For me, this was the soundtrack to identifying a depression and getting over it. There’s much more giddy joy than angst in this mix, and I think a lot of these songs got chosen, however corny some of them might sound nowadays, because I was excited to finally start feeling like myself again.
In with the New:
No Apples for Adam
Five O’Clock People
Out with the Old:
Pete Stewart (as a solo artist – appears later with Tait)
It Was Worth a Try:
Listen on Spotify:
I still tended to hang around the Oxy campus when I had days off or was spending a weekend with Sharon. I’d wander through the quad on the off-chance that I might run into a friend on the way to lunch. That’s how desperate I was to stay connected with my college friends – I’d pay real cash for college cafeteria food! Anyway, I happened across the Oxy fountain (a landmark which was seen in the films Star Trek III: The Search for Spock and Real Genius), filled with soap by some prankster (probably a fraternity). I took this picture of it, with Herrick Chapel (where I used to attend worship services on campus, and where a few friends have gotten married) in the background.
Where in the world is this?
1) “Friends”, Ghoti Hook (Songs We Didn’t Write, 1998)
Yep, it’s a cover of the olde-but-moldie by Michael W. Smith. A punked-up one, to be exact. And it made for a great in-joke between me, Tim, and a few other friends when we first heard it on the radio. Of particular note were the gleeful key change near the end of the song (mimicking the emotional climax of the original), and the sudden ending at “A lifetime’s not too long”, intentionally leaving out the last line. I stole an idea from an online Christian rock station that played this song back-to-back with the next one, because I thought the transition was amusingly obnoxious.
2) “Whiplash”, Beanbag (freesignal, 1999)
Speaking of obnoxious, this song pretty much defines it. It’s probably one of the more embarrassing entries on any of my post-Y2K soundtracks, but I think it was one of those “If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em” sorts of things where I simply heard the song on Christian rock radio enough times that I started to find its abrasive repetitiveness to be catchy. To Beanbag’s credit, they turned out to have a pretty good album – I enjoyed their unorthodox approach to a hardcore style that I usually couldn’t get into. But this song hasn’t aged well, with its Rage Against the Machine-esque snarling, “Jesus will never let you go!” I used to imitate that part of the song when I described it to Krista, and the mere mention of that one line was enough to crack her up, which made it all the more hilarious for her when she got to hear the actual song as Beanbag opened for the Newsboys on their airdome tour that year. Then I had to try to defend myself when she realized, even more hilariously, that I knew the words to the song and had come to appreciate the band. I’ll admit, they were pretty crappy live.
3) “Rather Be Dead”, The W’s (Trouble with X, 1999)
Switching gears completely, we now turn to a swingy love song that has one of the most amusing titles ever given to any song with a romantic intent. This one made me think of Tim and Krista and their pending marriage – a groom carrying his bride across the threshold into the honeymoon site, them putting down their bags, and having that exhilarating feeling of being alone together at last. I was really excited for them.
4) “Can’t Erase It”, Jars of Clay (If I Left the Zoo, 1999)
“Wish sometimes for any other you.” There was a part of me that wanted an identity change that spring as I tried to fight off the last vestiges of a depression that may have been partially caused by Seasonal Affective Disorder (I’ve never reacted well to a lack of daylight, but funny thing, it happens once a year). No matter how I tried to change my outlook or re-prioritize my life, I still felt like I was in this funk that would stick to me for as long as I still had the same identity, the same brain. I wished I could just be someone else for a while. Obviously that’s not possible – my soul’s the only one I’m ever gonna get and I have to make the best of that. But that’s a unique stamp, a fingerprint, that God put on me, and it would be foolish to try to deny that and just blindly act like the people around me who seemed to be totally happy with life but were probably really just hiding their own pain.
5) “You Take My Rights Away”, Skillet (Invincible, 2000)
What I thought was the catchiest song on the new Skillet album was also the one that gave me the biggest knee-jerk response of, “Hey, that’s not fair!” Skillet’s always had this way with words when it comes to God’s sometimes forceful response to the foolish things that people try to hang on to. I wondered if maybe I was just depressed because I wanted too much too fast. God was putting me through a growing process; I wished that my temporary desires and things I felt entitled to could just be obliterated so that I could go with the flow. Funny thing about the whole “more of You, less of me” mantra – it’s easy to recite, but hard to put into practice.
6) “Collide”, Fono (Goesaroundcomesaround, 1999)
I heard a lot of Fono songs before there was one that stuck with me enough to make me want to check out this no-frills UK rock band. This was the one that finally tipped the scales, and I ended up discovering an extremely addictive CD. Air1 played this song a lot, and they took out the pre-chorus shouts, which kind of ticked me off. Even worse, their website mistakenly credited the song to Skillet, which became amusing a few years later when Skillet release an album called Collide.
7) “Atrocity”, Mukala (Fiction, 1998)
I was probably one of the only people in the universe that took a liking to Mukala’s brand of electronica. I rescued this CD from a bargain bin somewhere and played it quite a bit. It was right around the time change in April, so despite the dark themes of dense songs like this one, I came to associate the music with evening sunlight shining through the trees. Weird how images like that stick with you. I was listening to this one as I caught the bus to Oxy for a Founder’s Day celebration where alumni and current students would gather for free ice cream and snacks on the Quad – too bad they don’t do that any more. I was just having a great evening, feeling a lot more free than I had been during the winter, and I guess that feeling just tied itself to the music I was listening to that day, despite the fact that this particular song is about an apostate leader who usurps the gullibility of his followers.
8) “Epitome”, Massivivid (Brightblur, 1999)
More creepy electronica. I just loved the way that this song slithered and snarled. It got stuck in my head. The sound of it was like a person trying to reach through an electric fence to reach some desired object on the other side. It sounded sinister, but it clearly stated to God, “You’re the epitome of everything I want to be.”
9) “Friend for Life”, Margaret Becker (What Kind of Love, 1999)
What I took to be a big spiritual crisis may have just been a need for company at times. Sometimes all it took was a conversation with a trusted friend, where I could sort out a little bit of my emotional mess and feel like I was understood. Didn’t matter if a lot of answers came out of it – I just needed the sounding board in order to process my baggage. I went to Sharon with that need too many times, and perhaps not to others enough. Sharon eventually suggested that if it was that serious, that I get professional help. It didn’t turn out to run that deep, but I think it was wise of her to admit that she had her limits and didn’t want to see me descend into a serious downward spiral that she knew she couldn’t save me from.
10) “Reach Out to Me”, Michael W. Smith (This Is Your Time, 1999)
A desperate song about feeling disconnected from people and from God, and just wanting to see that hand reaching in, offering a way out. This was a well-timed collaboration between MWS and Dan Haseltine from Jars of Clay. The execution was a little clunky, but I loved the suddenness of how it started and stopped.
11) “Into You”, Jennifer Knapp (Lay It Down, 2000)
This one kind of continues with the theme of knowing and being known, speaking about our fears and the things we do to mask them. God wasn’t fooled by this stuff; He knew me through and through. And it was OK to approach God and work things out “with fear and trembling”, as the Bible had to say on the subject. It’s so simple of an answer that I wouldn’t want to just reduce it to a pithy bumper-sticker saying, but it does seem to apply in any sort of moral or existential crisis like this one – seek to know God better than you do, and things will eventually work themselves out. I had this song, with its sassy electric guitar riffs (which were truly uncharacteristic of the largely acoustic album), stuck in my head as I waited for my ride to pick me up one day in April, after a visit to the doctor’s office that had helped me characterize my mild depression and suggestion that I start taking Paxil to regulate the chemical imbalance. I’m not a big believer in drugs fixing everything, but I do think that God can work through modern medicine, and that did turn out to help set things a little straighter in my mind, and to not be something that I had to keep taking forever and ever, so that’s one tool God used to heal me and I am very grateful for it.
12) “Never Gonna Let You Go”, Raze (Listen: Louder, 1999)
Oh man, this one’s even more embarrassing than “Whiplash”! What can I say, I was enjoying the Listen: Louder compilation because it took more of a band approach to worshipful reflection. I thought it was neat that a dance/pop band like Raze could write a worship song wholly within their style, with a bumpin’ bass line and a rapid-fire (though mercifully brief) rap break. I never got into anything else that this inane group did, and I wasn’t sad when an underage sex scandal split the group up during the following year. (Well, I mean I was sad for the girl. But not for the group.)
13) “So Far”, Luna Halo (Shimmer, 2000)
Now these guys were an awesome new discovery that I made that fall – one of the few times where I bought a band’s CD almost solely based on a singer who I liked from another band (Reality Check). This song kind of railed against people who thought they had found a so-called easy way to Heaven – it was written about various celebrities who posited their out-there religious theories, but for me, it represented the old legalistic beliefs that some church members had peddled to me – “You won’t go to Heaven if you’re this, that, or the other, or if you do X, Y, or Z.” The song rocked in a futuristic sort of way, and Sharon oddly enough compared the guitar intro to the Macarena, and the chorus melody to the Newsboys song “Everyone’s Someone”. (OK, I could kind of see the second one, when you sang one chorus along with the other song.)
14) “Rhododendron”, No Apples for Adam (Ziphywomper EP, 1999)
Mark, who had known my freshman year roommate Ryan since high school, had been a good friend to me during the first two years of college, before he left Oxy and transferred to a school in San Luis Obispo. We had been accountability partners for a year or so, and I considered him to be a bit of a role model there for a while. He was very friendly but could also function just fine as a nomadic hermit when he needed time to clear his head. I didn’t hear much from him after he left Oxy, but every now and then he’d just randomly show up unannounced, to see how his old friends were doing. One night in the spring of 2000, I was walking across Oxy’s campus for some reason I don’t remember, when I randomly encountered Mark, who was looking a few friends who hadn’t yet graduated – he certainly didn’t expect to see me, but we ended up chatting and catching up quite a bit that night. He gave me a CD by an indie band called No Apples for Adam that his cousin Jeremy was in; they were similar to Jars of Clay in some ways, and despite my initial resistance at having a random CD by a totally unknown band gathering dust in my collection, I actually found them to be quite promising. I never saw Mark again after that, though I’ve heard from him once or twice.
15) “Little Country Church”, Pete Stewart (Pete Stewart, 1999)
This was a cover of the 70’s band Love Song, and Tim really liked this version (neither of us had heard the original at the time) due to its affirmation that long-haired people had their place in churches, too. The switch between unfiltered, old-style electric guitar and modern rock distortion was pretty cool, so this was a fun one to crank up in his dorm room.
16) “Who Is This?”, The Insyderz (Skalleluia Too!, 1999)
A sensitive worship ballad that Tim’s college pastor Garrett played a few times when Tim was in the band. The Insyderz’ arrangement was surprisingly low-key and effective. I remember becoming fond of it while Tim and Krista were listening to it as they drove me out to a car dealership to help me with the overwhelming search for my own car. The need for my own transportation came out of a lot of the conflict between me and Sharon – I was depending on her and several other friends for rides and for the ability to maintain a social life and come and go from work as I pleased, and it was particularly exhausting to my relationship with her.
This is All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena. It was one of the churches that I visited during a half-hearted search to find one that I could call home. It was right down the street from where I worked, and Sharon really liked the place, but ultimately, I couldn’t seem to reconcile their use of more traditional forms of music (and occasionally oddly upbeat, jazzy hymn arrangements and such) with almost notoriously liberal theology. it seemed so weird to someone who was used to modern music and more conservative theology. I really respected the people and the welcoming attitude of the church; I just couldn’t get into the services. Beautiful building, though.
Where in the world is this?
1) “Saturday”, The W’s (Trouble with X, 1999)
Being a working man now, I was always excited when hectic work weeks turned into a peaceful weekends, where Sharon and I could go out on dates and generally not have to worry about what time to wake up the next day (she’s kind of the one who taught me to sleep in really late). So this one’s a tribute to Friday and the day of relaxation that followed it – though as the year wore on, Sharon did get busier with labs and other projects and often found that her weekends were quite packed. Oh well, I didn’t have homework any more and I was starting to become a little more autonomous on those Saturdays. Tim noted that the melody to this song was, amusingly, almost exactly the same as their earlier song “Frank”.
2) “Come Like You Promise”, Delirious? (Listen: Louder, 1999)
I was really hooked on Delirious? in those days – they’re one of the few bands who has managed to maintain representation on more than a year’s worth of consecutive soundtracks, thanks to Mezzamorphis getting such heavy play in my Discman in 1999, Glo coming out in late 2000 and proving to be another favorite, and bouncy, fun songs like this showing up apart from their albums to fill the gap. This one was a great rallying cry, and I was quite surprised that Esther, who seemed to be an ever bigger D? fan than I was, didn’t particularly care for it.
3) “Good Stuff”, Newsboys (Love Liberty Disco, 1999)
Probably the closest thing to a modern rock track on that weird Disco album. It was a highlight at their concert that year. More importantly, it was a song that worked for me when held under the scrutiny I was starting to apply to Christian music. Thanks to Sharon’s influence, I was starting to question my previous belief that if a lyric came from a Christian band, it was all good and all true. I was starting to become suspect of songs that just railed against something that didn’t jive with the artist’s politics, or which needlessly slammed other people’s beliefs. The title track from Step Up to the Microphone was actually one example that Sharon cited as a song she’d be embarrassed to play around anyone else. By comparison, this song, which may have been cheesy but had its heart in the right place, stressed that we could give people all of the doctrine and Christian merchandise in the world, but “without love, we are nothing”. In the past, I had been all too good at just spouting off doctrine-laced retorts at “enemies” who didn’t believe what I did. Now I was beginning to learn how to interact with and love those people.
4) “Face I Paint”, Beanbag (freesignal, 1999)
Here’s a much better example of the talent that Beanbag had, which actually had more of a funk base to it despite them being a hard rock band. Here they had an odd song that alternated between breezy verses and hard-egded, shouted choruses, using extremely minimal melody and yet containing massive hook value. No one else seemed to get them, but I found their method incredibly effective. This song stayed with me because it admitted how easily Christians can fall victim to petty lusts, all the way putting on a face to hide the fact that there’s anything wrong with them. I related; any honest Christian would.
5) “I’m Alright”, Jars of Clay (If I Left the Zoo, 1999)
This one kind of continued the theme of “pretending to be OK” established by the previous song. It was one of those songs that Heather had told me she had a tough time getting used to on the new Jars album, because the choir just seemed to pop out of nowhere and it felt incongruous to her. I kind of thought that was the point – everybody sounding all celebrative, like everything was OK, but the lyrics really admitted that it wasn’t OK at all. The happy mood was really meant as irony – I don’t think a lot of Jars fans picked that up. Christian radio certainly wouldn’t have played the song so much if they had realized. Anyway, I managed to successfully surprise Sharon that year by getting tickets to a Jars of Clay concert in Visalia (with Burlap to Cashmere as the opening act, score!), which I directed her to as part of a detour during a Spring Break trip to Fresno, and we even got her sister Michelle to meet up with us. This song was a highlight of that set, leading to a fun extended jam by Steve Mason. We actually got to take pictures with everyone in the band but Steve, during a chance meeting with them outside the Fox Theatre after the show. Michelle used to have them on her website; I asked her to take them down after Sharon and I broke up the following year, but now I kind of wish I had ’em.
6) “Same Old Line”, Five O’Clock People (The Nothing Venture, 1999)
Heather stumbled across a wonderful, highly underrated acoustic band by complete mistake when she ordered this CD from a catalogue, thinking that I had recommended them to her. (She must have confused them with Five Iron Frenzy.) As an English major, she discovered a literate, careful, and thoughtful band that was right up her alley. I borrowed this CD from her, and it took a few tries to get used to the mostly slow pace of it, but this one probably helped pave the way for a lot of other folk bands and solo artists who I was able to appreciate in the coming years. This mandolin-laden, almost medieval-sounding song caught my attention because it was about the auto-pilot response “I’m fine” that we so often give to people who ask “How are you?” without even really thinking about it – both the question and the thoughtless answer, which avoid any real connection in terms of talking about how someone’s life is really going, have been a major pet peeve of mine for quite some time. I’m just the type of go who will admit, you know what, it’s not fine and my life kind of sucks right now. But then, sometimes I’ll catch myself dodging the question altogether due to a perceived lack of time, or due to assuming the other person doesn’t really care to have their question answered with the truth.
7) “Let My Love Open the Door”, Audio Adrenaline (Underdog, 1999)
A fun, energetic cover of a rather simplistic song by Pete Townshend. Audio A may have misinterpreted the intent of the song, but hey, it rocks, and I have to give the band all the credit for that, since I went back and listened to the original later on and I was rather disappointed by how low-key it seemed by comparison.
8) “Hang on to You”, Luna Halo (Shimmer, 2000)
This was the song that convinced me that I had to go out and get Luna Halo’s CD – the delicious overlapping melodies in its coda were like joyful rays of sunlight breaking through into the dark forest I was wandering through that spring (another one of those weird mental pictures I got when listening to a song). Ironically, it’s the one song on their album that they didn’t like – Delirious? wrote this one, and I ended up loving this version even more than the D? version which was released later that year.
9) “Romance Me”, Chasing Furies (With Abandon, 1999)
The final appearance of the legendary Chasing Furies on any of my soundtracks – I found out later that year (from members of Luna Halo at a Jars concert, actually) that the band was defunct. Joshua, the lone male in the band, sang lead on this haunting song (what song of theirs wasn’t haunting?), which gave me visions of a poor couple, just married, with nothing to their names but a few boxes and an unfurnished apartment, and they danced around those empty rooms in each other’s arms, content to have given it all away in order to be together.
10) “With the Angels”, Michelle Tumes (Center of My Universe, 2000)
I always tried to play up that “angels” theme in my relationship with Sharon (which went way back to that All Star United song that I declared was “her song” way back when we were just friends), even going so far as to buy her a ceramic figurine of an angel playing the flute (which was her instrument of choice) at a knick-knack shop at the soon-to-be-defunct Pasadena Mall, one of many gestures that I hoped would help rekindle our troubled relationship. (It didn’t work so well, the flute broke off and I found out it wasn’t returnable.) I naturally gravitated toward this song on Michelle Tumes’ album, since it was about angels and the mysterious protection they provided. When depressed, I could sometimes be a paranoid person, always wondering if I’d die in some freak accident or get attacked if I waited at the wrong bus stop at night. It’s not bad to be prudent regarding matters of personal safety, but I clearly didn’t trust that God had the resources and the desire to go to great lengths to protect me if in fact He had a plan for the rest of my life. This song brought a little comfort during those times of doubt.
11) “Hide My Soul”, Avalon (In a Different Light, 1999)
“Will the sun ever shine on me again?” It felt good to hear the admission of such a question in a song by an otherwise saccharinely happy CCM group. Some of them could admit being down from being time to time, but it was that prolonged period of being bummed out, when you just weren’t sure if you’d ever feel any differently, to the point where you almost forgot what anything else felt like, that they didn’t seem to want to address. But here, it was being addressed. Simple conclusion, perhaps – “I will hide my soul in Jesus” – OK, great, but what does that really mean? Still, I liked the little reminders that I wasn’t some sort of defective Christian who was the only one to deal with such prolonged, nagging doubts. God had a plan to care for me despite all of that.
12) “High”, Mukala (Fiction, 1998)
A mellow song (though still driven by a funky breakbeat – I loved how they did stuff like that) song about being high above the world and just getting a peaceful place to think. In college, those “high above the world” places were my different prayer spots, such as the tree behind the Alumni House, or Mt. Fiji. Being a working adult, living in a small house with my family, and having no car, I had no such escape, except for the rare days when I could put on my Discman and take a walk in the middle of the day because there was a lull in the things I had to do at work. Getting a car at the end of April would help facilitate my ability to find some of those places where it was easier for my mind to “get away” and just pray about whatever was bugging me. In claustrophobic places, I was too worried to focus.
13) “Diamond in the Rough”, Jennifer Knapp feat. Chris Thile (Lay It Down, 2000)
This cover of a Shawn Colvin song quickly became a favorite for me and Sharon. I loved how it spoke of the innocence felt as a “little girl”, and the determination that this proverbial jewel was “mine all along, and I’m gonna find it”. I’ve struggled with that question a lot as an adult – is the innocence of youth just gone forever once you become an adult and go through one of those periods where you have to fight just to keep focus on your purpose for living, and you start to apply far more pragmatic principles to your everyday life? Or is there a way to have it back? My personal creed for so long had been “faith like a child”, put into words so beautifully by a classic Jars of Clay song. Could I start living that out again, or had I hit the point of no return? Could that diamond be excavated and admired again in all of its brilliance? Despite my murky moods in those days, I had to believe that there was still a way back to the optimism and unshaken faith that I once knew. (As a side note, it’s interesting that Chris Thile from Nickel Creek played the mandolin that I adored so much on this song, and I wouldn’t even know who he was or that he was the one playing it until over a year later.)
14) “Beyond These Shores (live)”, Iona feat. the All Souls Orchestra (Woven Cord, 1999)
I had actually thought that this song was rather boring as the finale to the Iona album which was named after it, despite the rest of the album being gorgeous. This live version totally gave me a new appreciation for the song, thanks to Frank Van Essen’s ethereal violin playing. One Saturday morning, after a long discussion with Sharon the night before, dealing my depression that kind of went nowhere, and some mental going-around-in-circles in my journal as I wrestled with it, I decided to listen to Iona while taking a walk around the Oxy campus (which is always fairly quiet on Saturday mornings). I sat in the Greek Bowl, where I had officially graduated less than a year prior, and this final song came on as I collected my thoughts, and I wrote down a few lines from it in my journal, since they seemed to offer clarity. It could be that I was on that little boat, all alone, traveling into a dark ocean that could well have swallowed me in its murky depths. Or I might find a new world on the other side. Did I trust God despite the outcome? The song made no promise of either outcome, other than that God would follow the child He loved to either place. Knowing that, was there reason to fear the outcome? Was I stuck on dry land, unwilling to move forward due to this paralyzing fear of the unknown? I had to be brave, plunge forward, face the questions like a grown man who had real faith.
15) “With Arms Wide Open”, Creed (Human Clay, 1999)
When I first heard this song on my brother’s copy of the CD, before it became a ridiculously overplayed hit single, I actually misinterpreted it as a song about being welcomed into Heaven and discovering what God was really like (it’s really about welcoming a child into the world and hoping to raise that child with better ideals than we ourselves were raised with). Regardless of the interpretation, it really struck a chord with me, which is why I gave it the concluding slot here. The act of setting off into a frightening unknown portrayed in “Beyond These Shores” – a sacrifice, a death of sorts – led into a sense of rebirth in this song. Whether it was a spiritual rebirth, the resurrection of the soul in the afterlife when the faithful finally get to see that which they have had to cling to their faith in for so long, or whether it’s the rediscovery of life granted to a parent as a child is born, it was an inspiring image to me. Something changed during that April – both physically (due to the medication) and mentally, God was kind of cleaning me out and leading me to a more confident, trusting version of myself, someone who was happy to be an adult and to face the changes and challenges. It had taken almost a year and there was still a lot of fear to overcome, as the summer approached and I dealt with separation anxiety, due to a research position Sharon had taken in Los Alamos that would leave me without the person who meant the most to me for several months (and I already knew this was gonna be hard after the separation I had chosen to undergo when I worked at CBS the previous summer). Now I knew I could go into this bravely and not suffer a total nervous breakdown as a result of it. I was afraid still, but the fear was no longer stopping me from pushing forward. That’s what this song represents to me, in a roundabout way.