This is the soundtrack from my “poor days” – I left camp in July with a sense of a dream and a calling, and got hit with harsh reality in August (relationship troubles) and September (a frantic and seemingly fruitless job search that made me face the reality than I was running out of money with no one to fall back on). It was one of the most difficult and scary periods of my life, but looking back, I can see the seeds being planted which would blossom into the things I’m now comfortable with and thankful for as part of my adult life.
In with the New:
Out with the Old:
Listen on Spotify:
This is where the Iron River meets the shore of Lake Superior, in Northern Michigan. Sharon’s family had property there, and I was invited to vacation with them that summer, staying in cabins with no electricity, and no running water (unless you count water being manually pumped in from the river as “running”). It was a beautiful place, unlike the mountainous world I was used to in California – just endless forest as far as the eye could see. And it was a good way to bookend my last summer of freedom before joining the workforce – I dreaded having to find a job when I got back. Our time there was not without its conflict – I may have enjoyed the place, but the day-to-day routine and the work involved in keeping up the property (which all family and guests were expected to participate in) were a bit difficult for me, coming in and not having known these traditions since my childhood like she had. So we had our fights about that, and it really took until we got back to California for us to be fully reconciled. That rough patch was when she started to get the first inklings that maybe it wouldn’t work out between her and me. That was hard for me, but I don’t blame the place for the difficult things that happened there.
Where in the world is this?
1) “Get Down”, Audio Adrenaline (Underdog, 1999)
I remember the first time I listened to this Audio A album. Tim and Krista put it on in the portable boombox in the big grey van (which I affectionately called the BGV) that Tim drove, on a day when they were taking me to an interview out in West L.A. somewhere… I don’t recall what it was for, but I didn’t get the job). There were a lot of songs on the album about losing everything and praising God in the midst of that, and part of me didn’t find it believable – “Whatever, you guys are a hit Christian rock band, what do you know about suffering?” But the message in this song got through to me despite my cynicism. I liked that “get down” had a double meaning – it could refer to dancing, which the beat of the song certainly tempted the listener to do, or it could refer to being in a lonely, helpless place where you had to fully rely on God because you couldn’t find your own way out. I felt like I was in one of those valleys with no discernible way out. And I talked to God about that perhaps more than I had talked to Him about anything in a long time.
2) “Enchanted”, Chasing Furies (With Abandon, 1999)
Tim and Krista discovered this amazingly haunting sibling band at Spirit West Coast that year, and after giving the CD a few tries, it proved to be the perfect late summer soundtrack, reflecting a tense mixture of beauty and unrest in the soul of a person wrestling with God and trying in vain to get their way. This song was an offbeat, but joyous celebration in the midst of the tension, and I fell in love with it. It spoke of a God who found us “hidden in good things” – we hear so much about being rescued from disastrous circumstances, but sometimes the truth is that we’re so distracted by pretty happy things that we think we don’t need God. Perhaps that had been me during college, and this was the beginning of the weaning process. No more living on campus, no more automatic cash flow without me having to work for it, no more taking for granted a girlfriend who always wanted to see me and had the time to be with me. I had to ask myself if I trusted God even when all of these things threatened to disappear.
3) “Safety Dance”, The Echoing Green (The Echoing Green, 1998)
Esther, one of Sharon’s Zeta sisters who lived across the hall from her that summer, was really into 80’s music. One day, for whatever reason, she was listening to this goofy, inane song by Men Without Hats, and I decided to play The Echoing Green’s remake for her. Embarrassingly bad lyrics either way, but I liked the sinister electronic groove of the updated version.
4) “The Change”, Steven Curtis Chapman (Speechless, 1999)
It might have been bitterness over no longer being able to stay involved in the fellowship, or it might have been a spiritual epiphany, but either way, I found myself at odds with the InterVarsity group that I had belonged to during college. I felt like it was easy for them to distribute symbols and catch phrases and paraphernalia around campus as they did various projects in attempts to attract seekers, but I wondered if numbers were their motivation, or if people were. Something about me and my understanding of my faith was changing – I was no longer content to just belong to the club and recite the words. It had to be something real, personal, meaningful to me that could be shared in a respectful way with others. Perhaps I gave my old comrades too much of a hard time over it, but not that I myself was on the outside looking in, I wondered about how other outsiders viewed them.
5) “Holy One”, SonicFlood (SonicFlood, 1999)
I spliced these two songs together at just the right moment to get a pretty slick transition – wicked cool guitar riff, “Lord change me”, POP!, another great guitar riff. This ended up being the final appearance of SonicFlood on any of my mixes – once a solid pop/rock band that made me appreciate worship music a little more, and they so quickly degraded into an anemic, revolving door act that had long outlived their right to keep the name. So sad.
6) “Waiting Room”, LaRue (LaRue, 1999)
I wouldn’t say that Phillip and Natalie LaRue were ever great songwriters, but I appreciated their unusual voices and the brother/sister dynamic. It was one of the first songs that I heard on KDUV when Sharon and I came back to Fresno at the end of my summer on Catalina, so I latched onto the memory of it and bought the CD single one day when Sharon was away for the weekend and I was missing her.
7) “The Mezzanine Floor”, Delirious? (Mezzamorphis, 1999)
Amidst all of the knob-tweaking weirdness of this unorthodox first track on the new Delirious? album, one line stood out loud and clear: “I’ll get to Heaven”. I don’t know why – maybe the aimless, vaguely depressed feeling I got as the job search kept dead-ending was leading me to think I had fallen out of God’s favor or something. But I was determined, one way or another, I’ll find the right path again, I’ll be the faithful Christian God wants me to be, and doggonnit, I’m gonna win this race and make it to Heaven someday! I was a little obsessed with death at that time, fearing that my life would somehow be cut short and I might get caught by surprise without the chance to atone for the heavy doubt I was feeling. I think I realize now that it doesn’t work that way.
8) “New Way to Be Human”, Switchfoot (New Way to Be Human, 1999)
This was where my Switchfoot fandom really started to gain momentum – wow, they could be poppy and danceable and passionate all at once? Their first album had been interesting, but it seemed to awkwardly stumble through a lot of it. Suddenly I was very interested in these youngsters that Charlie Peacock had discovered, but I don’t think I had any inkling at the time that they would one day find mainstream success. They were still just a quirky little footnote that I was kind of curious about.
9) “Dancing Queen”, Sixpence None the Richer (Dick Soundtrack, 1999)
The world’s love for “Kiss Me” had finally caught up to my own that year, and I was a bit perplexed that everyone seemed to know this band’s name, but only one of their songs had attained notoriety. “There She Goes” ended up being their second single and I just couldn’t get behind that one at all; it wasn’t nearly as cool as some of the other stuff on their self-titled album. But it was still neat to see their name out there, and they kind of developed this second career as a cover band, which meant they’d end up covering random songs on soundtrack albums and stuff. This Abba cover, from an obscure movie about Richard Nixon that I don’t think very many people saw, surfaced on a soundtrack CD that Aleda had picked up. Sharon had to give me a primer on the original and why the remake was such an amusing tribute to it, but I liked how the cheesy synthesizer stuff fit in with Sixpence’s usually more organic approach. So it kind of became a favorite “fun song” for me and Sharon.
10) “Solace”, Plumb (candycoatedwaterdrops, 1999)
Tim was working on a very long and complicated series of mix tapes for Krista that year, that he planned to play for her as they relived the three years so far of their relationship on their anniversary, which was coming up in October. He came to me to help brainstorm ideas, and he came up with this semi-angry, that-time-of-the-month-esque song as a way to represent the frustration Krista had felt during various difficult chemistry classes during her sophomore and junior years. It was cathartic during some of my more frustrating days as well.
11) “Nails”, Plaid (Understanding God, 1998)
A lot of the uncertainty in my faith during those days was because I still expected, in some way, to be able to “feel” God. Maybe I had just mistaken general feelings of warmth and security for God’s presence before that. In any case, it took going through hard times like that jobless period to realize that there was this rift between man and God, and it could be breached but it wasn’t always easy for man to believe in that connection because it wasn’t something he could feel. “I can’t wrap my arms around you, because you’ve put these nails into My hands”, is how this beautiful, delicate song went. And that wasn’t meant to be a guilt trip – it’s just the reality that the eye of sinful man often can’t see God due to the separation caused by man’s imperfection. God still loves us, but we see as if through a veil, and sometimes the inability to feel God’s tangible presence during those times of testing can be quite painful.
12) “Daring Daylight Escape”, Caedmon’s Call (40 Acres, 1999)
During most of my first serious relationship, I was deathly afraid that I might screw something up, and Sharon might decide she didn’t love me any more. Some of this came to a head when I tried to join the “adult” world and largely failed at first, and her junior year of school simultaneously got very busy. I wasn’t the type who was tempted to cut and run, but I did wonder if she was sabotaging the relationship because of some deficiency on my part. I was always the type of guy who wanted to confront these things, even if they led to disastrous results, rather than shoving them under the rug, so as we approached one year of being a couple, there was kind of this ultimatum – can we love and support each other in this new phase of life, or is now the time to cut our losses and run?
13) “Sky Falls Down”, Third Day (Time, 1999)
Another “end of the world” song to celebrate to supposedly impending apocalypse. Hey, it was the catchiest song on the new Third Day album, so I didn’t mind the lyrical focus on a subject that I normally didn’t want to deal with. I thought it was cute how the whole thing fell apart so suddenly at the end, as if the band members had been raptured mid-song. I didn’t realize until a few months later how closely this one mimicked Cake’s “Sheep Go to Heaven”.
14) “All in All”, Lloyd (Thoughts from a Driveway, 1998)
An easily overlooked, but thoughtful song from this obscure band whose album had brought me comfort over that long summer. Perhaps we humans dreaded “the end”, whether that be the end of the world or just the end of our own lives, but we needed perspective. That was where eternity began, where our understanding of God’s world would suddenly open up and there’d be this vast sense of elation as we came to know things that we couldn’t possibly understand as mortals.
This is the house I lived in during the first semester out of college, in Eagle Rock just south of campus. It was a shared house, with 3 different living areas, mostly occupied by the campus’s InterVarsity staff. Some of them had become personal friends of mine, so I was excited to live with them and still have a tie to the community. But I started to realize, as the school year got going, that I wasn’t fully part of that world any more. I spent my days frantically searching the Internet for job leads, and trying to arrange transportation to the rare interview that I might get; my friends were mostly still taking classes and enjoying the idyllic lifestyle that I had taken for granted. It was a hard couple of months, sharing a spartan living space upstairs (the window above the main entrance was mine) with Gundy, who had graduated the same year I did and who managed to find a job before even moving in, and also an older, divorced guy named Brett, who was a bit of a slob and who kind of creeped us out at times. (I think that was the first and only time that the owners of that house put an ad out to the community at large seeking tenants. They learned the hard way to never do it again.) Most of my days spent here felt aimless; I was running out of money, having difficulty adjusting to life in the “real world”, and a rift was forming between me and Sharon due to her workload as a student becoming much heavier – we were in separate worlds now despite still living in such close proximity to each other. But looking back on those times, God was present, and He was weaning me from certain conveniences in order to show me the plan he had for my future. Those long, sunny afternoons that I spent not being exactly sure what direction I should go in next were agonizing at the time, but beautiful in retrospect. All that wrestling with God makes so much more sense to me now.
Where in the world is this?
1) “God Only Knows”, Eric Champion (Natural, 1998)
I had bought this album over a year ago, but it was one September afternoon, after a particularly depressing confortation with my Mom over my need to find a job very soon because she couldn’t keep supporting me, that this song really grabbed my attention as I rode my bike back from Pasadena to Oxy (I was so distraught that I actually crashed into a parked car halfway down the block). Tears just came to my eyes as I realized how true these lyrics wre – I had been living my life under the assumption that I’d be a young college student forever, not really making any career plans or thinking about what I’d do with the rest of my life. Of course, God’s plans were higher than my own anyway, but I regretted being so naive as to act like this transition into full adulthood would never come.
2) “Wanna Be Loved”, dc Talk (Supernatural, 1998)
dc Talk does the funk/groove thing a bit here. It sort of works. It was through Tim’s struggle to fade this one out seamlessly (it bleeds into “The Truth” on the CD, and these were the days before sound-editing software became readily available on the Internet) that he discovered the ingenious solution of playing an mp3 from the computer through the stereo and gradually turning down the stereo volume while recording to a blank tape. It’s so much easier nowadays, with the advent of CD-Rs and WAV editors.
3) “Thicker”, Chasing Furies (With Abandon, 1999)
This song was my first taste of Chasing Furies, and its haunting call out to a friend who was seemingly walking away ended up being one of those melodies that floated around in my head, accompanying some of those long, quiet nights when I couldn’t sleep and I’d put this album on and let it play with the volume turned down. A lot of my flashbacks ended up getting lodged in this song – the plane flight back from Michigan, my barren upstairs apartment on Armadale, various fights with Sharon, etc. it seemed cruel that so many beautiful, warm summer days were filled with so much conflict and despair.
4) “I Don’t Want to Know”, This Train (Mimes of the Old West, 1998)
As I struggled to stay afloat, borrowing money from a few friends to make my rent and the first month of having to pay back loans, I was challenged about the attitude I’d previously had toward poor people. I actually dug up a copy of This Train’s album at a small Christian bookstore in Marquette, Michigan, so listening to their various folk/rock and rockabilly compositions always brought back visions of that rustic camp where we had vacationed. This song grabbed me in particular due to its sarcastic way of admitting to the hypocrisy of just not caring about a poor person’s struggles, as if they got what they deserved and it inconvenienced the songwriter just to be asked for help. I had felt similar feelings of contempt, and now I was the one having to ask for help, and it was demoralizing.
5) “Beatnik”, Silage (Vegas Car Chasers, 1998)
To cheer things up a bit, here’s another silly song from Silage, about how they could be singing total nonsense just to get paid, so pay attention to the message presented by these Christian bands whose CD’s you’re mindlessly buying. These guys didn’t have much of a way with words, but this one was kind of witty – and you had to love the trombone.
6) “The Coffee Song (live)”, Jars of Clay (Stringtown, 1999)
The long-delayed Stringtown – a collection of live tracks from Jars of Clay’s first two albums, which was the only reason I had paid to be in their fan club – finally arrived right around when Sharon and I got back from Michigan. Thanks to this disc, I finally made my peace with a silly song about the virtues of pure, unsweetened and unflavored coffee, which had previously been an annoyance to me since it took up time in concert when they could have played their “real” songs. The insertion of the “da da da da”s from Suzanne Vega’s “Tom’s Diner” was pure genius, since that was a total “coffeehouse” sort of song.
7) “Table for Two”, Caedmon’s Call (40 Acres, 1999)
Sharon and I had enjoyed this honest song, about singleness and asking God what the heck the deal was with His timing, ever since the band played it for us at their House of Blues show in 1998. The album version ended up on this particular mix because, as luck would have it, Sharon was driving me to one of my first job interviews and we were listening to this song when she swerved to avoid another car suddenly changing lanes, and I spilled a drink on my shirt. I think I’ve spilled a drink on my shirt on at least two separate occasions while listening to this song.
8) “I’ve Always Loved You”, Third Day (Time, 1999)
A comforting reminder from back in the days when Third Day hadn’t become a total adult contemporary band yet, and it was actually surprising and thoughtful for them to open up a rock record with a ballad. Something about Time was just so genuine and transparent, and it made Third Day one of my favorite bands for a while. This would later become a really fun song to play on the guitar, once I learned it, but that wouldn’t be for another two years.
9) “Carry Us Through”, Sarah Masen (Carry Us Through, 1998)
A swampy, folksy, quirky song about God’s people banding together to carry each other through difficult times, delivered as only Sarah Masen could. I wanted to have that experience again, of being part of a community who would carry each other like this. It felt like it was just me against the world, with so many of my former compatriots wishing me well but not really being able to get involved or grasp what my needs were now that I was no longer a student. I needed to find a church that I could get plugged into, but it would be another year and change before I would finally find such a place.
10) “Live & Learn”, Plaid (Understanding God, 1998)
“You give it all, but I want more. Desire knocks me to the floor.” That was sort of how my relationship with God went back then – God put me through a difficult challenge, I protested and acted like God didn’t love me any more because I wasn’t getting what I wanted. To be fair, I was struggling to provide for myself financially and kind of at the end of my rope, so at least I was honest with God and wanting some answers rather than giving up and assuming there were none. I remember one night, when I was particularly frustrated over the estrangement from friends, the rift between me and Sharon, and not having a clue where to start on this job search, I came back to my apartment and stayed up really late writing a lyric to a song called “Fail into Your Hands”, which basically admitted to all of my bitter, rebellious feelings toward God and just said, “I know these things aren’t true but this is how I feel right now. If I need to fail completely so that I can understand what it means to need You, then let me find a way to praise You in that failure.” It’s a difficult lyric to look back and read, but I’m glad I wrote it.
11) “Brightblur”, Massivivid (Brightblur, 1999)
Massivivid gave off this cool, industrial vibe, so I always saw this song as looking out after some sort of a nuclear apocalypse, seeing God on the other side and knowing who ultimately had power over a chaotic world. Tough to explain that vision in words, but that’s the basic idea. I think it was Heather who pointed out that “Brightblur” had been a term originally coined by C. S. Lewis (or some similarly theologically-minded Christian author) to describe a being who was holy and who couldn’t be directly looked upon by the human eye. I thought it was pretty cool that such direct expressions of worship could fit into what would normally be a cold, harsh style of music.
12) “Drugstore jesus”, Plumb (candycoatedwaterdrops, 1999)
Why did we spend so much effort trying to get people to follow Christ if all we were promising them was warm, fuzzy feelings? If someone wasn’t a Christian, was going through the kind of hardship that I went through that summer, and received the usual rhetoric from Christians like the ones I had known during my college years, would it make sense, or would they reject it? What sort of message were we peddling, anyway? Questions like this went through my mind as the distance between me and my old fellowship started to grow, which was uneasy, because I lived in a house that was shared with their staff. I remember having an altercation with Elizabeth, one of the staffers there, over my continued involvement with the students – I got a little defensive about it and sarcastically apologized for being a “threat” to the fellowship. Part of me was bitter because Sharon had asked me to ask some of the IV staffers for help with an event that she and the InterFaith staff wanted to put on that fall (they were basically the group charged with coordinating events for the nutruing of the various religious students on campus, but I think IV mistrusted them, as if the existence of such an organization meant that anyone involved had a pluralistic faith), so I was just struggling with a lot of questions about how Christians should present themselves to the world in general.
13) “Speechless”, Steven Curtis Chapman (Speechless, 1999)
This song was like a flowing river of peace that faded in to remind me of my status as a child of God, even if I didn’t feel like it. There have been times in my life when I’ve felt like the fact that I don’t pray constantly makes me a bad Christian. Sometimes it might be more about learning to shut up and listen. Really, when faced with the miracles that God had done and was doing in my life, what could I say? It may have been hard to see it at the time, but God was once again in the process of working a miracle. The transition was painful, and at times I couldn’t get out much more than a whimper when intending to pray. The Holy Spirit knew what I meant and interceded on my behalf. Sometimes it’s OK to just not even have a clue where to begin.
14) “Chase the Sun”, Supertones (Chase the Sun, 1999)
“Follow my lead and chase the sun back to Cali.” You gotta love a song that pays tribute to your own home state. This song is here as an endcap to that summer’s “adventures” – it’s a way of saying that this has all been fun, but now it’s time to go home and get on with the business of growing up. It didn’t mean I couldn’t have fun in the process, but life wasn’t always going to be about traveling to romantic dream destinations and stuff. (Ironic, because for a lot of people who don’t live here, California is a dream destination.)
15) “Beautiful Sun”, Delirious? (Mezzamorphis, 1999)
I finished off this mix with a “sun” theme because August and September have historically been two of my favorite months, and are generally when we get the most sun (July too, I guess) after the June gloom has burned off. As I’ve said before, it was tough to have to spend so much of my time indoors, pounding the proverbial pavement and following dead-end job leads when I just wanted to be out enjoying that beautiful sun. Listening to this song takes me back to two points in time – one particular afternoon in the middle of the job search when I was strangely at peace about it, just enjoying a walk around campus and the surrounding neighborhood and being glad that I finally had some ideas about how to get somewhere with it, and a much earlier afternoon, back during my trip to Michigan, where I just got away from the fights with Sharon and the awkwardness of not quite fitting in with her family, and took a long walk down the sandy beach along Lake Superior. I was farther from home than I had ever been, and it was a perfect place to clear my head and pray about the future. Pretty much all of Mezzamorphis carries strong ties to that lakefront scenery in Michigan when I listen to it now, and I’ll always remember that camp as a beautiful place despite the conflict I experienced there and how frightened I was about the challenges I would face during the months ahead.