2003 got off to a great start. I spent New Year’s Day and a week or so beyond that in Hawaii, and then returned to California to settle into the new apartment Tim and I had just moved into. I was excited to actually live in San Gabriel, closer to the community of random friends I had cultivated at church. Saying goodbye to Christine at the end of that trip was difficult as always, but this time, it was mitigated by the fact that she would be moving to California to be with me on a daily basis within the next few months.
In with the New:
The Flaming Lips
Out with the Old:
Listen on Spotify:
Spending the first few days of January in Hawaii – on one day, after taking Christine on one of my favorite hikes to Maunawili Falls, we returned home the long way by driving up and around the northern end of the island. We stopped off at a park near Kualoa Ranch and Chinaman’s Hat, where I took this picture of the impressive cliffs above us.
Where in the world is this?
1) “Bring Me to Life”, Evanescence feat. Paul McCoy (Fallen, 2003)
I was introduced to my newest chick-rock obsession that year by an online acquaintance known as “Mit the Destroyer”, who found on either Xanga or Kazaa or some message board that I used to frequent – I can’t remember which – and noted my love for ephemeral female-fronted rock bands such as Aleixa and Chasing Furies, as well as the longer-lived Plumb, and suggesting that I might like Evanescence’s Origin album. My exposure to that delectable set of demos opened the door for my complete head-over-heels infatuation with the lead single from their upcoming mainstream debut. I was totally ga-ga over this band – I told everyone about them, I thought this song was the bomb to end all bomb diggitys, and I was proud of the fact that Amy Lee and her cohorts were Christians making on their own terms in the mainstream music world. Then came the endless debates over the meaning of the rather frightening video for this song, the critiques of Amy Lee’s choice of wardrobe, and the “Christian charts” controversy that would cause Evanescence and Christian music to disown each other completely. OK, so the actions of the band members and the fans alike were childish at times. But this song, to me, never represented a plea for salvation from God. It represented the danger of asking someone to save you who was not capable of it – someone like a boyfriend or girlfriend. Someone with their own human flaws. I knew what it was like to expect that from another person, and I vowed never to put someone I was in love with on such an unrealistic pedestal ever again. It was for that reason (as well as the fact that the song just plain kicked ass) that it became my favorite song of the year 2003.
2) “Ammunition”, Switchfoot (The Beautiful Letdown, 2003)
This was the first song I heard from the album that broke Switchfoot in the mainstream in a huge way, and it remains one of my all-time favorites by the band. I loved the idea of people (probably the Church, but it’s never specified in the song) trying to reach out and love, but only succeeding in causing a lot of proverbial gunfire and explosions and carnage, damaging the hearts we’re supposed to be healing.
3) “Do You Believe Me?”, The Juliana Theory (Love, 2003)
It’s easy to see how pretentious TJT could be now that I look back on them, but Love was one of those addictively cool albums that I couldn’t get enough of back in those days. Their first single from that album jumped out at me immediately, with their sarcastic “thanks, but no thanks” to well-meaning but manipulative powers-that-be who wanted to shape and mold them into something other than what they wanted to be. The attempts to help them were killing them. You could hear it in Brett Detar’s bitter sneer.
4) “Wait”, Everyday Sunday (Stand Up, 2002)
Fuzzy, spastic alternative rock music by a bunch of dudes from Texas in a band with a raspy lead singer trying his best to shout out Toby Mac-style rap verses! The 2003 version of me said, “Sign me up!” And I’ll admit, it’s still a lot of fun to scream along to this one.
5) “Ooh Aah”, Grits feat. Toby Mac (The Art of Translation, 2002)
Oh hey, speaking of Toby Mac… This was a hip-hop group’s attempt to recapture those intangible, wordless “groanings of the soul” that the Holy Spirit picks up on when all words fail us because we’re just that bummed about how far we’ve fallen. In those days I was wrestling a lot with the gap between who I knew I was and who I figured God wanted me to be… and I guess that dilemma never truly goes away for any Christian who really realizes their status as a sinful human, but I suppose I was more aware of the need for change and recommitment in those days.
6) “Caught a Glimpse”, Blindside (Silence, 2002)
I don’t think any other Christian band has ever managed to sound so terrified over the prospect of falling in love with God! Oh wait, those are screams of passion, not terror. Something like that. Killer song, but it sure is a whiplash-like experience coming after a bouncy hip-hop track.
7) “Celebrate”, Bleach (Again for the First Time, 2002)
And now we’re back to fun and bouncy, in the form of this fuzzy little pop song that represents Bleach at their carefree best. “I want to celebrate the day that I met you.” Christine and I were fortunate enough to spend the one-year anniversary of the day we met together in Hawaii (it was somewhere around January 6 or 7, 2002 when we first met online – pity that I no longer remember the exact date, but in my defense, it was near midnight my time), so this song always reminds me of that little premature “anniversary” celebration. These days we only observe our wedding anniversary, but we do recognize the June 3 “dating” anniversary when it comes around.
8) “Fight Test”, The Flaming Lips (Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, 2002)
I couldn’t think of a better introduction to the wild, wacky world of The Flaming Lips (thanks again, Josh!) than the one I got by way of this song – a playful, punchy ode to the “fight-or-flight” response, in which a guy thinks he’s chosen the high road by choosing not to fight another guy for a girl’s affection, but then later regrets not sticking up for himself. I was fortunate enough to never be in such a position, seeing as all the other guys Christine ever liked, save for one-short lived relationship that was over and done with well before we met, either seemed to not notice her or else they didn’t speak up about it. Then again, maybe those letdowns were what taught her to boldly speak up for herself when she met me.
9) “Clocks”, Coldplay (A Rush of Blood to the Head, 2002)
I had known this song for almost half a year, but for some reason, it took that long for it to fully click. And in early 2003, suddenly it was everywhere – the classic triple piano pulse that would come to be imitated for years to come. While almost an idiotically simple song, musically speaking, it was enchanting because of the vision it gave me of a person flying backwards in time, trying to stop the clock and jump out of the timestream and fix past mistakes or something like that. Yeah, maybe I watch too many time travel movies. This one was definitely one of my top 10 songs for that year, and when I finally got a cell phone in February, the piano riff to it became one of the ringtones that I figured out how to “compose” on it – this was back in the day of monophonic ringtones, a.k.a. the dark ages. (Other ringtones that I had to figure out how to compose for myself included Jars of Clay’s “Collide”, Creed’s “Higher”, and Switchfoot’s “Twenty-Four”.)
10) “Light”, The Benjamin Gate (Contact, 2002)
A simple, peppy little song about being strong for someone else when they are weak. Christine and I took turns holding that torch for each other when one of us became impatient and discouraged about whether she’d be able to pull off the move to California and we’d truly get the chance to be together again.
11) “Moth”, Over the Rhine (Films for Radio, 2001)
A strange little song about trying to be Jesus, and failing fantastically – being a moth attracted to flame and finding that nothing good came from the self-sacrifice. Why is it so easy for those of us whose core beliefs hinge upon the concept of grace to forget about it and try to justify ourselves and play the martyrdom card so easily? Why is it so hard to let God do the saving?
12) “Five”, Daily Planet (Hero, 2002)
An upbeat, playful nostalgic song from this short-lived California band, simply about the joys of seeing life through the eyes of a child. “When I get to heaven, I want to be a five-year-old forever.” How is it that I sometimes let myself stray so far from the concept of childlike faith that I forget what it’s like to experience the simple wonder a child experiences upon learning about the world around him for the first time? “Faith like a child” was once my creed; somehow I started to feel myself slipping away from that as I got older and had to juggle more responsibilities. I could call my own shots, I could “drive all night to see the sunrise” with nobody to tell me that was against the rules now, but the great irony was that was now too pragmatic to dream the same way that I once did. And along came Christine, still innocent and perhaps a little sheltered in a lot of ways, still living those wild-eyed dreams, and man, part of me didn’t want to ruin her ability to see the world through those childlike eyes.
13) “83”, John Mayer (Room for Squares, 2001)
Might as well follow up once “nostalgic childhood” song with another one! This was the John Mayer that I used to know and love. He wasn’t afraid to sound a little geeky and admit he missed the old days, complete with that old beat-up lunchbox he used to be so fond of, and was distraught when his parents threw it out without his permission. You can go back to the places where you experienced those childhood milestones, and yet it feels like you’re playing a different role in the story, and that little kid was somebody else.
14) “I Am”, Nichole Nordeman (Woven and Spun, 2002)
A beautiful, heartfelt song about the different ways that “I Am” describes God to you through various phases of life. was in the exact midpoint between Nichole’s list of experiences in this song – I had remembered looking to God to ease the pain of bruised knees as a child, and a bruised heart due to unrequited love as a teenager. I looked forward to God being there to bless my lifelong commitment to the woman I would one day marry, and I still look ahead to God being the sustainer of strength, the creator of green pastures to rest in, during the phase of parenthood when I know we will be too exhausted to know which way’s up half the time. God is consistent through all of this, but we understand Him differently through those phases of growth.
15) “The Kingdom”, Caedmon’s Call (Back Home, 2003)
I loved the swirling, Middle-Eastern feel that this song had going for it – it made it so easy to picture that imaginary kingdom, built somewhere in the Israeli wilderness, that a man had foolishly built for himself and that couldn’t withstand the unpredictable fury of od’s plans for that person. It’s a pity that so much of the rest of Back Home was rather bland by comparison – I really became disillusioned with the band that year. But this song remains an underrated highlight in their discography.
16) “The Man You Want Me to Be”, Phil Joel (Bring It On, 2002)
Phil Joel’s second album surprised me – it felt more deep, more devotional, more personal than his first one. Here he took such a simple request – “Jesus, make me the man you want me to be” – and turned it into a sincere anthem that gave me hope at a time when I was feeling really unsure of myself and my ability to succeed in loving Christine the way that God had called me to love her, by actually taking care of her and helping her find her way around this unfamiliar, scary place where she was committing herself to possibly spending her life with me. It’s easy to have fun with someone you’re attracted to in a “vacation” setting, and much more difficult (at least for us guys!) to actually make some sort of believable commitment to really seeing a relationship through, thick or thin, until both of you can clearly discern whether God intends for it to be permanent.
Later in January, somewhere around my 25th birthday, Mark took us one one of the best hikes ever. We drove way out into the desert past Palm Springs and Indio and a little town called Mecca, and hiked up into the deep, narrow, but breathtaking Painted Canyon, and then up into an even narrower side canyon, known as Ladder Canyon because several spots required climbing up and down ladders. I’ve always loved rocky areas that are good for simple “bouldering”, or freehand climbing, and some spots of this hike provided great opportunities for that.
Where in the world is this?
1) “Comfortable Liar”, Chevelle (Wonder What’s Next, 2002)
Not sure what I was thinking by opening Disc 2 with this song – it’s a bit jarring and doesn’t really sound anything like the songs around it. Probably would have been better next to that Blindside song, but oh well. Really solid groove on this one. And they were one of the few bands my brother and I could agree on.
2) “Na Na”, Superchic[k] (Last One Picked, 2002)
This song cracks me up, with its humorous response to an argumentative person, basically telling them that all they know how to do is return nonsense for nonsense, because dude, you totally sound like that teacher from Charlie Brown! Despite the silliness, it was frighteningly descriptive of those dumb message board arguments I kept letting myself get sucked into with people half my age over on the CMCentral boards. Oh, to think of the precious hours I must have wasted…
3) “Understand”, Jeremy Camp (Stay, 2002)
Betcha didn’t expect to find out that at one point, I actually liked Jeremy Camp. Though vague given his real life experiences, I actually did find a good amount of his first CD to be convincingly heartfelt, and this first song, with its refrain of “I know You understand it all, so why don’t I get back on my feet again?” really spoke to how I was feeling at the time. I had spent long enough punishing myself for stuff God had long since forgiven me for. The only one holding me back from believing I could live a better life was me.
4) “Just One More Thing”, Sara Groves (All Right Here, 2002)
One thing that I really used to hate was people who acted like they were my friends, but who were always too busy for me. It had been a pet peeve since college – people always overcommitting to ten thousand activities because they never knew how to just say “no”. And I never wanted to become one of those people who was too busy with things to really spend time experiencing deep relationships with people. The catch was that it was easier to be all self-righteous about this when I had a simpler life – single guy, no real responsibilities outside of work and maybe a ministry or two at church, never has to work overtime, no dependents to claim on his taxes. These days, I kind of miss the ideals and convictions I once had regarding “quality time” with people. I wonder about friendships that I may have allowed to fall by the wayside – not because either of us ever stopped wanting to hang out with each other, but simply because I went and let myself become a busybody.
5) “How Do I Love Her”, Steven Curtis Chapman (All About Love, 2003)
I really admired SCC for having the guts to put out a CD of nothing but love songs. I mean, it was all fairly safe, mushy stuff, but think it also reaffirmed than a man loving his wife was an act of worship to the God who gave them that relationship. And this song – the best of the bunch by far – turned the phrase “How do I love her?” into an honest question. Instead of “How much do I love her?” or “In how many ways do I love her?”, it became “How do I actually turn the loving emotions that I feel for this woman into actions that she clearly sees as loving?” It was close to Valentine’s Day. I wanted my chance to prove my love to my sweetheart. Badly.
6) “I Love You”, Cindy Morgan (Elementary, 2001)
There used to be a Christian bookstore called “The Giving Tree” in Pearl City, and during a quick stumble through their clearance racks while I was in Hawaii, I found a demo copy of this Cindy Morgan album that I had overlooked upon its initial release – good thing, too. It was way too poppy and happy to have been appropriate to me during that caustic, post-breakup phase back in 2001. Now, on vacation, visiting the woman of my dreams in paradise, it was perfect! This song – the album’s cute little finale – played like an old jazz/ragtime sort of tune with its playful horns and woodwinds and all that. Christine immediately fell in love with it when I played it on her parents’ stereo and she did a cute little dance around the room. That was memorable enough to make this CD remind me of her – which, for the first few weeks after I got back to California and had to be separated from her again, made it rather difficult to listen to.
7) “Come to Me”, The Elms (Truth, Soul, Rock & Roll, 2002)
A song about a guy knowing a girl’s got him right where she wants him, and he will sit out on the porch and wait for hours, and put up with all kinds of worry and uncertainty and just plain old neglect, pining for her attention. Of course, Christine didn’t keep herself away from me by choice, but the absence certainly had that consequence of magnifying everything I loved about her and making the heart grow way fonder. April could not come soon enough!
8) “2003”, Nina Gordon (Tonight and the Rest of My Life, 1999)
This song was actually on the radio a lot back during that disastrous final trip to Michigan in 2001. Sharon had introduced me to Nina Gordon, and after we broke up and were trying to be civil with each other while her parents were shuttling us around the Upper Peninsula in that Rent-a-Wreck van, it drove me nuts to keep hearing this cute song about two lovers preparing to meet each other again in the year 2003. Then Christine came along in 2002. And this song described our longing to be together in a rather timely manner. Sure, the song had a limited shelf life, but I was reminded of it just in time to put it on a mix CD for her, which she played loud and proud in her parents’ living room on January 1, 2003.
9) “Hanging On”, Everyday Sunday (Stand Up, 2002)
This one might sound like your average example of a CCM rock band doing a weepy, thoroughly adult contemporary ballad (with rather simplistic rhymes to boot), but it struck an emotional chord with me, mostly due to the subtle but stunning melody. I was still learning new things on my acoustic guitar, and I had become recently fascinated with how easy it was to produce pretty variants of chords by playing in “Open E”. This song turned out to be ridiculously easy to pick out on my guitar, so it’s a good example of how a song doesn’t have to be complicated to be beautiful.
10) “Horizon”, 38th Parallel (Turn the Tides, 2002)
When I first heard 38th Parallel, I swore up and down that they were a cheaply produced Linkin Park ripoff. Which was kind of true. But they had their own dynamic charm despite the budgetary setbacks that made them sound rather thin for a “nu-metal” sort of band. This song had a good melodic kick and a sunny outlook, and one of those shout-along rap verses that easily grabbed my ear back in those days, when I was a lot more open to the myriad rap/rock acts that were emerging on a seemingly weekly basis. Yeah, I got caught up in a trend. I can live with it.
11) “Sky Blue”, Peter Gabriel feat. the Blind Boys of Alabama (Up, 2002)
Thematically, “Horizon” worked where it did because it set the stage well for “Sky Blue” – a song which you’d think would have an optimistic feel to it based on the title, but this is Peter Gabriel, so of course it’s a bit more melancholy. What a beautifully understated, soulful song it was though. It was all about the weariness caused by constant movement – probably a common malady for traveling musicians, regardless of whether they travelled by run-down tour van or privately chartered jet plane. It was simply about wanting a place to feel at home. I get the “travel bug” a lot and have these sudden urges to want to go off and visit far-flung places, but sure enough, there’s only so much otherworldly beauty and learning new maps and so forth that I can get excited about before I just plain miss my bed, and long for consistency and familiarity.
12) “The Beginning”, Lifehouse (Stanley Climbfall, 2002)
I suppose this was more of a “restlessly creative” phase for Lifehouse, which might explain why not as many people connected with Stanley Climbfall, but I thought this was the perfect finale to that album – melancholy but hopeful, looking around the corner to a new beginning and a new worldview, with that sort of tune that seemed immediately nostalgic even though you were just hearing it for the first time. This represented the effect that my relationship with Christine had on me – she was my second chance, my “start over after ending”. She was the life-changing influence that I was so darn sure I didn’t deserve.
13) “Untitled #8”, Sigur Rós (( ), 2002)
Fans of Sigur Rós tend to describe their music in such transcendent terms that I was almost afraid to listen to their latest album, which apparently defied description so much that they couldn’t even give the songs proper titles. It was like some sort of otherworldly thing that I though would be so mind-altering that I couldn’t handle it. But come on, let’s get serious – music is just music. It has an effect on our emotions and it tickles that curious part of our brains, but music doesn’t cast spells on people. Still, the final track on said album was pretty darned exhilarating, slowly creeping its way up from a ghostly but chilled-out groove to a thunderous, drum-heavy finale. First time I heard it, it was like my heartbeat began to speed up to keep time with the drums. Then again, I might have been suffering from a lack of sleep that day, but perhaps a delusional state of mind is the state in which Sigur Rós’ music is best appreciated.
14) “The Valley Song (Sing of Your Mercy)”, Jars of Clay (Furthermore: From the Studio, 2003)
This was the most intriguing of the three new tracks from the acoustic disc on Jars of Clay’s retrospective album Furthermore. Turns out it was a throwaway from the Eleventh Hour sessions – not a song that they were unhappy with, but definitely one that didn’t fit the mood or the type of sound they were going for on that album. It was more of an earthy praise chorus, an attempt to put God’s uncanny ability to show up in the darkest of places into their own words, and within it, one could detect little snippets of what would eventually be reworked into “I Need You”. I think I prefer this original take better, with its quiet spaces and its resounding “Hallelujahs”, but both songs are distinct enough that it’s really just the shared lyric or two which clues you in that they’re in any way related.
15) “Gratitude”, Nichole Nordeman (Woven and Spun, 2002)
Most of Woven & Spun was understated enough that i didn’t really get the sublime beauty of that album until I picked it up during my Hawaii trip with a gift certificate Lina had given me for Christmas. One morning in early January, when I woke up before anyone else in the Hickman household, I decided to take a walk around their suburban neighborhood in Mililani – just exploring the curving, mazelike streets and looking up at the constantly changing patterns in the sky, while listening to Nichole’s album, trying to take it in on a deeper level. This song came right at the end, and it confronted and challenged me with an uncomfortable prayer. It begged for all the things that a rational human would beg for – food, shelter, peace in a time of war. But it also had the resolve to say, “Maybe God doesn’t want to give me this, and if that’s the case, I pray God will show me what to learn from it.” What if the bliss that Christine and I hoped to experience in California was not God’s plan? What if it was selfish of us to keep begging and begging for this crazy dream of ours to work out? It was almost like God was saying that not knowing shouldn’t stop us from passionately crying out for what we wanted – because we’d either get that or we’d get something that was ultimately even better for us. And yet still, all of these years after that profound little reminder, I still hesitate to pray, hesitate to sound selfish before God. What am I afraid of – that God might actually have bigger plans? It’s not like He’s gonna be disappointed that I couldn’t predict that ahead of time. Sometimes, the things I pray for – like being with Christine, for example – do turn out to be exactly the gifts (and the challenges) that God had in mind.
16) “Come Away with Me”, Norah Jones (Come Away with Me, 2002)
Winter brings rain and a lot of grey blah to Southern California. It’s not my favorite time of year. And coming back from a trip to sunny tropical Hawaii can really be a bummer at that time of year – especially when you have to leave the woman you love behind. It rains any time of year in Hawaii, but it’s a warm rain, one that doesn’t make you want to immediately duck and run for cover. It can feel like the gentle touch of a few tears on the back of your hand, coming from the eyes of the one you love, curled in your lap, trying to express how deeply she feels for you but feeling afraid to get into deep, knowing she’s going to be torn away from you again in a few short days. Hawaii rain is romantic. Even the cold California rain can be romantic, when I don’t have to be outside dealing with the mild inconveniences it causes. It’s kind of romantic when you’re in bed at night and you hear that soft pattern of it dripping from the rooftops. But that’s when it’s hardest to be lying there alone. That’s when it’s easiest to wish you could be whisked away on some romantic locale, reunited with your lover. “And I want to wake up with the rain falling on a tin roof, while I’m safe there in your arms.”