If you could graph my emotions during the spring of 2001, it would be a slowly declining spoke with a sudden spike in the middle of March. That spike represents my first trip to Hawaii, a place that would come to have great significance in my life even if I had no way of knowing it at the time. At this point, I desperately wanted a way to “rekindle” the fire that was rapidly dying out in my relationship with Sharon, and once the opportunity to visit a friend of hers in Hawaii came up, I held out a lot of hope that our time there together would revive our happiness.
In with the New:
Nicole C. Mullen
It Was Worth a Try:
Lee Ann Womack
Listen on Spotify:
This is Maunawili Falls, on the windward side of Oahu, Hawaii. During our vacation while she was on Spring Break, Sharon and I hiked up an extremely muddy trail with her high school friend Millie (who lived there and who we were visiting on our first trip to Hawaii in March 2001), to reach this beautiful secluded location with crazy tourists and locals climbing up the muddy slopes nearby and diving into the pool below. It’s become one of my favorite hikes in Hawaii – I’ve been back a few times since then.
Where in the world is this?
1) “Elevation”, U2 (All that You Can’t Leave Behind, 2000)
Local radios tation Star 98.7 did an all-U2 weekend during the few days when I was moving into my new apartment at the end of February. It rained cats and dogs for the entire weekend, which really made the move difficult, but it was one of the rare times when I actually kept the radio on for more than a few minutes at a time during all of the driving back and forth, rather than putting on a CD. That was when I knew for sure that I was a confirmed U2 fan and not just a curious onlooker who liked a few of their songs. This song opened my March/April mix as a fun, celebrative way of saying that I had finally caught up and learned to appreciate a band that had existed for as long as I had been alive. It was their hit single at the time, I think.
2) “Let’s Get Crazy”, All Star United (Let’s Get Crazy EP, 2000)
All Star United went indie that year, and they put out an EP led by this song which was mostly just there to be harmless fun. I’m not even sure what it means to “get crazy” as a response to being all “beat up and blue”, but whatever it meant, I was down with it!
3) “Will Not Fade”, Audio Adrenaline (Hit Parade, 2001)
What was interesting about this new song from Audio A’s first greatest hits album (other than the fact that it rocked; one of the last songs of theirs that I’d find myself saying this about) was that its intro guitar riff came solely from the left speaker. Sharon had her Mac (the infernal G4 toaster) hooked up to her stereo, which had a screwy connection to the left speaker, so when I played this mp3 on it, you couldn’t hear the very beginning of the song until the drums and the “Na na” came in. We took it to a Sony repair shop in Burbank to get it repaired at one point, and while standing in line, I happened to notice none other than Gary Coleman behind us, holding a broken laptop and looking mad as hell. You could tell that the people who worked there wanted to laugh at his comical rant about how it kept crashing on him, or maybe crack, “What’chu talkin’ ’bout, Willis?”, but no one dared, due to his reputation for having a really bad temper.
4) “Wilderness”, Supertones (Loud and Clear, 2000)
Heather and I saw the Supertones live, at a church in Yorba Linda, in early March. Switchfoot and Relient K were the opening bands – both of them outshined the Supertones and went on to become two of my favorite bands. Heather kind of thought that all of the Supertones’ songs sounded alike, though to be fair, she only knew the song “Little Man” going into it. Though loud and generally incomprehensible, I enjoyed their set, particularly this song, which struck me that evening due to its transition from loud, frustrated questioning and doubting to a quiet coda of submission and praise. Having “worship” songs in the middle of your set where all of the hands in the audience suddenly reach toward Heaven is a bit of a cliché, but I liked that this song, which admitted deeply troubling doubts, was still recognized by the band’s fans as having an appropriately worshipful moment at the end.
5) “Viva Satellite”, Skypark (Over Blue City, 2000)
When Sharon and I made our trip to Kauai while visiting Hawaii, we discovered that they had The Effect Radio, which she had previously discovered in New Mexico the summer before. So we listened to it wherever we could get the signal as we drove around, even though the edgy rock and rap was much more my thing than hers. One of a few edgy, quirky songs that they were playing a lot was this song, by a band that Heather had previously tried to get me into, but outside of this one track, it didn’t really take.
6) “X-Ray”, John Reuben (Are We There Yet?, 2000)
Another track that I came to appreciate more after hearing it on the radio during our drives around Kauai (it came on as were were coming back from Spouting Horn, if I remember correctly). It was a very dark, slow rap song with a rock edge to its chorus, and when Sharon caught me singing/speaking along with it, she gave me this weird glance and was like “Who is this?” I sure had a knack for coming up with artists that I enjoyed and she didn’t during that final year of our relationship.
7) “Search Me”, Katy Hudson (Katy Hudson, 2001)
A highlight from Katy Hudson’s opening set for Phil Joel. (Yes, that Katy Hudson, better known as Katy Perry.) I was quite surprised when I downloaded some of her album tracks a year later and discovered that they were significantly more programmed and layered than her stripped-down acoustic performance had been. The girl had a hell of a voice, which she overused a bit, but on this song it was just right. I was doing a lot of soul-searching at the time, feeling like I had become a bit of a slothful person, so this track kind of led off a series of “looking inward and examining your sin”-type songs that ended up on this disc.
8) “Reborn”, Rebecca St. James (Transform, 2000)
For a straight-up techno-pop song, I was quite surprised at how popular this one got. I should have hated the excessive looping and digitizing of Rebecca’s voice, but I rather enjoyed all of the little sonic details in this one, and the melody was killer.
9) “At Least I Tried”, Polarboy (4008, 2000)
A slightly wacky folk/rock song about evangelism, complete with a mandolin. I didn’t much like the idea of evangelism in those days; I was very much “live and let live” when it came to matters of faith, because I had seen people offended by rather pushy attempts on the part of fellow Christians to increase their numbers. This song kind of slapped me in the face and basically said, “It’s still better to have tried, even if you totally failed.” I think it’s good to have a loving approach to these things instead of a militant agenda, but still, at some point you have to speak up and say what you believe to be the truth, and the Gospel is going to offend some people and they’re going to want to punch your teeth out. I still struggle with that one, truth be told.
10) “Love Is the Movement”, Switchfoot (Learning to Breathe, 2000)
I got attached to this song because of its depicting of cold, unattached people going about their day in the impersonal city of L.A., a place I knew all too well. College, which I sort of saw as an oasis in the middle of that cold city, was the pinnacle of “community life” for me, and I found the outside world to be so massive and difficult to navigate, because I’ve always had an inherent distrust of strangers. I’m one of those people who tends to sniff out rather quickly whether a person I’m interacting with for the first time will be someone that I’ll ever see again (or want to) and therefore will be worth taking the time to really talk to. Maybe in my own way, by quickly summing certain people up as strangers who will never be anything else, I was kind of contributing to that impersonal coldness.
11) “Granny’s Angel”, Nicole C. Mullen (Nicole C. Mullen, 2000)
I have to credit Dawningstar for getting me into an artist whose music totally wasn’t my style. Nicole mixed a girly R&B attitude with a splashing of acoustic, folk-type stuff, and I was intrigued by the combination. I had heard “Redeemer” before, but I wasn’t really impressed, but this song quite amused me. It talked about people who basically live on the seat of their pants and figure someone else’s prayers will keep them safe, and it basically says that you can’t live on granny’s angel forever. The theology there is somewhat spotty – it’s not like God stops protecting you just because your fervent grandmother passes away. But there was a part of me that knew what it was like to live on borrowed faith due to my upbringing – just kind of coasting along, believing whatever my Mom said, not really investing my own energy. My eyes had been opened by the difficult process of having to make my faith my own during college, so I was thankful to have a song that sort of dealt with that concept.
12) “The Lust, the Flesh, the Eyes, and the Pride of Life”, Smalltown Poets (Third Verse, 2000)
This song, a 77’s cover, continued the “examining my own sin” theme. It’s easy to write songs which condemn immorality and promise to do better. It takes a little more guts to really pen a lyric that fully admits, “You know what? Sin feels good most of the time, and it’s easier to just be lazy and undisciplined and do whatever feels best at the time.” I had pretty much slipped into “I don’t care” mode regarding a lot of my personal choices by mid-2001. I think the fact that I chose songs like this to put on this mix indicated that part of me was struggling with my own sloth, but didn’t want to full admit it.
13) “Black Dress”, The Normals (Coming to Life, 2000)
The Normals really impressed me when they opened for Caedmon’s Call at Biola in March – they sounded a lot tighter and more alive in person than they did on their album. That’s when I really became a fan, which kind of paved the way for things to come, since Andy Osenga eventually subbed in for Derek Webb as a member of Caedmon’s Call. This was my immediate favorite song by them (it still is) – another track that tackles lust head-on, this time examining temptation and the ways the we act like it just snuck up on us and we were totally helpless, when in reality we knew exactly what we were doing when we left the invitation open for the hot girl with the skimpy black dress to come up the stairs to the bedroom. I wasn’t sleeping around, but there was a part of me that definitely looked at the world with a more lustful eye than I previously had. It was mostly an inward thing that nobody would have noticed and that I didn’t act on, but when I realized it, part of me felt dirty, and part of me just didn’t care any more because I figured I was more “liberated” now.
14) “Investigate”, Delirious? (Glo, 2000)
An impassioned plea set to a wonderfully woven guitar melody and drawn out into a thrilling extended jam session – this one described those fleeting moments where I realized how sick of myself I had become and asked God to just reach in and take it all, and I prayed I’d be able to sit still and allow that change to happen before having a change of heart and just deciding to go my own way again. I loved the sudden ending, when the guitars fizzled out and Martin Smith mumbled that first line one more time – “Investigate my life, and make me clean.”
15) “The Space Between”, Dave Matthews Band (Everyday, 2001)
The sudden ending of the Delirious? song led nicely into this reflective DMB ballad – it turned out to be one of their biggest hits and I think it deserved it, despite being much more straightforward than what fans expected. The music was like beautiful drops of rain falling into a dry desert, replenishing life in a relationship that had become dried out and distant. This was what I wanted for myself and for Sharon, especially during the Hawaii trip – I kind of expected it to be “rekindling” time for us, because we had been having a lot of fights about stupid stuff and it made it difficult to feel like we could be close instead of being adversaries who were fighting over control of each other.
16) “Jaded”, LaRue (Transparent, 2001)
This song really foreshadowed the breakup that was to come more than any other song that year. It was an admission that two people just plain didn’t belong together, and though they had made the effort to soldier on for a while, their passion had grown jaded. Maybe instead of breaking up out of bitterness, this ending could be seen as God bringing them into a new phase in their lives, and they could wish each other the best and just have that weight lifted from their shoulders. Part of me thought that this was a freedom I was starting to want – but I banished that thought as soon as it entered my mind, because darn it, I was still in love. I was determined to have found “the one” on the first try, and I had said pretty much at the outset of our relationship that I wanted to marry her, and she had responded at the time by saying the same, and I was determined not to back down on that. I really gave her no easy way out, because of how insistent I was that the future was already set, due to the way we felt about each other at the very beginning. Little did I know that a lot of people feel that way the first time they’re in a serious relationship – it’s when you can sustain it through a lot of ups and downs over a few years that you know you’ve got something special. By this point in the relationship, we were just plain running out of patience with each other. I don’t know that a breakup at this point would have been easier – I think it might have been best to do what I did and give the relationship one last shot at rekindling. But it still probably would have been healthier to end it sooner than we did.
Sharon and I wanted to visit one of the other islands during our first trip to Hawaii, so we decided on Kauai, which turned out to be an unbelievably green and beautiful place. This is a view of Kalalau Valley, a well-known lookout point along the Na’pali Coast, at the end of the road up past Waimea Canyon into Koke’e State Park. We saw plenty of other wondrous views on this trip, and had a lot of fun, but kind of wore ourselves out driving from one end of the island to the other as quickly as possible during our short three days there. As a result, it wasn’t really the relaxed, romance-rekindling trip I had been hoping for. I always promised myself that if I ever went back to Kauai, I would take more time to fully appreciate and fall in love with the island.
Where in the world is this?
1) “Back to Me”, Nine Days (The Madding Crowd, 2000)
Hey look, it’s another catchy rock song with a mandolin! This one was almost obnoxious with its scratchy, insistent chorus – “If you would just come back to me, I would be so GOOD!” – but I related to the kinds of promises that were being made here. I’d have promised just about anything at that point if I thought I could convince Sharon to let things be like they had been during those idyllic days at the beginning of our relationship.
2) “Defender”, The Echoing Green (Supernova, 2000)
A song for those times when you’re so stressed that it begins to translate to physical aches and worries about one’s own health. Or a song to help provide a motivational push when you’re out on a hike and your back is aching from the uphill climb because you have a desk job and spend most of your life sitting in a chair. Whatever works.
3) “One Step Closer”, Linkin Park (Hybrid Theory, 2000)
I first got into Linkin Park due to a recommendation from my brother, who was amused by the fact that they had a song on the radio which screamed “Shut up when I’m talking to you!” This one might have just been silly, unbridled teen angst. But on first listen, it sounded like an apt description of a stressed-out person who was genuinely worried that he might be on the brink of insanity. The cries of “shut up” weren’t so much out of a desire for the other person to just go away, but rather a plea for that person to stop offering pat answers and really listen to a friend in dire need.
4) “Army of Me”, Beanbag (welladjusted, 2001)
An atonal, clanging cover of a Björk song that somehow manages to make it creepier than it already was. This would be the insensitive response to the pleas of “One Step Closer” – “Just buck up and take it on the chin, and you’ll be fine. You don’t need my help, so stop bugging me with your annoying insecurities.”
5) “Peer”, Chevelle (Point #1, 1999)
I was actually making a conscious effort to put all of the really heavy rock songs back-to-back for ease of skipping them when I had Sharon in the car and I was listening to one of my mixtapes, so that’s why Linkin Park, Beanbag, and Chevelle are all packed into one dense unit here. This song’s actually a rather slow, murky, and cryptic ballad, and my best guess as to its meaning would be that it has something to do with peer pressure from the music industry to only write songs that are happy and easy to understand. It’s a commentary on how one’s beliefs become trivialized when you’re forced to do nothing thought-provoking, but instead just “Place your stamp here, send out love letters”.
6) “Erasers on Pencils”, Ceili Rain (Erasers on Pencils, 2000)
Wow, talk about aural whiplash – suddenly I went from heavy, brooding hard rock to an upbeat, accordion-driven, Latin-influenced party track by a Celtic rock band. This song was immensely amusing to me, though – a fun account of what it’s like to make really dumb, trivial mistakes, and kick yourself over those “I hate when this happens!” moments. As the song put it, “That’s what erasers on pencils are for.” Heather liked to take the title of this song and modify it to some other variant of “That’s what (X’s) on (Y’s) are for” – for example, when visiting my apartment in Burbank and watching me deal with the tight situation on a residential street packed with apartment buildings and insufficient parking spaces that forced me to eventually become a parallel parking expert, I’d just barely nudge up against the car behind me and she’d remark, “That’s what bumpers on cars are for.”
7) “Breathless”, The Corrs (In Blue, 2000)
This song always makes me think of Kauai. It was a big radio single at the time, so we heard it a lot while driving around during those three days, including right before lunch on the last day, when I was feeling a little blue over having to leave the beautiful island so soon. They also performed it on some late night show on the last night of our trip, when I was so exhausted from the frantic driving around and trying to see absolutely everything that I was falling asleep while Sharon watched TV at the bed & breakfast we were staying at, with the ending of the song only barely registering in my mind as I woke up, disoriented. The song was kind of a running joke between the two of us, because the first time she heard it, she honestly thought they were singing “Go on, go on, leave me pregnant“. Now that’s just got all kinds of embarrassing implications. The Corrs might have veered shamefully far from their Celtic pop origins, but they were by no means that trashy.
8) “Drive”, Incubus (Make Yourself, 1999)
InterVarsity had come up with a fairly intriguing outreach ministry after I graduated that I had wished they’d thought of while I had still been part of the fellowship. It was called “Breakaway”, and it involved a meeting in Samuelson Pavilion (a common gathering for meals, coffee, and late night snacks) where a student-led band would perform renditions of popular radio hits and one of the staff would give a “talk” on Christian themes found in different popular movies. Sometimes the analogies and song topics were right on; sometimes they were obvious stretches being made just to reference something from pop culture and hold attention. It was a good idea, even if it wasn’t always executed flawlessly. My friend Jeff sometimes sang lead in the band; they’d do songs with obvious spiritual implications such as U2’s “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For”, and ones that were much more open to interpretation such as Coldplay’s “Yellow” or this song, which introduced me to Incubus since I had somehow missed it in the radio before then. The song’s actually about taking control of one’s own life and not letting other people use fear to manipulate you, and in some ways that’s a Christian principle, and in some ways it goes against the usual Christian sub-culture analogy of letting God take the steering wheel. In any event, I’ll always think of Jeff and the Breakaway band when I hear this one.
9) “Loss for Words”, Tait (Extreme Days Soundtrack, 2001)
Definitely a song I could relate to at a time in my life when it felt like I was majorly botching things with my big mouth every time Sharon and I got together to try and spend “couple time”. In those days I didn’t really know how to pick my battles, so I’d start in on some unresolved conflict that was still bothering me, and I’d intend for it to just be calm, fair discussion, and it would turn into both of us hardening up and building walls, and eventually she just wouldn’t want to talk to me at all. So often I’d find myself groveling later on, when I’d realized how much my tendency to keep on talking had hurt things. We had a fight over something fairly major at the end of April, and I honestly don’t even remember what it was now, but it hurt her pretty bad, and she wanted to just end the conversation and watch a movie or do something else to distract her from how upset she was. But I wouldn’t let it go, so it escalated to the point where she just ran out of the room crying, and I actually made a failed attempt to physically prevent her from leaving. She didn’t want to talk to me for days after that. I was almost sure that this fight would be the final nail in our coffin – surprisingly, she didn’t end it there when we finally talked again in early May. She was about to graduate from Oxy and go away for three weeks on an archaeology trip to Greece, and there was just a lot going on, and she probably didn’t want to cause any more upheaval in her life at that point, but she did let me know when we were on speaking terms again that she had considered ending it.
10) “Nothing to Say”, Andrew Peterson (Carried Along, 2000)
If you’re at a loss for words, then you have nothing to say, I guess. But the two songs are actually here for unrelated reasons. I had seen Andrew Peterson (as well as Derek Webb) open for a Caedmon’s Call back in 1998, and I was fairly impressed with Andrew’s set. When I finally got around to checking out his debut album, I was blown away, and I wondered what rock I had been hiding under to not have discovered it earlier. The way he described a trip to the Grand Canyon with his wife and the sense of awe and wonder at God’s creation that the scenery gave him were exactly how I felt when Sharon and I drove up to Waimea Canyon (which is known as “The Grand Canyon of the Pacific”) and the Kalalau Valley Lookout during out visit to Kauai. This song made an instant Andrew Peterson fan of me.
11) “I Hope You Dance”, Lee Ann Womack feat. Sons of the Desert (I Hope You Dance, 2000)
The main purpose behind our Spring Break trip to Hawaii in March was to Millie, who Sharon hadn’t seen since shortly after high school, and who had married a guy in the army (who was actually away in Kuwait when we visited) and now lived in the military barracks outside of Wahiawa. Millie was a fan of country music (I heard way more Deana Carter, Mindy McCready, and Martina McBride than I’d ever care to while being shuttled around Oahu in her Jeep), and she had made herself a few mix CDs of songs that she could play when she had her 1-year-old son Royce in the truck. One of them was this song about a young child, whose mother hoped that he or she would never lose their sense of wonder and faith during the eventual transition into adulthood. I had never heard it before, and I was quite impressed by the lyrics – country artists often express faith, but this one summed it up more eloquently than most. We heard it again on the radio on Kauai later that week, so now, I can’t hear the song without getting a mental picture of little Royce standing on the beach and marvelling at the sight of a huge ocean stretching in all directions from the place he calls home. (I guess he’d be about nine or ten by now.)
12) “1*0*1”, Tree63 (Tree63, 2000)
Interesting way to abbreviate the phrase “One and Only One” and look all Internet-savvy in the process… or something. This one was basically a mix of 80’s U2 (the big, anthemic, spiritual chorus) and 90’s U2 (the more electronically-processed guitars and computerized sounds), but it was a pretty freakin’ cool worship song.
13) “Everything”, Lifehouse (No Name Face, 2000)
I’d have to call this song one of the best album closers of all time. Just as “Hanging by a Moment” opened Lifehouse’s album with a relentless, fervent declaration of love, this one closed it with an ethereal, romantic crescendo. It so beautifully reflected the stillness of being alone in a picturesque place, and just realizing one’s own smallness and fragility in the presence of God. I was becoming increasingly disaffected with “worship” in the traditional sense, and of course there were multiple ways of interpreting this song, but I certainly felt tears welling up when I heard the lines, “How can I stand here with you and not be moved by you? Could you tell me how could it be any better than this?” Those words just exemplified the elusive sense of peace that I longed for amidst that year’s chaos.
14) “Songs of Ascent, Pt. 1”, Iona (Open Sky, 2000)
Sharon convinced me to attend the graduating class’s Baccalaureate with her that year, which was a bit of an odd duck at Oxy because they took a historically Christian ceremony and adapted it to fit multiple religious traditions. As “liberated” as I had become during our relationship, I still bristled at that a bit – I could respect people wanting to have ceremonies reflecting their own beliefs, but to have them all together and to have someone try to sum it all up with an “Interfaith Prayer”? A little too weird. Still, she had mentioned that she was on the Interfaith committee and they were trying to come up with a song related to the ceremony’s “light” theme, so I suggested this beautiful song of praise (which could be taken non-specifically if one was inclined to), which had always caused something to well up within me when the long, yearning instrumental finally blossomed into Joanne’s poetic verses – “You are the flowering bough of creation; from You cascades music like a million stars.” Sharon liked it, but the song they eventually went with was an instrumental piece by Manheim Steamroller, something related to stars. It became a fitting homage, because our friend Chris, the student who had suggested it, was unable to attend his own Baccalaureate and graduation due to his appendix bursting the night before. (He turned out fine after an operation; it’s just that the timing sucked.)
15) “Magic Wand”, Chris Rice (Smell the Color 9, 2000)
If we could have everything we want at our fingertips – if God would decide to just wave a wand and instantly fix all of our problems – we’d become extremely weak, selfish, anemic people. The struggles that we learn lessons from are valuable, as much as we kick and scream when we’re going through the process. I certainly didn’t see the point of all of the useless bickering as my relationship with Sharon floundered and eventually fizzled out that year, but it turned out to be one of life’s greatest lessons. I don’t really relish the annoying problems of the moment that I deal with here and now almost a decade later, either, but eventually I’m sure I’ll look back with a fond sense of perspective. I was rather amused by Chris’s use of the word “prestidigitator” in this song.
16) “Modern Day Moses”, Kendall Payne (Jordan’s Sister, 1999)
How does God fix our problems, then, if the instantaneous magic wand approach doesn’t really help us? Well, I think God often uses humans to change humans. As much as I shake my head in disdain over how I was starting to veer toward a more theologically vague, “Interfaith” approach to my faith in those days, and away from what was really the core of Christianity (and I am thankful that I didn’t continue on that path), I will say that one thing I learned which stayed with me was to be less superstitious in my ideas of how God worked and how God chose to show love for people. The examples that Kendall gives in this song – Moses, Martin Luther King, Jr., Mother Theresa – they all fought on behalf of those who suffered, they stood up and demanded, “Let my people go”. God could have just zapped their oppressors dead, but He chose instead to raise up individuals who made a difference and who prompted those observing them to think long and hard about their own ideals. To see that tangible change in a person is much more of a cause for worship, in my mind, than just seeing party-trick style miracles that defy the laws of science or whatever. This doesn’t reduce my belief in what God can do in any way; it just deepens my appreciation of the ways that God commonly chooses to work. Sharon helped to influence my thinking in that way, and this idea has stayed with me despite whatever other disagreements we had during our relationship.