The funny thing about dreams becoming reality is that suddenly, you have these annoying reminders of real life mixed into your dreams. This is sort of what Christine’s move to California in April 2003 ended up being like – awesome to have her there, somewhat harsh to switch so suddenly from the “vacation mode” most of our relationship had been spent in to the nitty gritty of finding her a place to rent, a job, some sense of normalcy. The full weight of it wouldn’t set it until that summer, so the last half of April was mostly time to simply enjoy seeing each other every day after so many months of being apart. But something felt a bit “off” even during those first few days back together that I couldn’t quite place.
In with the New:
Derek Webb (as a solo artist – appears previously with Caedmon’s Call)
Out with the Old:
Phil Joel (as a solo artist – appears later with Newsboys)
The Benjamin Gate
It Was Worth a Try:
Listen on Spotify:
I guess the cliché thing to do, if you have a scenic point to name along a hiking trail, is to call it “Inspiration Point”. I’ve encountered a good four or five such places in my travels, but this one, north of Altadena, California near Mt. Lowe, is the one I had to work the hardest to react. It’s a tough hike, near five miles from its starting point at the top of Lake Ave., following the trail to Echo Mountain that I’ve hiked dozens of times, and cutting back and forth along the sides of Castle Canyon from there. I devoted a good half day to finally accomplishing this hike in its entirety in March 2003, and while I pulled it off, I was really short of breath at the top, and the smog that day obscured the view beyond all usefulness. It hurt to move later that day, but at least I could say I finally did it.
Where in the world is this?
1) “Gone”, Switchfoot (The Beautiful Letdown, 2003)
This was the closest thing to a “silly song” on the new Switchfoot album – it had more of a serious intent in terms of reminding us about the transitory nature of all earthly things. But I had to chuckle at the sly references to older Switchfoot songs and the response of sorts to Bono’s infamous “God doesn’t need your money” rant from Rattle & Hum.
2) “Resolution”, Phil Joel (Bring It On, 2002)
Christine had expressed concerns that I didn’t have enough guy friends who I could go to with my problems. In an attempt to rectify that, I went to Evergreen’s Men’s Retreat in April, just to get over my own stigma that spending an entire weekend with just the guys would be boring. I also started having informal “accountability” meets with Danny – he seemed like a good choice because our lives were on similar trajectory in terms of us being about the same age and both in long-term relationships that were likely headed for marriage. Danny turned out to be a really good sounding board – he’s always been an innately good listener and very patient, never chewing me out for stuff that honestly, I probably should have been chewed out for at times. It’s typically difficult to get other guys to open up about their feelings… this was never a problem with Danny, and I appreciated his openness during those meetings.
3) “I’m the Man Who Loves You”, Wilco (Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, 2002)
Since there were a bunch of us music geeks at The Phorum, it soon became common practice for us to display our Top 10 Lists for a given year when December rolled around. Josh, who had influenced a lot of my music decisions in 2002, had Wilco’s latest record listed as his #1 for the year, and I’d never taken the time to sit down and listen to these guys, so their highly-acclaimed Yankee Hotel Foxtrot seemed like a perfect place to start. Unfortunately, I was almost completely baffled and put off by its excessive amounts of white noise and rather creaky vocals from Jeff Tweedy. And I was soundly ridiculed by a number of Wilco fans due to my vocal insistence that they were doing something wrong. Despite being at odds with a lot of music critics, though, this particular song, with its hyperactive guitar freakouts and horns and its more upbeat declaration of total, unerring devotion, really struck a chord with me.
4) “Mood Ring”, Relient K (Two Lefts Don’t Make a Right… But Three Do, 2003)
This tongue-in-cheek song about moody omen and how they reserve the right to change their opinion of you at a moment’s notice with no prior warning made me laugh. It wasn’t so much about women being inconsistent as it was about men not really getting them. In any event, it helped me keep perspective after Christine moved here and I discovered what some of her moodier days could be like. I really couldn’t blame her with all of the upheaval that moving to a new state and needing to find a job and all that entailed… but there was definitely an adjustment period before I got used to the way she reacted to stress versus the way I did.
5) “Pitiful”, Blindside (Silence, 2002)
Have you ever known in your mind that something was wrong beyond a shadow of a doubt, but decided to go ahead and do it anyway? That’s what this song represents for me – times when I’ve tried to get away with something, thinking that somehow I could sneak around behind God’s back and not suffer the consequences. I’ve done this more times than I care to admit. But I guess that’s the kind of stuff Jesus died for.
6) “Lying from You”, Linkin Park (Meteora, 2003)
Thinking that you can lie to God about what you’ve done and get away with is really just a form of lying to yourself. One of the things I lied to myself about was the fear of commitment – which I had wrestled with more openly back in 2002, but it was mostly an academic exercise at that point due to my relationship with Christine being long-distance. With her here, I suddenly had to confront those fears, and really ask myself, “Did I encourage her to move all the way out here for me only to discover that sometimes spending the majority of every day with her gets exhausting?” I felt ashamed of myself for asking such questions – I wanted to be the strong, resilient, rock of commitment that she could run to when everything else was uncertain. So I maintained the facade for a while. I lied to her. I didn’t want to face the truth and potentially end up being persona non grata in the eyes of several friends if things didn’t work out between us.
7) “Shell of a Man”, The Juliana Theory (Love, 2003)
I was really struggling with issues of identity and masculinity in those days. I didn’t hang out with a lot of other men; I could enjoy their company in a group setting, but I had a hard time getting past the reserved exterior with a lot of ’em, so I didn’t attempt one-on-one relationships unless I noticed an obvious connection right away. I was afraid that I’d find out a lot of men were just a bunch of commitment-phobic, cheating horndogs… you know, like my father was. Like the kind of guy I didn’t want to become. I trusted the feminine side of the human race more… soft, nurturing, innocent (comparatively, anyway), openly affectionate. I felt like a guy who was trapped in between the two stereotypes. And honestly, it was pretty arrogant of me to assume I was the only “sensitive guy” in the universe… but it was really just a manifestation of my fear. Fear, bitterness and hatred keep you in the dark. They keep a man from truly attaining the depth of character that God designed him to have.
8) “Are You a Hypnotist??”, The Flaming Lips (Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, 2002)
This spacy, percussion-heavy song about a guy who forgives a trickster, only to realize he was tricked into forgiving the guy, is probably just here for fun. At the moment I can’t ascribe any deeper meaning to its presence here. I might have needed a bit of absurd levity to lighten the mood after the more intense songs preceding it.
9) “Imaginary”, Evanescence (Fallen, 2003)
This song is pure fairy-tale escapism. I remember the first time I heard the more bare-bones version of it on Origin… I was lying in bed reading a book, and it was raining outside, and it just seemed like the perfect way to just forget all of my stress for a little way and let my mind drift off into the ether. The Fallen version was much more aggressive and in-your-face and that almost seemed to contradict the mood of the lyrics… but it was also about ten times more dramatic, with the strings and all. So this ended up being my favorite version.
10) “Hero”, Daily Planet (Hero, 2002)
An ode to the dubious nature of celebrity in the Internet age. An artist is only as good as the last thing they did, and information on all of their publicly known flaws becomes instantly available. Perhaps it was easier in the old days for an artist to keep up a “boy scout” facade (especially in the Christian music world) and never be exposed as a fraud. As intrusive and superficial as our constant need to have all the gossip that there is to know at our fingertips can be, perhaps it’s a good thing that anybody on stage who claims to know anything about this Christianity stuff can only go so long without messing up in front of people. It sets it up so that only the truly humble can be truly respected. At least, those who can be humble about their failings are the ones I’ve learned to respect the most.
11) “Legacy”, Nichole Nordeman (Woven and Spun, 2002)
Sort of following up on “Hero” was this song from the point of view of the famous person, which was honest enough to admit, “I don’t mind if you’ve got something nice to say about me”, but to also look beyond that and say that none of this “Christian celebrity” business really matters if not for this one thing: “Did I point to you enough to make a mark on things?” I’ve never wanted to be famous or to have a career in music or anything. But after a year and a half of playing the guitar and leading worship for small group and so forth, I realized that having an instrument in your lap can draw attention to you. And there were times I was tempted to use that attention as a sort of secret weapon, to make some girl think I was a “really spiritual guy” or whatever. I could be singing a song with the genuine intent of facilitating worship, or I could be doing it with self-centered intent… and people might not be able to tell. That’s a scary power to have. It made me stop and ask myself to check my motivations on a frequent basis.
12) “All the While Having Fun!”, The Elms (Truth, Soul, Rock & Roll, 2002)
Mas and Linda accompanied me to an Elms concert down in Fullerton in March. It was one of those “pay three bucks and get a really random assortment of Christian bands that really have nothing to with one another” sorts of deals. The opening acts were Radial Angel and some other bands that we skipped because we decided our energy would be better spent getting some dinner before The Elms came on. But The Elms made it more than worthwhile. I’m sure they would have much rather been playing in some Hollywood club than doing their classic rock routine in some church’s gym with middle-aged parents carting their three-year-olds around and forth. But I rather enjoyed the “all-ages” atmosphere, and was glad to see that parents would bring their kids out to a show like this even though the music wasn’t the obvious Christian radio type stuff. This was also the concert where I first met Thom Daugherty face-to-face, which never would have happened if I hadn’t insulted the band’s lyrics on a public form that he was participating in (unbeknownst to me) at the time. Once I found out, I decided the grown-up thing to do would be to seek out the member in question and apologize for being a jerk. (Though it’s worth noting that it was likely the CCM industry restraining the lyrics – Owen Thomas has written much better songs since the band signed a mainstream deal.)
13) “The Remedy (I Won’t Worry)”, Jason Mraz (Waiting for My Rocket to Come, 2002)
I owe Natalie for this one. She was into John Mayer and some of those other guys-with-guitars that a lot of the “bloggers” seemed to be into back then. So I checked him out, and was pleasantly surprised by the tongue-tied, almost hip-hop inspired rhyming infused with a more rootsy pop style. Mraz’s ego kind of got the best of him later in his career, but I loved the playful tone of many of his early songs – especially this monster hit that never ceased to make my problems seems a whole lot smaller for three or four minutes as I tried to twist my mouth around the rapid-fire lyrics. It was the new “One Week”.
14) “Smoothie Song”, Nickel Creek (This Side, 2002)
Nickel Creek’s second album was when I really became a fan – but it took a while to really appreciate what they were trying to do. At first, they just didn’t seem to fit into my music collection at all, with the conspicuous lack of drums and their sometimes sparse arrangements and whatnot. (This became much less of a problem as my tastes started to veer away from CCM and mainstream pop and rock music during the years ahead.) But this killer instrumental piece was definitely a good starting point – I still remember popping the CD in during our trip down to San Diego the first weekend Christine was in town (I had a theme of San Diego bands going that day since I had introduced her to Switchfoot earlier in the drive), and a great number of the songs finally clicking with me as we made our way through the grueling line of cars waiting to get into SeaWorld.
15) “Nobody Loves Me”, Derek Webb (She Must and Shall Go Free, 2003)
At long last, the solo debut of Derek Webb! I was really bummed that it coincided with his departure from Caedmon’s Call, but I really respected him for being brave enough to say what he needed to say and taking whatever fallout would come from it on himself instead of letting it drag down the band. This twangy little country song about telling the truth even when everybody thinks you’re a pain in the butt for doing it provided the first signature quote for my new Earthlink Email account that I had set up when Tim and I moved in together: “The truth is never sexy, so it’s not an easy sell/You can dress her like the culture, but she’ll shock ’em just as well.”
16) “Nightingale”, Norah Jones (Come Away with Me, 2002)
As much as Norah’s “delicate acoustic jazz” motif intrigued me, I had to admit that I responded more immediately to her “folksy” songs at first. The simple, repetitive acoustic guitar melody in this one was what made it my favorite track on the album. There was something intriguing about how her simple ode to this bird, wondering where it had been on its long, weary flight that led it to her windowsill.
Christine’s arrival in mid-April was something I had counted down the days to since about February. We did a lot of fun things during her first days here before she had to start settling in and looking for a job. One of the best highlights was taking a drive down to San Diego in order to go to Sea World – it was the first time for both of us. Of course, the crown jewel of Sea World is the Shamu show, and we were lucky enough to snap this shot of the legendary whale in mid-air, right before one of the many times when the front rows of the audience got completely drenched. I’ve done so many more new things in my own home state since Christine moved here than I had ever done on my own before.
Where in the world is this?
1) “Higher Ground”, 38th Parallel (Turn the Tides, 2002)
This is what you get when an early 2000’s rap/rock band drops the rap for one song and tries to sound like one of the boy bands of the era that is trying to sound like a legitimate rock band. Seriously, this song could’ve been on Plus One’s final album. Despite all that, I still think it’s pretty catchy. It must have been the zippy little acoustic guitar thing they had going on.
2) “Tonight”, The Benjamin Gate (Contact, 2002)
I didn’t know at the time that this would be the final Benjamin Gate song to end up on any of my mixes, or that Contact would be the final album of this short-lived band’s career. I had just found out that Adrienne Liesching was engaged to Jeremy Camp, and I thought the unlikely pairing was kind of cute, so I put songs by both artists together to commemorate their upcoming nuptial bliss.
3) “Take My Life”, Jeremy Camp (Stay, 2002)
And then I decided that honestly, I didn’t like Jeremy Camp all that much. Sure, he was entertaining enough when I saw him open for Bebo Norman at APU in March. I liked his personality. But a lot of his music was rather bland. Except on songs like this one where he was loud and boisterous and basically trying to sound like Creed. (And I’m not so sure I still like it now.) Then I found out that his marriage to Adrienne was effectively ending The Benjamin Gate’s existence as a band. That’s when my ambivalence turned into emphatic non-fandom.
4) “More than Fine”, Switchfoot (The Beautiful Letdown, 2003)
My involvement at the Phorum crossed over for a brief period of time to another board that Josh was participating in, and I don’t remember the exact name of it but I think it existed more specifically as a meeting place for critics who were trying to examine music and film from a Christian worldview. I thought it’d be interesting to interact with folks like music critic Jeffrey Overstreet, whose thoughts on various albums I was also digesting I’d often stumble across, thanks to Josh’s consistent ability to find them and link to them from the Phorum. I soon found out that I didn’t fit in there as well, after some rather heated arguments with folks who chalked Jars of Clay up as second-rate Toad the Wed Sprocket imitators, and who couldn’t take Switchfoot seriously due to the overly poppy nature of their newest album. Thanks to Mr. Overstreet, I can no longer listen to “More than Fine” without the “I’m not giving up, giving up” part reminding me of Olivia Newton-John’s song “Physical”.
5) “Take Me Away”, Lifehouse (Stanley Climbfall, 2002)
Back in 2001, I sort of dreaded solitude. When I lived by myself, I spent very little time at home and filled as many free evenings and weekends as I could with social activities. When I was by myself, I was on the Internet and generally engaged in some form of communication with somebody (usually Christine), so there was little time left for reflection and prayer. In 2003, I began to seek out solitude more intentionally, needing those languid moments where I could be by myself, lie in bed, and journal about whatever prayers I needed to get out of my system. I’ve kind of fallen out of that practice in recent years… I enjoy my time alone, but it doesn’t seem as oriented toward spending the time with God. I need to do something about that.
6) “I Woke Up in a Car”, Something Corporate (Leaving Through the Window, 2002)
My tangential interesting in Something Corporate – which sounded to my ears like Blink 182 with a piano – came about when I found out that they would be touring with The Juliana Theory. As I often did in those days, I sent out a mass Email to pretty much everyone I knew outlining a list of upcoming concerts, and TJT/SoCo was one of them. Sherwin, then a fellow college advisor at Evergreen, responded rather excitedly about wanting to go to this concert, and he and a friend of his whom I hadn’t met yet turned out to be the only other people who got tickets. I found out the day of the show that Sherwin had to back out due to other commitments (this was classic Sherwin; he seemed to have that sort of energy that put him in about 10 places at once and made his schedule difficult to keep track of), so he gave the ticket to another friend, and I ended up going to a concert with two women I’d never met before. They proved to be entertaining company, and apparently one of them was a personal friend of Andrew Schwab (the lead singer of Project 86) and had some interesting stories to tell about the “fringe” of the Christian rock scene. Anyway, both women were SoCo fans but had never heard TJT, so it was an experience of sharing favorite bands with one another. This song ended up being the most memorable performance from the concert… well, at least out of the songs that I considered mature enough to appear on one of my mix CDs (which meant no “iF U C Jordan”).
7) “Everything”, The Juliana Theory (Love, 2003)
This was perhaps the most pretentious, bombastic, overwrought, generic-in-its-attempt-to-be-universal song about love in existence… but it was a hell of a highlight of TJT’s live set. Their brief flirtation with mainstream fame gave them a decent shot at a bigger audience, which meant that the crowd energy at The Glass House that night was pretty high due to the folks who turned out for SoCo. But I can see why it didn’t last. The band’s pretentiousness could be a bit off-putting at times. Once I learned to negotiate around that, though, I found it difficult to stop listening to Love that year. Hell of a rock album, if you can accept the over-the-top-ness of it all.
8) “My Immortal”, Evanescence (Fallen, 2003)
Easter Sunday 2003 was the day that rocked my world. It was Christine’s first weekend in town after her big move, and I was running on minimal sleep due to our ambitious trip to San Diego the day before and getting up early to attend sunrise service with my Mom. So I may not have been thinking rationally by that point, but I remember being worried about why finally getting to be with Christine in person didn’t bring the “instant euphoric happiness” that I had been anticipating for so many months. Part of it was because we weren’t in vacation mode now – we’d had our happy reunion and done our fun little excursions and now it was time to buckle down and deal with helping her find a job and a more permanent place where she could afford to live, and basically catching up on a lot of things that many of my other adult friends had already worked out for themselves. I became impatient and stressed out over it. And that day at lunch, just in the middle of casual conversation with several friends, with Christine by my side meeting many of these people for the first side, I suddenly had this sickening realization: I had become attracted to one of my other female friends. It scared me TO DEATH. Feelings of guilt immediately flooded me for even acknowledging this to myself in the middle of a serious, committed relationship in which a young woman had just moved 3,000 miles in the hopes of one day marrying me. I tried to deny it, write it off as a “grass is greener on the other side” type rationalization that my mind was doing, but nothing worked. And I knew that if I couldn’t get this other person, who was a good friend to me and who would later become a good friend to Christine as well, out of my mind, then everything was eventually going to come to a head and I might have to break things off with Christine, if I couldn’t honestly say she was the only one in my heart. I felt like my stupid hormones were sabotaging our relationship, and that I was on the verge of experiencing a tragic loss that would haunt me for the rest of my life. None of this was the fault of the other person, of course – she was just being herself and was completely unaware of the situation – but I spent the better part of 2003 hating myself for playing the “what if” game to escape from the reality of the challenges which lay ahead for me and Christine. Only now, being well past all of that, am I finally at a point where I’m comfortable admitting this to the rest of the world.
9) “Easier to Run”, Linkin Park (Meteora, 2003)
It often feels like it’s easier to live in denial, to hide from our problems, rather than to try and stand up to them, take them head-on. When I think of the time I wasted being in denial of the difficult questions that would shape the future of my relationship with Christine, and all of the days I spent with her where she could tell I was emotionally detached but I didn’t want to admit why, I feel pretty stupid for taking the better part of that year and throwing it down the drain. Fortunately I learned a lot from the process. It was that last desperate act of finally facing the problem (which wouldn’t come for several more months) that began to prove to me that our relationship was a lot more solid than I was giving it credit for.
10) “Closure”, Chevelle (Wonder What’s Next, 2002)
I went with my brother and his girlfriend (at the time) to see Chevelle at the House of Blues in Anaheim – definitely a weird experience to have in the middle of downtown Disney, what with all of the sweaty aggression and the moshing and the foul-mouthed lead singer of 30 Seconds to Mars during their interminable opening set. It’s definitely the “heaviest” concert I’ve ever been to, but it was quite a blast. I guess in those days, I didn’t mind getting up early on a weekday so that I could beat traffic and drive way the hell down to Orange County to see a band I only sort of liked. These days I’m much more frugal with my concert choices.
11) “I Am Understood?”, Relient K (Two Lefts Don’t Make a Right… But Three Do, 2003)
This one’s sort of a counterpoint to “Pitiful” from Disc 1 – it represents that moment of opening up and admitting my failings to myself and resolving to no longer make these vain attempts to hide from God. It is embarrassing at times to realize that God knows your deepest, darkest secrets. But the hardest part of having secrets is the fear that nobody would understand you if they were to find out something that ugly about you. “You had a crush on another woman while you were in the middle of a long-term relationship? You chauvinistic womanizer!” I begged God to take these troubling feelings away from me. Not to imply that God had caused them in the first place… I think it was just a classic case of not knowing what I wanted, and needing to figure it out in a hurry before I ended up losing the best thing that had ever happened to me. In any event, I can’t say that my prayers during that phase of my life were anything but earnest and desperate. “God, just fix me already!”
12) “Still Burning”, Sixpence None the Richer (Divine Discontent, 2002)
“When You break my arms, I’ll take hold of You.” This was such a vulnerable, pretty song, and yet it described sort of a violent approach to God’s mercy – the sometimes painful act of taking away something we love or find security in so that we might grow. It’s hard to describe what that’s like without making God sound rather sadistic… but if you’ve been through that sort of pruning process, it makes a lot more sense. I was going through it at that time – I think God was trying to show me the sorts of hard decisions I’d have to make and difficult trials I’d have to stick with someone through if I ever hoped to be able to do this whole “marriage” thing.
13) “Further”, Pillar (Fireproof, 2002)
For all of Pillar’s loud, militant obnoxiousness, this dark, slow-burning prayer of a song really spoke to me. The biggest moments of clarity come when we are furthest from ourselves, least concerned with our own temporary desires, only wanting to know what God’s will is, what is divinely ordained to happen next. I knew that it had to be time to refine what I wanted and try to make it match up more closely to what God wanted. I was confused. I wanted conflicting things.
14) “Untitled #1”, Sigur Rós (( ), 2002)
Sigur Rós was the perfect “midnight music”. I can recall once or twice when I woke up in the middle of the night, and since I couldn’t get back to sleep, I’d just put on a little Sigur Rós and let the warm, ethereal tones of a composition like this one quietly seep into the room as I blogged or journaled. Clarity seemed to come most easily during the hours of the day when it felt like I was the only person awake in the entire neighborhood… when there was no temptation to cut off the solitude by calling or IM’ing someone else to see what they were up to.
15) “Where the Trees Stand Still”, Bebo Norman (Myself When I Am Real, 2002)
Despite the mellow, plain-spoken nature of most of Bebo’s songs never really grabbing hold with me, I had enjoyed him enough on the Third Day tour the previous year that I decided to go with Linda and a few of her friends to see him play at APU in March. Several of his songs just seemed to “click” with me that night in ways they hadn’t before – most notably “The Hammer Holds” and this delicate, vulnerable song about imagining yourself years in the future and longing to just reach out and touch that reality where you have a wife and kids and someone to take care of who will also take care of you. This was what I longed for, too – and yet I also remembered that I was a bit terrified of it at the same time.
16) “Let There Be Light”, Andrew Peterson (Love and Thunder, 2003)
Bebo and Andrew always go together in my mind, since I first heard them both at my first Caedmon’s Call concert back in 1998, so I found it fitting to close this otherwise tumultuous mix with peaceful, prayerful songs by these two artists. Andrew’s song celebrated the spirit of creativity – the miracle of God’s creation being reflected in human beings who were also given the ability to create, to say “Let there be music” or “Let there be painting” or “Let there be woodwork” or “Let there be just legislation for the poor and oppressed”. This became a central belief that began to drive more and more of my choices regarding the music I listened to – I figured God had created us to reflect His creativity in some small way, and increasingly, I found myself not wanting to waste time on anything that seemed to stifle creativity instead of rejoicing in it.