These discs are a snapshot of one of the first holiday seasons in a long while that I fully enjoyed, a time where friends and family merged rather than seeming mutually exclusive, and where colder weather didn’t mean being cooped up as it had in years past. Many of these songs would eerily predict changes ahead that I wasn’t aware of – some of them very difficult ones. For now, it was a period of calm, a time where I finally felt settled in my new life as a “grownup”. The year ahead – 2001 – would be a turbulent one, so I look back on this segment of my life as a welcome breather.
In with the New:
Out with the Old:
Out of Eden
Michael W. Smith
It Was Worth a Try:
Listen on Spotify:
This is the Glendale Marketplace, which had opened up a few years prior, and became a favorite hangout area, where I would often go with various college friends to get Baja Fresh, Coldstone Creamery, Starbucks, etc., or maybe see a movie. These were the days before there was a whole lot to do in neighboring Eagle Rock at night; this slowly started to change after we all graduated and moved on.
Where in the world is this?
1) “God Is Not a Secret 2000”, Newsboys feat. Toby Mac (Shine – The Hits, 2000)
It seemed like anyone and everyone was putting out a greatest hits album in 2000, and my recent discovery of Napster meant that I no longer had to buy the albums full of songs I already had on CD just to get the few new ones! As much as I missed the bridge (“And would I wash my hands again?”) from the original John James version of this song, I will say that Toby Mac (in his first of a staggering number of guest appearances on songs that made it to my mix CDs) adds a lot of energy to this newer version with the “Faith ain’t easy to understand!” verse that he shouts at the top of his lungs.
2) “Sugar Coat It”, dc Talk (Intermission: The Greatest Hits, 2000)
I definitely “cheated” here, since Toby Mac is appearing on two songs in a row. What can I say, the songs flowed well musically and thematically. This was the last “original” song that dc Talk put out (I refuse to acknowledge “Let’s Roll”!) as a group, though at the time none of us thought their “hiatus” (initiated so that they could work on their solo projects) would be such a permanent thing, so we assumed that this new song was an indiciation of the group’s future direction. Maybe the break was a good thing; Sharon thought this song had a bit of a boy band sound to it, and that was a popular genre at the time, and I can just imagine dc Talk making a misguided attempt to pull something like that off.
3) “Shaken”, Rachael Lampa (Live for You, 2000)
The sudden transition from “Sugar Coat It” to this song was another one of those “happy accidents” that happened when WinAmp was on random – it was a near-perfect cut that made it sound like I was putting together a dance mix (according to Heather, anyway). As insipid as some of the songs written for this teenage artist may have been at the time, she had a pretty good success rate with the more danceable songs like this one. Even if one could easily mis-hear the chorus as “Chicken, chicken, chicken, chicken.”
4) “God You Are My God”, Delirious? (Glo, 2000)
I loved the monks at the beginning of this song; I thought it was a good mixture of traditional worship colliding with modern worship, a fusing of the musical styles that Sharon and I preferred to hear in church. She wasn’t so fond of it due to the melodic repetition of the song. At the time, I had no knowledge of music theory and I couldn’t tell when a song only had two chords to it or whatever, but looking back now, I can totally see what she was talking about.
5) “Skin”, Collective Soul (Blender, 2000)
Aleda, one of Sharon’s Zeta sisters, had asked me if I’d burn her a CD copy of Vertical Horizon’s Everything You Want, because she had lost her copy. I was working on it and I decided to fill the leftover space with Collective Soul songs, since they were a similarly-minded band that she also liked. I had this fun, riff-heavy song as one of the “bonus tracks”, but Sharon heard it and suggested that I leave it out because it sounded like a “Jesus song” and she was worried about offending a friend who wasn’t a Christian. It sounded pretty ambiguous to me – “Jesus don’t speak English, but I do think I understand the rhyme and the reason of a goody-good gentleman. If I were one, I swear I’d still be tasting your skin.” Lots of “secular” songwriters reference Jesus; it’s not intended to be taken as some sort of evangelism attempt or anything. But she’d had a lot more experience with awkward and hypocritical attempts at force-feeding people the Gospel than I had, and justifiably, she didn’t want her friends thinking such things about her or myself. I don’t remember whether she won that argument or whether I convinced her of the unclear intent of the song, but anyway, I never thought it was an explicit “Jesus song”.
6) “Beautiful”, Luna Halo (Shimmer, 2000)
We had seen Jars of Clay perform at the Riverside County Fair in Perris that fall; it honestly wasn’t one of their best shows and it repeated a lot of their material from the Colliding Rhinos tour earlier that year, but we couldn’t resist another chance to see Jennifer Knapp and a rare chance to catch Luna Halo. They opened with this song, which was unexpected since it’s buried so far back in their album, but it really made me notice the song more. I had always mistook this one for a worship song which says that God is beautiful, when it turns out it’s really about the things a Christian wishes a non-Christian would be able to see when they look at him – i.e. wanting to be a reflection of God’s beauty and therefore draw that person to God.
7) “Without a Sound”, No Apples for Adam (No Apples for Adam, 2000)
Mark’s cousin’s indie band actually began to generate a little bit of buzz, to the point where I saw them as a featured indie spotlighted on Margaret Becker’s website, of all places. I figured they might be the next big thing, so I actually ordered their first (and as far as I know, only) full album online. It was fun, but perhaps a bit too close to Jars of Clay for comfort. This song, with its soaring strings and galloping rhythm, was a very captivating one, though.
8) “Living Is Simple”, Switchfoot (Learning to Breathe, 2000)
Another song where Heather misunderstood the lyrics at first – she thought they were saying “Living is sinful”. I think this song was one of the early cases where I first realized that Switchfoot could write some really brilliant lyrics – the contradictions between things that they say are simple and things which they admit to not understanding due to their counterintuitive nature (“Living is dying” and all that) really grabbed my attention. I probably paid special attention to this one because I couldn’t seem to find a complete version of the song on Napster, so finally hearing the end of it was a bit of a special moment for me when I bought the CD.
9) “Revolution”, Shaded Red (Red Revolution, 1999)
This song had been on the radio about a year prior; I found the mariachi trumpet and the little flamenco-style breakdown in the middle quite amusing, but for whatever reason, didn’t get around to checking out the band until a year later. Turns out that they reminded me of Cake occasionally with the horns (though they weren’t sardonic or off-key), and were a pretty decent alternative rock band overall, except for the extremely scratchy vocals.
10) “Montaña”, Salvador (Salvador, 2000)
It made sense to follow up one Spanish-influenced song with another one that was completely performed in Spanish. Salvador was a fun discovery even if only two or three of their songs really stuck with me; it was nice to hear a Christian band that was fluent in Spanish, since that was a language I had studied in high school. I was attending Glendale Presbyterian Church (just a block over from the marketplace pictured on the CD cover) that year since it was a church I had visited on and off during college, when Angela was going there, and one Sunday they had a bilingual worship team present that performed a rousing version of this song, which thrilled me until I learned that the sermon that day would be bilingual, with everything that was said in English repeated in Spanish by a translator. This is probably insensitive to non-English speakers, but I deplore bilingual sermons because it takes twice as long to get everything said. So I kind of tuned out during most of the sermon that day. However, a few stray comments on the subject of forgiveness did get my creative juices flowing that day, and I occupied the time by scribbling down some lyrics on an offering envelope that would later become the basis for a song called “Indebted, Imprisoned” that is one of my favorite lyrics that I’ve ever written.
11) “Universe”, Rebecca St. James (Transform, 2000)
This song and “One” were the primary examples of RSJ assimilating the teen pop style into her music, and “One” was pretty cheesy, but I rather liked the mysterious, wide-eyed feel of this one, despite the cheesy keyboard hits and weird vocorder stuff. I figured, hey, she came up with a valid worship song in a genre that I normally disliked, so I have to give her a lot of credit for pulling it off.
12) “Spirit Moves”, Out of Eden (No Turning Back, 1999)
I didn’t get into Out of Eden’s third album as much as their first two; I was kind of growing out of the R&B style since, to be honest, I wasn’t hanging out around girls who liked it all the time. This song was still pretty powerful, though – one thing I liked about the genre was when they’d get a slow but snaky groove going and the words would flow really quickly despite the song being a “ballad”. They had come up with one of those choruses that was hard to get all the way through without getting tongue-tied.
13) “Found Me Out”, Parkway (Glad You Made It, 2000)
Silage changed their name and they honestly weren’t as good. This song still caught my ear, thanks again to KDUV during another of our many Fresno visits, but the rest of their album was kind of monotonous to my ears. This song fit in well here because it was a rock/R&B mixture and it talked about not being able to hide secrets from God. Strangely enough, this is the second mix in a row which featured a song that quoted the old hip-hop cliché “Yes, yes, y’all, and you don’t stop”, the first instance being Fanmail’s cover of “I Want It That Way”.
14) “You’re Not There”, Jaci Velasquez (Crystal Clear, 2000)
Add this to the list of songs that say the opposite of what you think they’re going to say from the title (like Steve Taylor’s “Jesus Is for Losers” – though I wouldn’t put Jaci anywhere the same tier of songwriting capability as Steve Taylor). This was a clever bit of co-writing on Jaci’s part, discussing the commonly held notion that God is a distant being “out there” and countering it by saying that God is here, living and breathing within each of us, whether we realize it or not. The song also took more of a rock approach, which I liked – she tried to further diversify her style after this, but it would be several years before I started to like her again. I guess my initial “celebrity crush” on her had finally faded.
15) “Smell the Color 9”, Chris Rice (Smell the Color 9, 2000)
Was I the only one who enjoyed the joke in this song after he got it? I frequently hear it cited as an example of a really stupid lyric, but the fact that you can’t smell colors and 9’s not a color (the punchline which he spells out exactly like this at the end of the song) is exactly the lesson that we keep failing to learn. I never could relate to songs or to testimonies which emphasized a physical feeling of God’s presence – it seemed that mankind spent so much energy on trying to find God with the five senses, when finding such tangible proof would negate the very need for faith. My understanding of faith was changing, so this song was a perfect fit for me – an acknowledgement that there has to be some belief in the unseeable, unhearable, untouchable… or else you’re just plain missing the point.
16) “The Dreaming Tree”, Dave Matthews Band (Before These Crowded Streets, 1998)
A long, meandering and gorgeous song in 7/8 time – a sad one, perhaps, but it seemed like a good track to tack on when redoing this mix and figuring out how to close disc 1. The line, “I don’t ask much, but won’t you speak, please” was one that stood out to me, because whenever Sharon and I were suffering from some sort of a rift in our relationship, it was so difficult just to get her to talk to me. I’m the kind of guy who has to try to resolve problems before the sun goes down; she was able to go for days before feeling ready to let me back in, so you can see how this sort of thing frequently caused a lot of tension between us.
This is a section of the I-5 known as the “Grapevine”, a steep descent cut through a notch in the mountains that leads into the San Joaquin Valley, to Bakersfield and points beyond. Not the prettiest area of California, but I became quite familiar with this stretch of highway during car trips back and forth to visit Sharon’s family in Fresno whenever she had a break from school. On this particular road trip during Thanksgiving weekend, I remember that she was driving a rental car because we had been in an accident the weekend before where someone smashed her hood and one of her front headlights. So we had to deal with the rental car’s crappy tape player instead of her car’s CD player, which I wasn’t too happy about. During the trip back, though, her brother James saved the day with his tape adapter and portable CD player.
Where in the world is this?
1) “Return of the Revolution”, Supertones feat. Gospel Gangstaz (Loud and Clear, 2000)
Hearing the Gospel Gangstaz (you can pretty much guess their musical genre from their name) guest on a rap-heavy Supertones track was highly amusing to me, since I remembered discovering them way back in my early days when I’d try to find Christian music that fit into my friends’ favorite styles of music. I remember picking up an album of theirs as a gift to my friend Michael, who liked a lot of urban music, and I would tell the other kids at school that I had found a Christian group that did gangsta rap. That became the subject of derision more than it made people curious, but the group seemed to be good at what they did, and they did a bang-up job with the Supertones on this song, which was about a generation of lazy Christians that had decided to “put down the Bible and pick up the Playstation”. That style works well when you need to be confrontational.
2) “Disturbed”, Beanbag (freesignal, 1999)
Another Beanbag song that was mostly sung instead of shouted, thereby enabling me to slip it by Sharon without her noticing most of the time. This was a song about fear and paranoia and the whole world being on fire – something that I could appreciate on an artistic level at that point, but which would have hit too close to home a year prior.
3) “I Still Like Larry”, Five Iron Frenzy (All the Hype that Money Can Buy, 2000)
This 30-second song is obviously just here as a joke – it’s the less-funny sequel to “When I Go Out”. I never did figure out why Reese said “Pumpernickel” when the band counted off at the beginning of the song, but none of it is really meant to make sense anyway. It was highly amusing that, a few years later on the Cheese of Nazareth CD, they actually featured like three other songs (likely made up on the spot) that used this exact same melody.
4) “Black + Blue”, Aleixa (Disfigured, 1999)
A slow, creeping industrial track about beating oneself up and being a slave, played to the hilt with creepy whispers and slashing guitars and… a horn section? Man, I loved Aleixa. They were eerie in unintentionally comical ways.
5) “Pinch Me”, Barenaked Ladies (Maroon, 2000)
All I really need to say about this goofy existential lament of a song to make you understand why it got my attention is the following words: “I just made you say underwear.”
6) “Valleys Fill First”, Caedmon’s Call (Long Line of Leavers, 2000)
This was a highly underrated song, but it’s one of my favorites by the band, because all three vocalists get to sing their different parts (it was rare by this point that Cliff and Derek shared the lead during a single song), and because I loved the image of God’s healing rain trickling down into the valleys, the dark places where it was needed most. It resonated with me more, having been through those valleys and having found that there could be a sublime beauty in the midst of the sadness and frustration, like small rays of light peeking through the dark clouds. As we were driving down the Grapevine during our trip to Fresno that Thanksgiving weekend, we were listening to a cassette copy of Long Line of Leavers that I had made for use in my car and was now pretty much the only thing I had with me that we could play in the car that Sharon had rented. Black clouds loomed over us during our descent toward Backersfield, as the narrow corridor carved out of the mountains opened up into the San Joaquin Valley, and the normally drab scene was painted with eerily beautiful colors as this song played.
7) “Shackled”, Vertical Horizon (Everything You Want, 1999)
Out of the many straightforward, radio-friendly songs that Vertical Horizon had to offer (I was less than impressed with their album when I first heard it, but it really grew on me), this seemed like an odd one to pick out. It was darker and more acoustic until some blistering electric guitar solos showed up later, and Keith Kane sang the lead vocal, which is the only track he’s done so on since the group became a full band. The song referred to a relationship that kept a person feeling imprisoned, and a “rapture” of sorts that would set them free despite their vain attempts to postpone their own emancipation and hold the failing relationship together. It sort of foreshadowed what the year 2001 would hold for my relationship with Sharon, but I obviously didn’t know it at the time – for most of that fall, we were reasonably happy.
8) “Breath of Life”, Christine Glass (Love and Poverty, 1999)
A more upbeat burst of aural sunshine to counteract the dark valley that preceded it. As insipid as simple songs about love and healing can sound to me at times, when there’s a true sense of what that “joy in the morning” follows, it rings much truer for me. Here Christine stated, “I have experienced love after death”, and I could relate to that feeling. I loved the way that the song culminated in a false ending followed by a little electric coda where the word “sunshine” echoed and eventually fizzled out.
9) “Said the Sun to the Shine”, Earthsuit (Kaleidoscope Superior, 2000)
I had enjoyed this feel-good, island-culture-meets-outer-space sort of song for many months before it really dawned on me what all of its celestial metaphors were really about. This was a song of commissioning, with God playing the role of a brilliant morning star, radiating light to the rest of the universe, with His children serving as the individual “rays” of light that would reach faraway planets. I liked that theme because it creatively described us as being made in God’s image.
10) “Hibernia”, Michael W. Smith (Freedom, 2000)
This is Michael W. Smith’s last entry on any of my soundtracks for the foreseeable future – I couldn’t get into the Worship albums or the return to inspirational pop music that followed them. Smitty doesn’t even sing on this one because it’s from his instrumental album, but he brought along an orchestra and some wonderful Celtic instrumentation for a musical ode to Ireland that just gives off a sense of joy and paints a mental picture of running barefoot across open, grassy fields. Freedom has aged remarkably well in comparison to pretty much anything else Smitty ever did, even if my favorite of his albums is still Live the Life.
11) “This Road”, Jars of Clay (City on a Hill, 2000)
I loved this track as the closing thought on the City on a Hill album (and in the band’s live setlist that fall); an ode to missionaries who had endured persecution in China, who most of the group had visited that summer. It was a song that faced hardship and offered up an almost liturgical prayer for grace and mercy. I loved how it closed with a musical quote of the hymn “For the Beauty of the Earth”, and as a whole, I think I related to songs like this and “Said the Sun to the Shine” because there was a part of me that, having seen my faith in a new light that year, felt a sense of freedom and joy that I needed an outlet for – some way to be sent forth and help people discover these new, more freeing, concepts about God that I was learning that year. (Though some of them were perhaps a bit suspect, but hey, at least I was eager – I just needed more fellow Christians in my life to keep me grounded, which was difficult because I still hadn’t found myself a home church.)
12) “Castlerigg”, Iona (Open Sky, 2000)
Picking up where the Celtic theme of “Hibernia” left off is this fantasy-laden trilogy with its lively jigs and intricate soloing and its mantra of “We really cannot stay”. That year, it was like winter had no power over me – I had an ability to explore my world that I had never experienced before, and a darker and rainier season no longer stopped me from getting out and enjoying a leisurely hike or a long drive, getting away from the hustle and bustle of my 9-5, Monday-Friday working life, and finding my own little secret places to reconnect with God. There was a sense of inner peace during the final months of the year 2000, not due to anything I had conjured up within myself, but simply due to a joy that God had allowed me to discover, and which I too quickly allowed to be buried during the year that followed. I felt at ease with what God was doing in my life, but there was still a lot of work left for God to do. Where I stood at that moment was beautiful, but it was never meant to be permanent.
13) “Runaway”, The Corrs (Forgiven, Not Forgotten, 1995)
I “rediscovered” The Corrs one autumn evening on Napster during another long day at work; I remembered having seen them give a spirited performance on SNL (which reminded me a tiny bit of Iona), and I was easily swept into their world (again, continuing the Celtic musical theme) when I went back and listened to their very first album (though not so much with their second and third). This was one of those songs that I knew I had heard before, probably back when it was a big radio single, though it hadn’t entirely registered at the time. I immediately knew that it was a prime candidate for a mix CD for Sharon. I had actually made an early draft of such a CD, which I was listening to at home with my Mom in the room, and I was slightly embarassed at the line “Close the door, lay down upon the floor, and by candlelight, make love to me through the night”, for fear of what it might imply the two of us had been up to, but my Mom apparently didn’t pick up on it.
14) “Wait”, Shaded Red (Red Revolution, 1999)
I was really going for an aural flight of fancy at the end of this mix, wasn’t I? This song took on the voice of a lover who had to go away for a season, an obvious allusion to Christ’s death, resurrection, and eventual Second Coming (which I was more comfortable hearing songs about now that I was back to believing that I probably shouldn’t expect it any time soon). I loved how the song sped up to a gallop with the flourishing strings in the middle, like a heroic prince galloping towards the castle as fast as he could to rescue his princess. Part of me was still convinced I could be that prince – Sharon and I had this conversation at one point, probably after I had done something stupid that upset her, about her vision of a prince riding up on a white horse and just having all of the right things to say and do to sweep her off her feet, and I wanted to excel in that area. I figured I could do and say the things that would metaphorically represent riding up on that “white horse” if I really put my mind to it, but really, I think those things that she was looking for weren’t really me, and in trying to step so carefully, I may have lost a bit of myself. We go to great lengths for our romantic dreams sometimes, and while those dreams aren’t a bad thing, sometimes a would-be prince has to be willing to admit that just maybe, his princess is in another castle.
15) “He’s My Son”, Mark Schultz (Mark Schultz, 2000)
This is a highly emotional song about a man trying to come up with the “right” prayer that will convince God to heal his son of a debilitating disease. I didn’t have as much of a direct connection to it, but it ended up on here due to the unusual manner in which I discovered the song. I had read some good things online about Schultz and how he had a shot at being the next Michael W. Smith, and I thought that he might be a good enough songwriter to warrant checking his stuff out, but I kept forgetting until one day I was looking through the Christian section in Best Buy, I noticed his CD, and a sticker on the front said that it featured this song, and I remember thinking, “I haven’t heard that song yet, wonder if it’s any good.” Just a few moments later, I realized that the song playing over the store’s sound system was, in fact, this song. Going back on my own later to listen more carefully, it finally grabbed my attention – it’s a real tear-jerker even if I’ve never been through anything like the situation it describes. I never really got into the rest of the album or most of Schultz’s other songs, though – but he is quite entertaining in concert.
16) “Every Season”, Nichole Nordeman (This Mystery, 2000)
This was my closing thought for the year 2000 – in each season of life, God has instilled a lot of beauty within it, and we have to look carefully to notice it. The personal and spiritual sense of “death” that I had felt earlier that year was there to give way to new life, and it had given way to a springtime of rediscovery, a summer of jubilation and exploration, and an autumn that gave ample time for calm reflection. The weirdest thing about it all is that I was definitely not in the right place in terms of the way I was living my life or the things that I believed about God, and there would be new deaths to die during the following year as God got to work on fixing those things. But this imperfect child still got to experience joy and rest despite his sometimes rebellious ways. When I look back on 2000, that’s what I see, and I still scratch my head over it, because now I know that the live I lived then was far from ideal, but I still cherish the ways in which I became more of an adult that year while simultaneously unearthing a childlike joy and a sense of confidence that been buried by all of the fears and worries that I had allowed to get the best of me before that. “What was frozen through is newly purposed, turning all things green.”