”. Again, it didn’t make sense to claim that I trusted God during the good times if I could not also rely on this claim when walking through dark valleys.
7) “Fragrance of Pink”, Sarah Masen feat. Out of the Grey (Carry Us Through, 1998)
I had a notebook left over from Prayer Seminar, and every now and then while at camp, I would go back and read through the literature, or journal on blank paper. In the back of it, I would write down the lyrics to various worship songs that I liked, that I would sing or hum to myself during times spent at my secret “prayer spot” halfway up the trail to the cross, looking out over the water, back towards home. Not all of these songs were traditional, congregational type songs. I was interested in artistic expression and how that contributed to worship, and the tricky, complex wording of this Sarah Masen song struck me as a literate expression of praise, describing God in abstract colors and nature metaphors, as if we were just microscopic life forms in the grand garden of Creation. (Technical note: I list this song as “featuring” Out of the Grey because Scott Denté plays acoustic guitar and Christine Denté provides backing vocals.)
8) “Life Is Beautiful”, Michelle Tumes (Listen, 1998)
Pam became a dear friend during the few months that we knew each other that summer. She was such a sensitive and imaginative person – a storyteller and a dreamer. She always knew what questions to ask to draw a person out of their shell – she asked me a lot about my relationship with Sharon, which at the time was going really well, because she wanted to experience something like that. She was the only other person at camp who had heard of Michelle Tumes, and occasionally Barb, who ran the kitchen, would let us play music on the tiny stereo in there when campers weren’t around, so I remember Pam singing along to a few of Michelle’s gorgeous songs, particularly this autobiographical one about a girl who could always find the beauty in every facet of life. I never saw Pam again after leaving camp in late July. But I got a letter from her in mid-2001 saying that after she stayed on as year-round help, she and one of the guys who worked the grounds there had started a courtship and were set to get married in 2001. She had to take an even bigger risk than I did, since saying at camp through the winter can be an awfully lonely time. But she had the imagination to see how God could have big plans for her in taking that risk. I admired her so much for that.
9) “Take Me In”, Margaret Becker (Falling Forward, 1998)
Another of the reflective “worship songs” that I entered into my little notebook that summer. This one acknowledged that “I’ve been chasing dreams, and I’ve captured a few, but when I wrap them ’round my shoulders, the rain just bleeds right through.” I had to acknowledge that this could happen – God had allowed some of my dreams to come true, but that didn’t guarantee those dreams would last forever. Was I still willing to trust God and seek refuge in Him even if, one day, I lost Sharon? Or if I couldn’t find a job when I got back to the mainland? I didn’t know. All I could do was whisper, as Margaret did at the abrupt end of this song, “Won’t You take me in?”
10) “The Climb”, No Doubt (Tragic Kingdom, 1995)
I had heard all of Tragic Kingdom before, in passing, but my first “deep listen” to in on the island was during one of my hikes along the steep ridge trail to Avalon. That one gets to be tough going about 2/3 of the way up to the road, so about a half an hour in, which I was struggling as I always did at that point, this song about pushing forward step by step on a grueling climb helped get me pumped enough to make it to the top. I loved the circus organ and triumphant horns and the willingness to extend the song into a long vamp, just to give me that extra push to keep going. No Doubt’s a very radio friendly band, but I love that they’re not afraid of the occasional experiment. Tragic Kingdom is a classic album, and this is my favorite of their songs, actually.
11) “Did You Feel the Mountains Tremble?”, Delirious? (Cutting Edge, 1998)
At the top of a difficult climb, you reach the summit and you just want to shout to the world about how awesome God’s creation is! I actually learned this song at that final InterVarsity Conference, played in an even more rocking fashion than the original Cutting Edge recording by a combined Oxy/Claremont Colleges worship band, and it became the definitive song of that glorious week. Something about it was just so freeing – as much as I loved worship music and was never shy about singing along, I started to feel more free to express whatver I needed to express physically in worship during that week, be it raising my hands or kneeling or whatever. I’m not normally like that, because I don’t want to come off as showy, but during that retreat, God seemed to be saying to me that if I had learned to be visibly affectionate with friends and with my girlfriend, then why not with God? It made sense, especially in that safe atmopshere where we all knew each other and cheered on each other’s spiritual growth. That song stuck with me through the summer – it was a prophetic hint at the changes to come that would make the darkness quake in its boots.
12) “Somewhere North”, Caedmon’s Call (40 Acres, 1999)
A dramatic slow song – my favorite song by Caedmon’s Call, actually – written by Derek Webb when he had a lover in another state who he had to drive hundreds of miles to see. I couldn’t drive to see Sharon that summer, and she was technically north of me, so this one still worked even if Catalina wasn’t Houston and Eagle Rock wasn’t Kansas City. It allowed me to let the tears trickle down my cheeks and think about how much I wanted to assure her that this relationship meant the world to me. When you’re that much in love for the first time, you tend to think that’s the one, and I had already pretty much told her that. I felt like the earnest poor boy that Derek was in this song – “I have nothing to my name, but I can give you that.” Derek had actually written this song about a relationship that ultimately didn’t work out, and it still meant a lot to him after that point, so it’s fitting that it still means a lot to me despite how it originally represented my hope for something to work out that ultimately didn’t.
13) “Open the Eyes of My Heart”, SonicFlood (SonicFlood, 1999)
Such a simple worship song – it became a bit too trendy after a while there, but SonicFlood really brought out the energy in it with their arrangement, and this song kind of became a “sign” for me, a hint that I was on the right trail regarding somewhere that God wanted me to go. In this case, it had to do with church, and how I would find a spiritual home after college. I had prayed about that a little over the summer, and God seemed to confirm that I’d be able to find it if I kept my eyes open once I got back home. I remember feeling a sense of security about it when a few of us guys on staff sat in on a worship session and Bible Study with a men’s group who was in camp one Sunday Morning. A few of us sang this song during a small group study and it expressed exactly the thing I was praying for. Later on, Sharon and I decided to start attending the church Tim and Krista went to out in Pomona, and this song popped up there again (not like it couldn’t have popped up in thousands of other churches, but still), and somehow I knew, that was where we belonged, at least for the time being.
14) “Angel”, Sarah McLachlan (Surfacing, 1997)
As that final worship song – my personal way of reminding myself that I had to trust God despite not always knowing where I was going – faded, I opted for a highly emotional ending signifying the end of my tenure at camp and my return to the mainland. It was just unbelievable to think that I was actually back, and that I finally had Sharon back, and she put on this Sarah McLachlan album that first night we were reunited, and said to me when this song came on that she was in the arms of her angel. Awwww. What really sticks in my memory regarding that beautiful Sunday, now that Sharon and I are no longer together, is the message that was given at the last worship service I attended on the island before catching the boat back to Long Beach. It was about our duty as Christians to not let our fellow brothers and sisters forget our commitment to God first. I knew how easily I got wrapped up in other things, even the good gifts God had provided me with, such as this relationship that I was in. And as happy as I was to be reunited with her, something felt wrong. I knew I had a tendency to think of my relationship with her and then my relationship with God. So I remember tearfully asking her that day, “Never let me forget”. Some people turn out to be angels, in a matter of speaking, for a time in your life. They turn your life around in a beautiful way, but they may not hang around forever. They may simply be there to point the way for a certain amount of time. And you can’t get confused and start regarding the angel as being more precious than the One who sent the angel.