This is the last mix that was made during my first long-term relationship. A lot of the songs represent the longing I felt at the time to make it work and my ill-advised attempts to patch it all together. Yet, when I go back and listen to these songs, instead of reliving a lot of anguish over how it all slipped through my fingers, I instead recall the growing satisfaction with solitude that I was beginning to learn back then. A lot of my happiest moments in those days were spent by myself. Some were prayerful, some were exploratory, and some were just plain relaxing. Some of these songs were the ones that helped to prepare me for a difficult process of letting go.
In with the New:
The Benjamin Gate
Kevin Max (as a solo artist – appears earlier with dc Talk)
Out with the Old:
It Was Worth a Try:
This is the Hard Rock Cafe in Las Vegas, Nevada. I made my first long-distance solo drive in May 2001, from L.A. to Las Vegas, in order to spend a weekend with jen, who I knew from college and who was living there with her family. We went to a Dave Matthews Band concert that weekend, and also hung out at the Hard Rock Cafe and the Rio. I’m not much of a gambler, but Vegas is one of those places that’s fun to visit every now and then, just to experience the over-the-top-ness of it all.
Where in the world is this?
1) “Jury Duty”, Supertones (Loud and Clear, 2000)
I didn’t actually have my first jury duty experience until late 2004, but I related to this song because I’m definitely not a morning person – I get cranky when little inconveniences happen early in the day, and I do tend to forget that it’s a day God created, and that even the most mundane days can be a gift if I’m willing to look for that aspect of them.
2) “Alibi”, Tait (Empty, 2001)
I was probably doing word association on things that have to do with the court system when I put these two songs together. This one discussed what it felt like when someone constantly says that they love you but definitely doesn’t act like they do. That’s the sort of thing that can happen in a romantic episode as it deteriorates – you’ll offer the compulsory “I love you”s as you say goodbye and go about your day, but you’ll also snipe at each other as if it’s second nature, just because you’ve been feeling resentful for so long that it can’t help but spill over into your outward actions.
3) “Earnestly”, Tree63 (Tree63, 2000)
A rather bouncy, energetic song about seeing God when wandering through a spiritual desert. I was going through such a desert at the time, though I don’t think I fully realized it, nor was I as earnest as this, but the song still appealed to me, perhaps because it represented a passion I wished I still had, and a need that I wished I wasn’t so numb to.
4) “All Over Me”, The Benjamin Gate (Untitled, 2001)
The Benjamin gate’s highly addictive first album is one of the few times I’ve gone out on a limb and bought a CD by a new artist solely on the basis of brief clips heard online. The quirky, spacy rock sound with an unusual female vocal in the front reminded me of some other short-lived woman-fronted rock bands that I missed, and this song had one of those choruses that stuck to me like glue after hearing it just once. It turned out to be an excellent purchase that really brightened up those long weeks while Sharon was away in Greece.
5) “Make It Last Forever”, Avalon (Oxygen, 2001)
Avalon totally went teenybopper pop (which was all the rage at the turn of the century) with some of their new stuff that year, following trends set by younger vocal groups, and I kind of rolled my eyes at it, but this song, the most awkward example of the attempt to ape the trend, was actually pretty fun and catchy. I still like it quite a bit despite how ridiculous and cheesy it is – Avalon’s always done a lot of dance-pop stuff anyway, so in that sense it wasn’t so much of a stretch after all.
6) “Dynamic Lifter”, Beanbag (welladjusted, 2001)
This song very angrily deals with pressure from a religious blowhard who thinks you should be exactly like them. I’m not sure if I put it on here due to frustration directed at any specific person, or if I just thought the abrasive, creepily melodic sound of it was cool, but I sure got a twisted smile on my face when the echoing vocals at the end of that Avalon song led immediately into the crashing ruckus that started off this song. It’s probably one of the more perversely cool juxtapositions of songs that random play in WinAmp has ever discovered for me – when the heck else could you put an Avalon song next to a Beanbag song and actually have it work? (It probably doesn’t work for anyone other than me.)
7) “Shiver”, Coldplay (Parachutes, 2000)
I got into Coldplay because of songs like this that displayed more of a blend of sensitivity and rocking energy, but the energy was in short supply on Parachutes, so it took me a long time to learn to love that album. This song worked up a powerful, frothy pattern of movement, and it was weird to me that they only really did that once on the entire CD. It seemed to be about wanting someone to the point of feeling like you needed them, and being dismayed that they were totally ignoring you despite their own fears of being cold and alone. Sharon and I began to have discussions after she got back from her trip in June which really hinted that we were at the beginning of the end – she was unhappy with our inability to really get along, but so afraid to be alone again, and that was what kept her from breaking it off. I knew I was on thin ice at that point, and all I could bank on was that she’d give me time to change for the better instead of deciding to take her chances on going solo.
8) “With You”, Linkin Park (Hybrid Theory, 2000)
While Chester Bennington’s scratchy, irritated vocals were the subject of much derision and they took a little getting used to, I was in the perfect place for an angry song like this at that point in my life. This one described two lovers who were starting to really hate each other, and yet so used to each other that they were kind of fused together, despite all of the verbal biting and clawing they exchanged. Even when they were physically apart, they haunted each other.
9) “Break It All Down”, Fono (unreleased, 2001)
Poor Fono. They had great things in store for them after a solid debut album, and they never really got off the ground with a second disc before their studio burned down in the San Diego fires of 2003. This song was a freebie from mp3.com, slated for the forthcoming album that never materialized (they didn’t get one out until 2007), and I thought it was a fun exercise in jarring contradictions, depicting a relationship wish a wishy-washy person who kept inviting you in, only to brutally push you away time and time again.
10) “Gone”, PfR (Disappear, 2001)
A year after “Kingdom Come” showed up as an early hint of things to come, PfR’s reunion came into being, heralded by this fun little song with its zippy guitar part, which had that classic PfR characteristic of being vague enough to make its meaning only barely understandable, and yet it was easy to relate. This song was about losing someone without wanting it to be that way, and yet being OK with it in the end. “It’s no crime, it’s no sin to start over again.” Part of me was convinced that I had set an irreversible course when Sharon and I started dating, and I couldn’t abandon my desire to see it work and for us to get married, not for nothing. What I needed to realize is that, while you don’t want to take these things lightly, there should be no personal shame in admitting a relationship isn’t working, going your separate ways and starting over. Sure, it’s not fun, and it means that you’ve gotta start from square one whenever you find the next person. But what I didn’t get at the time was that our relationship coming to an end was simply a sign that we weren’t the right match for each other, not that either one of us was a dismal failure of a human being. It’s hard not to feel like a total failure when you get dumped after being with someone for so long, though.
11) “Drops of Jupiter”, Train (Drops of Jupiter, 2001)
I had hated Train at one point – “Meet Virginia” was one of those songs which seemed to be always on Star 98.7, and it got on my last nerve. But I saw the band play this song on Jay Leno late one night, and I was totally hooked on it because of its wacky lyrics about a girlfriend who had gone off to explore the corners of the universe and “find herself”. The man left behind encouraged her personal journey, but was nervous about whether she’d still have a use for him once she got back from her trip to the next galaxy. Sharon was living one of her dreams during that trip to Greece, and at least I was smart enough to not gripe about it or try to prevent her from taking the trip, despite it being right after graduation and postponing the downtime I was looking forward to having with her after she graduated from Oxy. It was probably one of the few times when I was able to show a bit of unselfish restraint. I looked forward to seeing her again and hearing about her adventure – I figured her absence would make the heart grow fonder, and that this would become one of “our songs” after she got back.
12) “I’m a Believer”, Smash Mouth (Shrek Soundtrack, 2001)
We saw Shrek on the big screen right after it came out, and to this day it remains one of the most witty and hilarious animated films I’ve ever seen. This modern cover of a Monkees song (they used to be one of my Mom’s favorite bands when she was a teenager) was an immediate standout when it appeared at the end of the film – I figured it would totally be a candidate for a future mix CD for Sharon, a sign of happier times to come when our love would be rekindled. That never happened, but just because the song wasn’t appropriate to that phase of our relationship doesn’t mean that I have bad memories of it. I just filed it away for a bit, and it kind of went through a second life for me the following year, when Christine and I met and I realized how easy it was to believe in the giddy hopes and dreams brought on by new romance, despite how utterly bitter and heartbroken the breakup with Sharon left me in 2001. So this one really became Christine’s song – it’s one of her favorite songs in the entire world, actually. It got placed on a mix chronicling a difficult time from the year before she and I met, but it’s a nice break from all of the angry tension in many of the previous songs, so I think it’s well placed.
13) “Return of the Singer”, Kevin Max (Stereotype Be, 2001)
I honestly didn’t expect to like Kevin Max’s solo stuff as much as Tait’s or Toby’s, but he totally snagged me with this upbeat, drum loop-heavy anthem, which is basically all about his love of showmanship and his desire to entertain for a higher purpose than just making himself famous. Kevin went from being “the weird one” in dc Talk to being a solo artist who I totally appreciated and related to over the course of that year. He managed to be eccentric without being totally anti-melodic or impossible to follow, which was what I had initially feared he’d do.
14) “Every Time”, Polarboy (4008, 2000)
Have you ever noticed how when someone’s a passenger in your car, they’re kind of a captive audience? Maybe that’s changed a bit with the advent of cell phones, but for me it’s still easier to have a prolonged conversation on some substantial subject with a person when I’m transporting them somewhere or when we’re on a road trip, etc. This song is kind of about that – a guy expresses the desire to drive a girl wherever she wants to go at any time she needs it, just so that he can be with her. He even goes so far as to wish the truck would break down so they’d be stuck together for a longer period of time. I’d never wish for a breakdown, but there were times when I first got my car that I’d find some excuse to go out somewhere with Sharon rather than staying in, just to give us more time to talk. I was listening to this song on her Mac at one point that summer when one of her housemates came downstairs and asked what I was listening to, and when I said it was Polarboy, he responded, “Are they bi-polar”?
15) “If I Am”, Nine Days (The Madding Crowd, 2000)
This song is basically about a guy pleading for a girl to give him the benefit of the doubt, promising her that if he honestly and truly isn’t the right one for her, the proof will be self-evident and he’ll wind up letting her down, but he needs the chance to actually prove that he’s either a great support system or a total letdown, rather than being dumped just because she assumes he’s a deadbeat. He’s basically saying that staying together doesn’t entail a promise to never, ever leave each other. He just needs a little time, and if he can’t be what she really wants him to be, he’ll voluntarily bow out when that becomes self-apparent.
16) “Trying”, Lifehouse feat. Kendall Payne (No Name Face, 2000)
My love for this song, aside from the mandolin and the lovely echoing piano at the end, stems from its first line: “Could you let down your hair, be transparent for a while.” I’ve always found long hair to be extremely sexy on a woman, and I love that letting your hair down is used as an analogy for totally being yourself in front of someone with no pretense. It can be pretty when a girl wears her hair up, but it usually strikes me as more “formal”, getting down to business, not wanting it to get in the way of getting work done. Letting it hang down, a beautiful waterfall flowing over the shoulders, is the natural state with nothing intervening. Many times in college, the moment when I went from just thinking some girl was cute to realizing I had a bona fide crush on her was when we sat in the lobby or hallway of some dorm, or on some random steps somewhere in transit across the darkened campus at night, and she just opened up about her thoughts on life, the universe, and everything. I used to exaggerate that a conversation like that was “better than sex”. (Not that I could know this for a fact during my college days!) These days I’d say that’s a tough call, but I still honestly feel that both are comparably pleasurable.
This lonely tree stands at a switchback on the Bailey Canyon Trail, a steep and grueling ridge trail that starts at a park in Sierra Madre, California, and leads up to an old cabin foundation, probably from back in the mining days. Heather and I stumbled across it when we were looking for something to do on Memorial Day that year (we hung out a lot together when Sharon was away in Greece, and yes, it was totally platonic – we were both in relationships and she was dating my girlfriend’s brother!) It ended up being a really good hike due to the weather being overcast. Every time I’ve attempted it since then, it’s been blistering hot and the hike has been extremely strenuous. But it made for a good workout.
Where in the world is this?
1) “Nightglow”, The Benjamin Gate (Untitled, 2001)
The combination of an acoustic guitar and a slamming, slightly moody dance beat totally got me hooked right away. This was one of those songs that would make me do the little head-bob dance whenever I was driving in my car and it came on.
2) “Limit of Shunt”, Beanbag (welladjusted, 2001)
Beanbag goes Radiohead! Sort of. (I had been listening to Radiohead just to criticize them for being so weird, but wasn’t yet ready to admit I liked them, so I just kind of studied them to appreciate their influence on other bands that I liked.) I would play this song for people who thought Beanbag just did a bunch of yelling and screaming, and usually they couldn’t even tell it was the same band. Lots of crunchy dissonance, but not nearly as in-your-face as their more rap/scream-oriented stuff.
3) “Clean”, Incubus (Make Yourself, 1999)
Silence can be one of the worst insults when you know someone’s mad at you. I don’t believe that Sharon ever gave me the silent treatment to be malicious, but all the same, it hurt like hell when I knew I had upset her and wanted to fix things, and she just couldn’t stand to talk to me. I honestly would have preferred being cussed out to not getting to talk with her at all, but she probably felt that she was saving me from having to hear extremely harsh things that she would regret saying later. There’s probably a little wisdom in both, but at the time, I just wanted anything other than the non-verbal Cold War that went on between us on several evenings.
4) “In the End”, Linkin Park (Hybrid Theory, 2000)
“I tried so hard, and got so far, but in the end, it doesn’t even matter.” I thought that was a horribly fatalistic lesson to learn about relationships when I first heard the song – I wanted to believe that if I tried hard enough, I could make it work with Sharon. And a relationship that really does blossom into a beautiful marriage does take a lot of work and sticking with it through hard times. But some pairings are just ill-fated no matter what you try to do, and dating ends up being a process of figuring that out. We weren’t right for each other. The more I tried to sit her down and have these peace talks, and force things to “work”, the more it didn’t “work” and she just got more and more frustrated with the dead end we were trapped in.
5) “Don’t Hold Back (Full On)”, The Normals (Coming to Life, 2000)
This was where the more musically subdued, but lyrically resonant sense of emotion in The Normals’ lyrics really started to speak to me. It took an unraveling relationship for me to “get” this album. This song was a bit of a muted rocker, trying to hold itself back for the sake of composure, and eventually letting the tears flow in the form of a passionate guitar solo and the throaty cries of “Don’t hold back!” in the chorus. It’s kind of an extension of the theme from “Clean”, but instead of cussing someone out, it’s expressing a desire for someone to admit that they’re incredibly sad and let the tears flow, because that’s how the healing’s going to begin. Better to let it out, as messy as it may be, than to bottle it up.
6) “My Own Monster”, Katy Hudson (Katy Hudson, 2001)
A song about being haunted by one’s personal turmoil as if it were the imaginary monster that you feared when you lay in bed at night as a young child. (It might have been appropriate for the movie Monsters, Inc., which came out later that year.) I was kind of dodging my fears of being alone by clinging to this relationship as long as possible. On the night when we eventually broke up, I remember lying in my bed alone, back in my apartment in Burbank, unable to fall asleep, and even when I did, I woke up with my heart racing in the middle of the night, thinking that it would be unbearable to face the days ahead. Adjusting to sleeping alone again, and knowing that I would be for quite some time to come, forced me to face fears that I had medicating by prolonging a relationship that wasn’t meant to last.
7) “Wake Up”, LaRue (Transparent, 2001)
The title of this song is cute when placed next to a song about nightmares, but honestly, when I listen to this one now, it sounds like LaRue was taking a judgmental swipe at their own generation, as if every single one of them were hopelessly lost heathens, open-minded enough to be “all for everything, until it comes to the Cross”. Despite not being a well-written song, there’s a kernel of truth here, since it points out how easy it is to drift off and become a “sleeper” regarding the condition of one’s soul – it takes one of those shocking moments that wakes you up in the middle of the night with your heart racing to snap you back into reality.
8) “Angel”, Dave Matthews Band (Everyday, 2001)
This wasn’t even one of my favorite DMB songs, but on Memorial Day weekend, in the warm early evening at Boyd Stadium, the band brought out this sexy little electric ballad, and because of how much I was missing Sharon during her trip and wishing she could have been at the concert with us, I grew attached to it and knew that I was the guy hopelessly begging “like a child for your candy”. I’m not above being 100% mushy and forlorn and sentimental from time to time.
9) “Jigorous”, Ceili Rain (Erasers on Pencils, 2000)
A song about responding to hopeless adversity with dancing, singing, celebration. Those things may not totally mend broken hearts, and they certainly won’t cure Alzheimer’s or cancer, but the funny thing about those few instances of true joy in some of our lives is that when we recognize them and embrace them, it’s like we cheat more time out of life than we were originally allotted. That’s just because we have so much time that we waste on self-pity. being sad is one thing, but if we can’t worship and celebrate God’s love for us amidst the sadness, then perhaps we’re just wasting the life that was given to us, however short or oppressed it may be.
10) “Awaken the Dawn”, Delirious? (Glo, 2000)
Irish jigs suddenly collide with bagpipes as this glorious worship song breaks in. It’s such a simple song, noticeably a much older lyric than everything else on the album, and yet they totally made it fit in with a beautiful extended jam session and a glorious bagpipe solo at the end, continuing the never-ending celebration of new life after a long, dark night of suffering.
11) “In Between”, Sandra McCracken (The Crucible, 2000)
Rewinding a bit to the Caedmon’s Call concert from March – Derek Webb’s new wife Sandra McCracken had performed as the opening act, and this song about being a lukewarm believer, neither running hot nor cold, struck a chord with me, especially due to how she pulled off a complicated switch back and forth between 5/8 and 6/8 time. It took me a while to track down an mp3 of the song, which is why it makes its appearance here.
12) “Masquerade”, Caedmon’s Call (Long Line of Leavers, 2000)
Danielle Young’s voice almost didn’t seem like the right fit for a dusky, down-tempo, almost slightly jazzy tune like this, but it eventually grew on me. I definitely felt like that lost explorer, wandering along a country road at midnight, seeing a light in the distance, and then realizing it was just an extremely attractive mirage, and not a city where safety would be found. God was trying to rescue me from something I didn’t want to let go of. I kept getting distracted by the pretty shiny lights.
13) “Black, White, Tan”, Nicole C. Mullen (Nicole C. Mullen, 2000)
A breezy, acoustic R&B song about God bringing together two people in an interracial marriage to produce a baby who is a “mocha-drop America Dream”. There was a part of me, ever since I first started liking girls, who thought that I might someday end up marrying someone who wasn’t white. That didn’t mean that I was consciously biased against dating white women – I was with Sharon for two and a half years, after all – but part of me always wondered what it would be like with someone whose family didn’t look like mine on the surface.
14) “Shiloh”, Andrew Peterson (Carried Along, 2000)
A beautiful, celebrative folk song with some glorious banjo playing near the end, about coming back to a quiet, secluded place that’s always felt like home. I’ve always been a city boy, but I’ve always enjoyed taking retreats to places that are simpler and much more scaled down, even rural, though I could probably never live in such a place.
15) “The Glory”, Avalon (Oxygen, 2001)
I discovered this one a bit too late for Easter, but it’s still one of the better “Life story of Jesus told in five minutes” type songs that I’ve ever heard. I had downloaded Oxygen before it was officially released (this was back when I was still giddy about being able to do such things on Napster and AudioGalaxy), and at one point I got a message from a fellow user who was using the screen name “cheriepaliotta”, and she claimed to be Cherie from Avalon. Strangely enough, she requested to download the album from me because she herself didn’t have a copy to listen to yet. At the time, I was totally willing to believe it was actually her, but looking back, it could very well have just been some Avalon fan pulling my leg. I had encountered other artists (usually smaller-time ones) online, and that was still a new paradigm for me at the time, that I could actually hold a meaningful conversation with someone whose music I listened to and enjoyed, instead of just having the brief “Great show… Here, sign this” exchange at a concert.
16) “No Kinder Savior”, Smalltown Poets (Third Verse, 2000)
I was definitely trying to tell myself something by placing a very blatant “Jesus song” second-to-last and then closing with more of an up-tempo song (something I normally don’t do) about how there’s no way a person’s ever going to find an alternate means of salvation other than Jesus. Not that I was even looking for one, but for a while there, I was genuinely starting to entertain the idea that it was possible to find salvation through some method other than the grace of Jesus Christ. I felt sympathy for people who seemed like they’d never buy into this Christianity thing; I wanted to be open-minded and respected by people who normally hated Christians. I figured, if God loved everyone, He’d want to save them any way He could, so why be so limiting? I was kind of forgetting that if there’s a way other than the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, then the fact that Jesus went through all of that was honestly rather useless, if man could attain salvation on his own merits. There are times when I don’t like the fact that it’s that way; it makes God seem rigid and cruel. But what was happening to me in the midst of all my other turmoil that year was that I was starting to confront my lazy tendency to only believe the things I like. Some things are just TRUE even if I’m not happy about them; they make logical sense to me even in spite of my attempts to rationalize around them. This is one of them. What I’ve come to believe as a result of confronting myself with this truth is that a God who still loves these people would go to great lengths to make this truth apparent to them. I know from all of the kicking and screaming and rebelling I’ve done that God won’t just forget me, and I’m a person who’s “always” been a Christian and therefore should have “known better”. So I’d imagine God is able to exercise so much more patience with a person who’s not yet come to the point of believing any of this stuff. (Probably an infinite amount of patience for us all, actually.)