The summer of 2003 was a tough one. I felt like I was trying to pull off a tricky balancing act – the weekends were filled with dates and other fun outings with Christine, most of which I genuinely enjoyed, but there was this feeling lurking underneath that I had issues I needed to work through before I could fully get my head into the game, in terms of where our relationship was going. It was one of the most stressful things I’d ever been through, and I knew I couldn’t keep it all beneath the surface for too long.
In with the New:
Steven Delopoulos (as a solo artist – appears previously with Burlap to Cashmere)
Out with the Old:
Listen on Spotify:
In May 2003, Christine got to see snow for the first time in her life, during a weekend trip to the Sierras with Kent and some of the other folks from the Evergreen hiking ministry. It was a romantic and fascinating experience for the both of us – I’d seen it many times before, but seeing her interact with it for the first time was really interesting. We found out that hiking in the snow isn’t so much fun, though, as it thwarted our attempts to make it to what was supposed to be a good lookout point. But Mark took some great pictures of us amidst the winter (spring?) wonderland, and I had him Photoshop us out of this one so I could use just the scenery by itself for the CD cover.
Where in the world is this?
1) “Tangled Web”, Daily Planet (Hero, 2002)
This fun song about being a megalomaniac who thinks he can save the entire world singlehandedly turned out to be the last hurrah for Daily Planet – the last song I selected from their one and only album, and the energetic opening number at the one live show I managed to catch later that summer. The story is that the lead singer shattered his leg during a mistimed jump during one of their shows, and subsequently got buried in medical bills to the point where the band couldn’t afford to stay together. So sad.
2) “Sleeping Awake”, P.O.D. (The Matrix Reloaded Soundtrack, 2003)
I never saw The Matrix Reloaded – my complaint about the first film was that it was all philosophical and fascinating and existential and stuff, and then, “We need guns. Lots of guns.” Like, if nothing really exists, why is all of the carnage necessary to win your war or whatever? Nevertheless, I was excited to see P.O.D. appear on the soundtrack, with what turned out to be a better song than anything that ended up on their self-titled album later that year. P.O.D. was never known for writing brilliant lyrics, but I think it took talent to make the allusions to things like “Zion” in this song fit both the film and the framework of the band members’ faith.
3) “Hit the Floor”, Linkin Park (Meteora, 2003)
This was one of Linkin Park’s “scarier” songs due to the brutal screams during the chorus, but also one of the most fun to “sing” along with, due to the tongue-twisting rap verses and those piercing Chester Bennington shrieks that I could only attempt to imitate when no one else was in the car. I’m sure it must have made me look like an idiot to whoever was stopped beside me at a traffic light whenever this song happened to be playing.
4) “Going Under”, Evanescence (Fallen, 2003)
This one will forever be remembered as “that song with the evil zombie music video”. I must have been in a rather dark mood when I put this one and “Hit the Floor” back to back, but I think it’s a killer one-two punch. That said, it also reveals the more juvenile side of my musical tastes at the time – I still enjoy this stuff, but I’m not sure I’d still consider Evanescence to be one of the best bands in my personal collection. Then again, this was before the band practically imploded later that year, so I had a higher opinion of them as people back then.
5) “Turn the Tides”, 38th Parallel (Turn the Tides, 2003)
Take all of the reasons why I had such a blast with that Linkin Park song, and cut and paste them here. Though this one wasn’t nearly as ferocious. It was fun ear candy – good interplay between the two vocalists.
6) “2+2=5”, Radiohead (Hail to the Thief, 2003)
It almost seems cruel to juxtapose Radiohead with some of the artists surrounding them on this disc, but at the time, Radiohead was a band that I was still trying to develop a healthy respect for. While Kid A and Amnesiac had gotten me curious, it was the leak of Hail to the Thief that really got me excited, especially when it led off with this lopsided little rocker that might just be my all-time favorite Radiohead song (I go back and forth between this one and “Idioteque”). I majored in math; I remembered that old joke that “Two plus two equals five for extremely large values of two” that only my professors and a few of my colleagues would have actually chuckled at. So I was tickled by the band’s choice to actually write a song based on fallacious mathematics and use it as a metaphor for the ignorant herd mentality. Lots of bands tried to offer us hope in the wake of 9/11; I think perhaps Radiohead was trying to offer more of a cautionary tale about how paranoia could turn us into an extremely stupid bunch of people if we weren’t careful. But then, nobody really knows what a lot of Radiohead songs are actually about.
7) “Gibberish”, Relient K (Two Lefts Don’t Make a Right… But Three Do, 2003)
I was definitely being tongue-in-cheek here, following up a Radiohead song with one entitled “Gibberish”. But this one isn’t only here for the joke – it may be almost entirely comprised of nonsense lyrics, but it’s actually still one of my favorites by RK, just because all of the made-up words are so much fun to try to memorize and recite back. “Arg wu sentafiticate, nar dunderford! Bida menti, kosticated interserd!” Et cetera.
8) “Inspiration”, Sanctus Real (Say It Loud, 2002)
Sanctus Real was only barely on my radar in their early days – the occasional punchy power pop number like this one caught my attention, but for the most part I lost them in a sea of similar pop/punk and Jimmy Eat World-inspired bands, and didn’t regain much interest in them until The Face of Love in 2006. Looking back, I think I enjoyed this song most for the fancy drumming.
9) “Good (I’ve Got a Lot to Learn)”, Dakona (Perfect Change, 2003)
Dakona was one of a handful of new artists that Josh was getting pre-releases of due to his association with some record label or another at the time that he was writing reviews for. I think they were supposed to be one of modern rock’s next big things, but it took many months of release date pushbacks and other record label red tape before the rest of the world got to hear the album that I ended up listening to all summer… and I don’t recall it getting much of a reaction at that point, so they quickly disappeared back into obscurity. This song was great fun and made a few waves on radio, though – at least, I recall hearing it here and there. It had that whole “white boy rock band being ironic by singing a song’s verses as some sort of a faux-rap” thing going on – you know, like “One Week” by the Barenaked Ladies. That made it an ideal candidate for the string of catchy songs that almost always takes up the first half of any of my mixes.
10) “The Tower”, Vienna Teng (Waking Hour, 2002)
Being a huge fan of Corrinne May in those days, and having used some of her songs to woo Christine from afar, I was delighted to finally have the chance to take Christine to see her in concert now that she lived here in California. So, on the afternoon of May 1, when Khat’s boyfriend Mike happened to also be in town visiting, the four of us converged at the somewhat obscure and difficult-to-find Soka University in Aliso Viejo, a tranquil college campus where Corrinne was slated to open for Vienna Teng, a fellow Asian-American piano-playing artist who we had never heard of before that night. It seemed only fair to stick around for the main act, and when Vienna busted out this song early in her set, I wa struck by how vividly her piano playing and her lyrics could paint a picture and tell an intricate story. I could see that lonely tower reaching toward the sky, standing tall and strong and promising security to all who entered, but having no escape from its own isolation. I fell in love with an artist that night who went on to become my favorite female songwriter of all time. It still ranks as one of the best concerts Christine and I have ever attended together.
11) “White Days”, The Juliana Theory (Love, 2003)
The imagery of a flower trying to bloom in snow, which is the last thought expressed in “The Tower”, segued nicely into this metaphorical song about the perils of being a touring band in the dead of a harsh Pennsylvania winter. At least, that’s what I assume it’s about. TJT had this sort of reclusive way about them that made it hard to tell what they were getting at sometimes. In any event, it was one of the “snow songs” that came to mind when Christine and I were on that chilly hike in the Sierras.
12) “Seasons”, Steven Delopoulos (Me Died Blue, 2003)
Steven Delopoulos was another “new artist” who Josh was able to introduce me to by way of long-distance CD-burning correspondence. Of course, I already knew him as the former lead singer of Burlap to Cashmere, but I was utterly unprepared for him to turn out such an exquisitely crafted folk album on his own. This song was the immediate standout for me, with its bluesy progression and its little bits of synth and banjo and all of those seemingly incongruous sounds that I loved so much. Josh and the other Phorumers were really starting to transform my CD collection for the better that year.
13) “Too Much Food”, Jason Mraz (Waiting for My Rocket to Come, 2002)
Another of Mraz’s patented smart-assed tongue twister songs. I certainly had “too much food on my plate” that summer – it seemed like there was another crisis (usually involving Christine – our relationship was suffering from a distinct lack of normalcy) every time I turned around. I needed a way to laugh at the absurdity of my life. This song did the trick.
14) “Couch Potato”, Weird Al Yankovic (Poodle Hat, 2003)
Three years had been a long wait for a new album since I first became a Weird Al fan thanks to that Christmas gift from Sharon in late ’99. I didn’t want the surprises ruined this time, so I bought the album without hearing a note of it… and found most of it to be rather spotty. Not Al’s best work. But in all fairness, some of the humor wasn’t catching on because I wasn’t as exposed to a lot of popular music in 2003 as I had been right after college, when I heard pretty much every popular radio hit constantly whether I wanted to or not. So I had never actually heard the Eminem song that this one was based on before hearing Al’s version. (Not that this stopped me from whining when Eminem beat out U2 for the Best Original Song Oscar, but whatever.) Now it’s one of my favorites, and I’ve gained some amount of respect for Eminem since the original song is pretty solid, too, though I wouldn’t be caught dead listening to most of his stuff. Basically what Al did was an update of “I Can’t Watch This” – a rap song about all of the crap on TV that rots your brain. It works because Al had such a keen ear for matching the original lyrics to similar-sounding names of shows and networks.
15) “Adding to the Noise”, Switchfoot (The Beautiful Letdown, 2003)
What better to follow up a Weird Al song about TV than a song about how there’s too much noise in the world and you should turn off your TV? Actually, Switchfoot fans seemed to be divided on this one – some thought it was a blast, some found it annoying. But this, along with the 9 other songs from The Beautiful Letdown that they played, were all definite highlights when Christine and I went with the two Lindas to see the band live at the Hollywood house of Blues in June. That’s another concert which still ranks among my all-time favorites.
16) “Believe”, Grits feat. Jennifer Knapp (The Art of Translation, 2002)
I loved the idea of Jennifer Knapp singing the main hook for a rap song, as well as (at least I’m assuming) providing some acoustic guitar licks. it was a good bit of synergy on the part of Gotee Records, who clearly had a roster of rather disparate artists. This turned out to be the last new thing I’d end up hearing from Jennifer Knapp before she announced her retirement in the year 2004. We actually saw Grits at some sort of evangelical musical festival out in Walnut later that summer (this was before I got fed up with going to those things), but they didn’t attempt to do this song, since I don’t think it would have really worked without the female vocal.
I finally got over my fear of high altitude in June, when the hiking group attempted a trek across the valley beneath Mt. San Jacinto. Getting up there from Palm Springs required taking an aerial tram that was basically a suspended rotating room – a bit freaky, but it was good to face my fear of heights head-on. The trail itself was up at 8 or 9,000 feet, and we did feel a little sleepy after exerting ourselves at that altitude, but I never felt like I couldn’t breathe or was about to lose my lunch, so… progress! On the way back, we split up, one group took the high trail (from which I took this picture of the surrounding mountains) and one group took the low trail. Christine went the other way… that was the first of many times when anyone and everyone would bug me with “Where’s Christine?” the second they realized that we were apart. No sweat, folks – sometimes couples want to do different things. We’re still individuals, right?
Where in the world is this?
1) “Jesus Freak vs. Dismissed”, dc Talk vs. ZOEgirl (Smash-Ups, 2003)
Mash-ups were all the rage in the adolescent days of peer-to-peer downloadin. A few of the music geeks out there had gotten past the initial thrill of downloading songs they hadn’t paid for (not that there’s anything wrong with that!) and started experimenting with “mashing” two songs together, usually by matching the vocals from one to the music from the other, just to show the similarities between the two (or highlight the incongruities in humorous ways). This was an amusing enough hobby for those with the technical know-how, but since it prompted a lot of “cease-and-desist” orders from record labels, some mad genius in the Christian music biz got the idea to do this above the table with a lot of the popular Christian music acts of the last decade or so. Most of the results were horrible, but this unholy concoction of dc Talk’s “Jesus Freak” (a Christian rock classic that most fans would probably be loathe to mess with) with the teenybopper vocals of ZOEgirl’s “Dismissed” showed how the two songs fit a little too closely together for comfort. I thought it was hilarious, since I loved both songs, but it had never once occurred to me that they were anything like each other.
2) “Forward Motion”, Relient K (Two Lefts Don’t Make a Right… But Three Do, 2003)
All of the stuff about getting kicked out by your landlord in this song is meant to be a humorous metaphor, but it wasn’t such a laughing matter when we had to relocate Christine in a hurry twice during one summer – first because it didn’t work out too well for her to live with my Mom, and second because a rather odd roommate who she had found in Alhambra and lived with for about a month rather abruptly put her out on the street in favor of another new roommate who actually had a job. Those were difficult days. The struggle with “forward motion” in the spiritual sense, which is what the song was really about, referred more to me. I felt like I was banging my head against a wall, like God kept throwing new obstacles at this relationship as if he was trying to tell me it was more trouble than it was worth. Christine hardly knew anyone else out here, and I didn’t know what to do – I couldn’t give up on her and leave her with no choice but to go back to Hawaii, but I wasn’t sure how long I could honestly stick with the constant crisis mode that we were in.
3) “Who Am I?”, 38th Parallel (Turn the Tides, 2002)
The closest thing that 38P did to a straight-up “rap song” – it’s almost all drums and bass, and I rather like that, since it stands apart from their usual rap/rock shtick. This was a cleverly worded song about judgment and the tendency that we have to pick out specks from others’ eyes while not noticing the planks in our own eyes. I had a pretty low opinion of myself in those days, thinking that I had somehow been unfaithful to Christine in my mind, and this served to take away the condescending attitude I had previously had towards certain people who I regarded as “cheaters”, most notably my ex-girlfriend. Who was I to judge if I could see how a reasonable person to be tempted to take the easy way out at the first sign of trouble? No longer could I say that this was a temptation I didn’t face.
4) “I Am Trying to Break Your Heart”, Wilco (Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, 2002)
This is definitely one of the most depressing and outright weird songs that I’ve ever loved. It’s like the distorted sound of a hangover wrapped up in a bunch of abstract poetry. At my lowest opinion of myself, this was what I figured others would think of me if I called it quits with Christine. If she moved all the way across the Pacific Ocean to be with me, and I turned out to have not been all that serious about her, didn’t that pretty much mean I was carelessly playing with her feelings and almost intentionally breaking her heart? But wait… I hadn’t planned on starting to fall for someone else. It’s easy to be faithful in a relationship when there’s no temptation, no notion of any “other options” out there. If I was going to continue to love her, and if I was going to avoid breaking her heart, then it had to be a conscious choice, not a default response to some warm, fuzzy feelings.
5) “Somewhere I Belong”, Linkin Park (Meteora, 2003)
One of the folks that I met through my activities at The Phorum and on the CMCentral boards was a guy who went by the screen name “bloop” – he challenged me to see the best in some of the more “difficult” and “experimental” artists like Wilco, and he loathed more corporate rock acts since as Linkin Park, who he saw as just capitalizing on a trend. We got into a lot of arguments regarding my Linkin Park fandom. Some of them ended with me being rather abusive – not because I was mad about somebody dissing the band (I wasn’t that huge of a fan), but just because I adhered pretty strongly to the principle of musical tastes being a subjective thing. I came to see things a little more his way in the long run. But I think I ended up putting this uncharacteristically positive Linkin Park song next to a Wilco song because it amused me to imagine how perverse he’d think that was.
6) “I Feel Fine”, Nine Days (So Happily Unsatisfied, 2002)
Nine Days was supposed to have a follow-up to The Madding Crowd out in 2002, but it never got released due to some sort of record label red tape that I never really understood. In this case, it turned out to be for the better, because aside from this fun little song about self-denial in the wake of a relationship ending, the album sucked.
7) “Unwell”, Matchbox Twenty (More than You Think You Are, 2002)
Nothing says “fun wacky hit single” like the presence of a banjo in an otherwise rather mild-mannered pop song! This one was definitely attention-grabbing, as was most of Matchbox Twenty’s last full-length album before there hiatus. Denial played a big role in this one – it was all about a guy who was going crazy and doing everything he could to insist that he was alright. In a morbidly humorous way, I started to feel like I could really relate to this one due to all of the stress I was under that summer.
8) “Green and Gray”, Nickel Creek (This Side, 2002)
A clever little song about a performer who was loved by everyone, but understood by no one. This one sort of built off of the denial/insanity theme – this time, the guy’s not so much denying that he’s crazy, but just trying to pretend he’s not absolutely lonely. He’s surrounded by tons of friends, people who think he’s a great guy, a skilled musician, a poet and a visionary. But he lets nobody in, perhaps due to fear that when they find out what he’s really like, they’ll disown him. I could relate – I felt like I was living a public life and a private life that were very different. I was neither a celebrity nor a renowned musician nor anything but simply a good friend to a lot of people, but there were worries and concerns and guilty confessions on my mind that I didn’t think I could share with any of them at the time. it ate me up inside.
9) “Hold Me”, Plumb (Beautiful Lumps of Coal, 2003)
A bright spot in that otherwise difficult phase during my relationship with Christine was our early celebration of our first anniversary. We had become a couple in June 2002, and she decided we should take the last weekend of May and go on a short getaway together, just for one night. We got a room at a cute little Bed & Breakfast in Santa Monica, and had a fancy dinner at Duke’s in Malibu, and I just remember feeling totally at peace as we drove back down PCH that evening, totally on the same wavelength and looking forward to staying up late and watching a silly movie together and talking until some ridiculous hour of the morning and no need for me to drop her off at home. (Yes, we behaved ourselves.) The point of it wasn’t to get away with anything that wouldn’t happen in a supervised environment – the point was just that it was nice to find out what it’d be like to wake up beside each other the next day. Maybe not something I’d advise for all couples, but it worked for us. Of course, we weren’t at all used to the other person being there while we tried to sleep, so our mere presence kept each other awake, and we probably only got 1-2 hours of sleep the entire night, which made us a bit sluggish on the hike that we had planned the next day. But I cherished that little retreat, and I think we might have been in trouble if not for the intentional effort to “rekindle” our relationship that weekend.
10) “Between”, Vienna Teng (Waking Hour, 2002)
Vienna Teng’s first album brings back strong memories of that weekend spent down by the beach together, but amongst all of the melancholy romantic songs to be found on it, this song lay nestled in between, a captivating piece of music that I couldn’t admit at the time how much I related to. It’s all about a “third one between” who threatens to unravel a relationship. Vienna wrote it with intentional ambiguity – it could have described a pregnancy, making the baby the “third one” who came between two lovers, or it could simply describe a messy love triangle. In our case, I was the only one who knew about the third point on the triangle – Christine was oblivious, as was this other woman who I was trying to convince myself not to have feelings for, and I was desperate to keep it that way. And hey, if a song was going to remind me of what a shmuck I was, at least it was an ethereally gorgeous one.
11) “Absolutely Zero”, Jason Mraz (Waiting for My Rocket to Come, 2002)
A sad, theatrical breakup song about buying into a relationship and having zip to show for it at the end. I love the cleverness inherent in even a serious, downbeat song like this one – both partners “haggle” over who gets the blame and Jason insists he’ll sell it back to her for the nothing he paid to get it! I must have been bracing for a breakup when put these two songs on this disc back to back. Thankfully, that was a false alarm, but man, I sure felt like a heel for dragging Christine into the whole thing when I thought that I might have to end it at some point soon.
12) “Hate”, Fiction Plane (Everything Will Never Be OK, 2003)
The aforementioned Switchfoot concert just so happened to have a stellar opening band by the name of Fiction Plane, most notable for their lead singer being Joe Sumner, the son of Sting. They sounded a lot like early U2, though notably more depressing. OK, so their lyrics weren’t the greatest, but they put on one hell of a live show (which we got to see an encore of when they ended up opening for Lifehouse barely one week later in Ventura!) This song about hating anything and everything just ’cause that’s what all the cool people do was the definite standout track on their first album.
13) “In God’s Name”, Dakona (Perfect Change, 2003)
This quiet, brooding acoustic song hit like a ton of bricks – “If you want to hate, then please leave God alone”. It was the perfect counterpoint to “Hate” – a description of what happens when people let their faith be defined by the things they hate and the people they fight wars against. I can’t think of a more convincing way to express the old adage “Two wrongs don’t make a right” with genuine conviction.
14) “Twenty-Four”, Switchfoot (The Beautiful Letdown, 2003)
Christine and I were both 24 years old at the start of 2003, so this quarter-life crisis song, written on the eve of Jon Foreman’s 24th birthday, resonated well with us. It was a beautiful sing-along during their live show, and it brought a sort of coordinated peace to all of the dissonant, disparate voices in my head, all of them singing along, “Oh-oh-oh, oh-oh-oh, I am the second man now.” I wanted to be a new man. I was afraid of what the old one might do to sabotage all the things that I had dreamed of becoming in my younger, more idealistic days.
15) “Serve Hymn/Holy Is the Lord”, Andrew Peterson (Love and Thunder, 2003)
I saved the most peaceful, acoustic songs for the end of the disc, including this admirable attempt at modern hymn-writing from Andrew’s understated third album. I can’t really pick out specific lyrics that struck me or a reason why it directly related to my life – it was just a calming devotional song that spoke peace and order to the chaos, so it fit in well at this point near the end of the mix.
16) “Wedding Dress”, Derek Webb (She Must and Shall Go Free, 2003)
This one’s another big hint at the way I viewed myself in those days. I wanted to have conviction. I wanted to be holy. I could claim these things and promise to live a Christlike life when it seemed easy. I felt like the whore who put Christ on like a wedding dress, and then ran out the door and promptly got it dirty. I appreciated Derek’s candor here – he might have gotten slapped on the back of the hand for using the word “whore”, but the Bible itself makes that analogy concerning the children of Israel and their defiance of God’s plan for them. A year prior, I was thanking God for another chance at a relationship, for not letting my scarlet sins keep me from experiencing something pure and beautiful that made me genuinely happy, and now here I was, in spite of myself, playing indecisive games and threatening to throw it all away. I didn’t really know for sure what God’s will for me was at the time – maybe He intended for me to stay with Christine. Maybe He had someone else in mind. Maybe I was meant to be single and this whole relationship thing would be a wild goose chase with anybody. For the time, all I could say for sure was that I needed to honor Christine the best I could for the time that we were together. Looking back now, knowing that God did indeed plan for me to marry Christine, I’m sure glad I was able to muster up some small amount of common sense and stick with it. But what else is there in my life now that I’m defiantly refusing to being faithful to God with? This song hasn’t stopped convicting me just because I got my romantic relationship issues sorted out. There’s still my money and my time and my tongue and all manner of things that I’m not trusting enough to surrender to Him.