The summer of 2003 was more than a bit tumultuous. Christine had to move twice, and between that and her struggle to find a job, our relationship was getting a bit frayed. She didn’t have a lot to keep her busy without a job, and that caused friction in terms of how we wanted to spend our spare time (I wanted some time to myself, she wanted to spend it all together). But we did still manage to have fun despite the stress and uncertainty.
In with the New:
Out with the Old:
It Was Worth a Try:
The Innocence Mission
Listen on Spotify:
One thing Christine liked to do was to look up out-of-the-way parks or beaches on the Internet and have me drive to those locations on the weekends. Some of these felt like our own little secret places that a lot of people didn’t know about. One such spot was this beach called Abalone Cove near Palos Verdes, which required a short walk down a steep trail to get from the parking lot to a small spit of beach below a cliff. I graciously cropped this picture so that you don’t have to see my blinding white chest (I was originally off to the left).
Where in the world is this?
1) “Reality”, Big Dismal (Believe, 2003)
Alright, I’ll admit it. Big Dismal was the one “post-grunge sound-alike band” that I allowed to get away with the obvious aping of Creed, which I normally despised when I heard bands like Kutless trying to get away with it. Maybe Big Dismal just had a better gift for melody, or maybe their lyrics were generic enough to “walk the mainstream tightrope” instead of being embarrassingly preachy. In any event, I probably loved their one and only album more than I should have. This track was fun. It felt like something out of The Matrix or a similar sci-fi movie, questioning what was real and what was decption to the tune of crunchy guitars.
2) “Faint”, Linkin Park (Meteora, 2003)
It’s teen angst at the speed of light! This one’s pretty ridiculous when I look back at it, but I liked that it changed things up from the usual mid-tempo rap/rock approach, and just sort of blew through like a hurricane. Mike Shinoda did another one of those “rapid-fire raps” that I had to challenge myself to memorize. I had a lot of frustrations that summer; this was a good way to let them out.
3) “Feel”, Matchbox Twenty (More than You Think You Are, 2002)
This is probably the angriest and edgiest that Matchbox Twenty has ever been. It certainly got my attention when I finally got around to investigating the album they’d put out the year before, which turned out to be a favorite that I played heavily for the rest of 2003. The first verse of this song related more to my situation with Christine than I cared to admit at the time – she was tempted to give up the job hunt and the search for a more long-term place to live at times when the lack of interviews or the situation with her psycho roommate in Alhambra was at its worst. I wanted to be supportive, but there was a part of me that felt like I was being manipulated into fixing everything that she couldn’t fix on her own, so there were only so many emotional meltdowns that I could take within a given week.
4) “Meant to Live”, Switchfoot (The Beautiful Letdown, 2003)
This was the big anthem that broke Switchfoot out into the mainstream. I was quite proud to see them finally pull it off. While they had explored the theme of being “meant to live for so much more” several times before and would do it several times after that, there were a few lines here that grabbed me in particular, most notably “We want more than the wars of our fathers.” I was acutely aware of my temptation to give up on the relationship with Christine because things were in such a state of flux, and I didn’t think I could handle the responsibility of helping her stabilize her life. I was tempted to call it quits when things got rough, and I realized how much like my father that would have made me. I wanted to prove that I was better than that – to stop the curse passed down from one father to the next through the generations.
5) “Everything Will Never Be OK”, Fiction Plane (Everything Will Never Be OK, 2003)
As pessimistic as it might sound, there’s actually a lot of wisdom to this song. I’d say that 2003 was the year I finally learned to stop looking ahead for a “someday” when everything in my life would be set up exactly the way I wanted it and I’d be totally comfortable. Time passes. Age makes bodies work less efficiently than before. Previously stable relationships and groups of friends you take for granted are prone to splinter. Despite the effort you spend to arrange your life just so, entropy always increases. Realizing this doesn’t mean having to give up on your dreams – I think that instead, it urges you to pick out the dreams that mean the most, believe you can still achieve those things, and accept that there will be other setbacks and annoyances and unpredictable detours along the way. I’m the kind of guy who has a tough time kicking back and enjoying leisure activities or one-on-one time with a loved one if other problems are bugging me. It’s like I can only have fun or be genuinely loving when nothing overly stressful is happening. And there came a point where I just had to accept that life is messy, and that I could either let one mess put a damper on everything, or be content to enjoy the things that were going well and find small bits of happiness in those. OK, so things were less than perfect with Christine – I had no guarantees that things would work out as we planned, and that bothered me. Did that mean we couldn’t enjoy a simple weekend trip together or a night out at the movies? I had to learn to not let the looming uncertain future ruin those things.
6) “Are You Happy Now?”, Michelle Branch (Hotel Paper, 2003)
This song was the voice of guilt from the future, haunting me about how Christine would feel if I decided to take the easy way out and end the relationship. At some point that summer I made the grave mistake of admitting to her that due to all the stress, I had found myself in a moment of weakness acknowledging that I had feelings for someone else. I’m not entirely sure how I survived the interrogation that followed that, or how she could still want to have a relationship with me after that point. She was certainly more understanding than most women would be (though still rightfully more than a bit upset), and I guess we both had to chalk it up to the unusual amount of stress we were under, and resolve to do more things that would enable us to bond rather than just focusing on the “need to do” list that was destroying us. Most rational folks would probably choose to avoid songs that make them feel guilty, rather than put them on mixes and end up hearing them even more frequently, but listening to it helped me work through some of those emotions, and besides, it was a fun song.
7) “Free”, Plumb (Beautiful Lumps of Coal, 2003)
On the other hand, if things had really gotten to a point where Christine and I had broken up and she had either moved back to Hawaii or found enough of a support group in her friends to make it worth staying here, there was a part of me that thought maybe she’d be better off getting rid of me. I was feeling possibly lower than I’d ever felt about my own sense of integrity and faithfulness – it wasn’t like anything had happened with this other person I had feelings for, and she was blissfully unaware of the whole thing. But I raked myself over the coals for it every time I thought about it, despite not knowing how to stop myself from wondering “what if”. Maybe I was the kind of guy women wrote songs like this about, after bidding sayonara to relationships that kept them in shackles. What was to stop Christine from saying “good riddance”? Sometimes I still wonder how she managed to still feel something for me during our lowest point that summer.
8) “The Glorious Ones”, Tree63 (The Life and Times of Absolute Truth, 2002)
The mix needed a little levity at that point – as did our stressful lives. We used to be up for driving however far we needed to drive, even on a weekday, to see various Christian bands that one or the other of us was into. A few names that I recognized were on the roster at a local evangelical festival out in the Pomona area that summer, and the South African band Tree63 was among them, so we went and endured the overly fiery calls for repentance and drippy altar call music to hear them. Tree63 had a pretty tight live sound, actually, and this blast of a song was just the pick-me-up that my music collection needed at the time.
9) “Trademark”, Relient K (Two Lefts Don’t Make a Right… But Three Do, 2003)
A song about the inescapable nature of depravity – “It’s my trademark move to turn my back on You.” I was somehow able to rationalize myself as a “good guy” at earlier points in my life – I had some vague concept of being a sinner and I was well aware of my “occasional” mistakes and I beat myself up about them quite a bit, but for the most part I figured I was well behaved. Perhaps it took being in a relationship – one with responsibilities and dependencies and a barrage of challenges – to show me how truly selfish I was and how constantly I went back to that well of just wanting things to be comfortable and easy. Looking back on that rough summer, I can see how God was changing my view, reminding me I was no better than some of those guys I would scorn for being jerks and messing up relationships with quality women due to their own selfishness and inability to commit to anything. Not that God wanted to drag me down – I just needed the reminder that I would have to acknowledge my self-serving tendencies and learn to depend on Him if I was ever going to be marriage material.
10) “Richest Man in the World”, Dakona (Perfect Change, 2003)
Why would you pray for God to take something away from you that you prayed for so long for Him to give you? I had begged and pleaded for so long to actually experience love, to be in a meaningful relationship, and now here it was, and it was hard, and I had to ask myself if getting what I wanted was really worth it. How did this advance either of our relationships with God? How did it help others? How was God using this? And I came to the conclusion that I could fight tooth and nail to keep it, and it could all be in vain. I had to be willing to let it go and find out if God truly had a purpose in allowing me to keep this valuable thing that I had once begged for. It was sort of like Abraham and Isaac, though way less visually dramatic – nothing to physically hold a knife up to and be spared from having to kill at the last minute. I related to the line in this song that said “Take my car, take my girl, I’m the richest man in the world”. That’s life in America for you. I had a lot compared to people who literally had to beg on the streets day in and day out just to eat, but all I could think of was the things that weren’t perfect and that made me frustrated. So maybe God just needed to take my “riches” away – or at least force me to re-evaluate those conveniences as things given to me for Him to use, not just to make me happy.
11) “Nation of Slaves”, Joseph Arthur (Redemption’s Son, 2002)
Josh discovered this prolific songwriter at some point during the year, and the stylistically varied, caustic-yet-spiritual Redemption’s Son retroactively became his favorite album of 2002, so of course he had to let me in on the secret. He actually mailed me a number of CDs that year, but this was the one I got the most enjoyment out of. The vocals were ragged, almost sinister, but there was something fascinating lurking in the haunted tales of redemption and the messed-up relationships and the noisy, worldbeat-driven songs like this one where I couldn’t quite figure out what the hell was going on, but loved it anyway.
12) “Me Died Blue”, Steven Delopoulos (Me Died Blue, 2003)
This track was offbeat, Greek-inspired, manic-folk goodness. I was listening to a lot of edgy radio rock and downtrodden indie stuff that summer, but the genius that was Steven D’s first solo album ended up being my favorite discovery of 2003. It was enigmatic and verbose and complex and melancholy… but it brightened my day without fail.
13) “Spit on a Stranger”, Nickel Creek (This Side, 2002)
Speaking of downtrodden indie stuff, this was a peppy bluegrass band’s take on a “slacker rock” song by Pavement. It made no sense to me then and it still doesn’t, but I loved the playful atmosphere that NC brought to the song. The background vocal part that says “Pull me out” during the chorus is always easy to misunderstand – Christine thought the first time I played it for her that it was a song about cats, because that part sounded like “Ooh, meow”. Or maybe she just thought that because she’s obsessed with cats. Probably the latter.
14) “On Love, in Sadness”, Jason Mraz (Waiting for My Rocket to Come, 2002)
Jason Mraz was another manic personality who spiced up my music collection that year – even when purportedly singing a song about sadness, he couldn’t resist doing the upbeat folk/rock thing and letting loose a tongue-twisting series of ruminations that all led up to the declaration, “Love will not be lost on me.” You know that old adage, “It’s better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all?” Despite how hopeless things looked at the worst times with Christine, I never got the feeling that I had made a mistake getting into the relationship. Even if it had to end, and even if that was painful, and even if that set us both back for a bit in terms of future relationships… well, there was something good that we’d come out having learned from it. Right?
15) “Unwritten Letter #1”, Vienna Teng (Waking Hour, 2002)
On the surface, I enjoyed this song merely for its playfully seductive melody, its tasty violin solos, and the inherent humor in Vienna turning a song of unrequited love into a tango, just to poke fun at her own failings. And it was fun to play my own rudimentary version once I figured out the guitar chords. But my attachment to this song ran deeper than I cared to admit at the time – it tapped into the part of me who knew he had to keep bottled up the things that he wanted to say to his “secret crush”. It was an ode to the things you want, but know you can never have. And in some way, as I listened to it, I did my best to convince myself that even if my feelings for this other person were known, they’d never be returned. I figured it was best to leave that letter unwritten and not waste the good thing I already had going.
16) “Ebay”, Weird Al Yankovic (Poodle Hat, 2003)
Christine was a fan of boy bands such as the Backstreet Boys, so I was quite delighted when Weird Al got his chance to lampoon them with a song about all of the useless, random crap people buy on Ebay. Weird Al is kind of a litmus test for women when they get a nerdy boyfriend – if you can handle his kind of humor and the fact that he’s making fun of some of your favorite songs, then you’re OK to date a geeky guy. If not, steer clear.
One of my last-minute, “Hey, let’s go here!” ideas for a weekend was Solvang. I read an Epinions travel review about this Danish town in central California, realized I’d never had the chance to really explore it, and decided we should spend a Saturday up there – it’s about an hour north of Santa Barbara. Not much to do in the town other than shopping, but we did find some very picturesque locations such as this very pink courtyard that Christine thought looked cute, and the secluded Nojoqui Falls, along a highway just outside of town.
Where in the world is this?
1) “Repeating, Repeating”, The Juliana Theory (Love, 2003)
“I’m burning the candle at both ends while holding it underwater.” Do you ever feel like you’re living life only to repeat the same process day in and day out, wearing yourself out with no real progress to show for it? Sometimes I feel that way. This seething song represented how hard it was for me to maintain the daily routine when more long-term worries about finding the way forward to secure a happy future were constantly creeping in.
2) “Everybody’s Fool”, Evanescence (Fallen, 2003)
The music video for this song, in which Amy Lee appears in a series of commercials and sort of mocks the sheen of commercialism that got attached to her band after they hit it mainstream, is quite amusing to watch, if for no other reason than to see what Amy looks like without her creepy Goth makeup. Ironically, it came to represent how I felt about the image that was first presented when the band hit it big, or at least the things people assumed about them in terms of whether they were “Christian music” and whether they should be seen as role models, etc. Who’s the fool if we assumed the members of a band simply out to make the kind of music they like and make money doing should fill a role in our lives that they never purported to fill? Then again, Amy was kind of a drama queen. So if she was poking fun at herself here, then more power to her.
3) “Too Pretty”, Big Dismal (Believe, 2003)
Totally juvenile, this song. If you asked me at the time why I liked it so much, I’d have said just because it was really catchy – a bit of a guilty pleasure. Most of us have had the experience of crushing on someone who was totally our of our league. Some of us threw pity parties for ourselves upon realizing this, while others turned the scorn onto the person we had liked – as if that person was intentionally flaunting their attractive qualities just to torture us. None of that was really true. My “secret crush” was oblivious, and just being herself. But it helped to have the catharsis, to have an anthem to remind myself that I shouldn’t be wasting my time on false hopes when there was someone very real in my life who was totally into me and who had already gone to so much trouble to be with me.
4) “Soul 4 Sale”, Dakona (Perfect Change, 2003)
Similar theme to “Everybody’s Fool” here – a simple rock song about the ways a person will sell themselves for that fleeting “15 minutes of fame”. This was the heyday of reality TV. It seemed like anyone could be famous just for flaunting their stupidty in front of a camera.
5) “Empty Handed”, Michelle Branch (Hotel Paper, 2003)
A song about being mistaken for something you’re not. Maybe it’s due to the reasons you ended a relationship. Maybe it’s due to your faith, and people who think you should be more upfront about it versus people who really don’t want to hear you talk about it at all. At some point, you give up on trying to explain yourself and you just disappear to get out of that toxic environment. You want to be yourself – which is not to say that nobody else’s perception of you is valid – but just that at some point, you need the escape from scrutiny so you can hear yourself think.
6) “Gravity”, Vienna Teng (Waking Hour, 2002)
A former roommate of Vienna’s inspired “The Tower”, while that roommate’s on-again, off-again boyfriend inspired “Gravity”. In many ways, this is about a couple that belongs together, but that keeps getting pushed apart by other people’s bad advice and perceptions of them. The guy is calling out to the girl, still willing to declare his love is she’s willing to accept that word for what it truly means. It’s a beautiful song that hints at a lot of pain underneath, a lot of damage done in the past, but that aches for reconciliation.
7) “Sit Down, Stand Up”, Radiohead (Hail to the Thief, 2003)
Although it’s insanely repetitive, this was one of my immediate favorites on Hail to the Thief. I just love how it builds from a creepy mantra into this insane, paranoid dance of a man flailing about, trying to avoid the falling raindrops. “We can wipe you out any time.” That gives me chills – in the good way.
8) “Here of All Places”, Tree63 (The Life and Times of Absolute Truth, 2002)
This was more of a brooding song than I expected from a generally up-tempo, happy worship band. I liked how John Ellis dealt with some of his personal demons on this album, especially here, where he cries out from the wake of some sort of devastation, not even sure he’s at a point of being fully capable of loving God, but asking for the ability to do so anyway. For me it was one of those hard-hitting, prayerful songs for times when I had to honestly admit to God, “I messed up. Please make some good of this dark place I’m in, like You have so many times in the past.”
9) “Beautiful of Heaven”, Charlie Hall (On the Road to Beautiful, 2003)
When my old Sedaqah Group disbanded that summer, Christine and I started visiting a group that met in Chinatown, at the invitation of a few friends. It was through that group that Christine would meet Lori and Nancy, who would end up being her future roommates. Lori went on to become a very good friend to both of us in the years after that as well. The group met at Tony’s apartment, and at the time, San was their worship leader. I had been the primary worship leader in my old group, so I stepped in to relieve San from time to time that summer. This was one of the first new songs that I attempted to teach the group – I had received an advance copy of Charlie Hall’s new album after an online friend got me hooked up with Sparrow records so that I could critique some of their new releases, and this was by far my favorite song on that album.
10) “Beautiful Name”, ZOEgirl (Different Kind of FREE, 2003)
Writing reviews for Sparrow also got me an advance copy of ZOEgirl’s latest. At the time, I saw it as an attempted growth into a full-on band, shedding some of their teenybopper girl group origins. Calling them “the female dc Talk” was taking it way too far, but when they busted out a high-energy worship anthem like this, I could see that the style makeover looked really good on them. I still find it funny that I was the one who got Christine into the group, instead of the other way around.
11) “Redemption’s Son”, Joseph Arthur (Redemption’s Son, 2002)
A bit of mood whiplash to follow ZOEgirl with Joseph Arthur’s brooding angst, but the song picked up in the perfect key from where “Beautiful Name” went off, and I found this to be a powerful song of, well, redemption that rang out with hope despite some of its dark lyrics. Arthur, alternating between his low scratchy growl and his delightful falsetto, told the tale of a man yearning to break free from the ghost of his father – a no-good man who broke the law, got caught red-handed, and killed himself in prison. The son wanted to follow a different path and not be enslaved to the generational curse. I identified deeply with this, seeing the ghost of my own father in some of my selfish tendencies and praying for any way possible to escape a similarly lonely fate. My father’s still alive, but he’s a very paranoid man who goes to great lengths to avoid being found by family members, who he just sees as wanting money and other favors from him. I’ve had to learn that if I don’t want to end up like him, I need more positive male role models in my life.
12) “Growing Up”, Peter Gabriel (Up, 2002)
This long, meandering anthem about the transition from childhood into adulthood makes it out to be a lot like a second birthing process – you’re comfortable in that safe womb, yet you’re being pushed out into the “real world” kicking and screaming, and it’s disorienting and you’re just looking for a place to belong. Four years out of college, I felt like I was still settling into my status as a grown man, trying to figure out how to find some sense of normalcy and stability, so this song hit me right between the eyes. Gabriel’s love of crazy theatrics just takes it to the next level in the live concert video – which I had honestly never seen until posting this blog entry today.
13) “Where Does the Time Go?”, The Innocence Mission (Birds of My Neighborhood, 1999)
Yet another of Josh’s finds – he sent me all four of The Innocence Mission’s albums to date this summer, and Birds was the one I found to be most engrossing, with its soft, wintry folk sound gradually melting into a languid, cheerful summer. While I found a lot of their other material to be quite samey, this song about wondering whatever happened to old friends and the lost days of youth, knocked me over right away with its gorgeous melody and Karen Perris’s adorable, childlike vocals.
14) “I’ve Got to See You Again”, Norah Jones (Come Away with Me, 2002)
This song is so soft and gentle, like so much of Norah’s music, and yet it feels like it’s tip-toeing around, trying to sneak into places it doesn’t belong. Underneath the subdued jazzy mood of this song, something sinister lurks – a visit to a forbidden lover, someone you know you really shouldn’t be seeing, and yet you can’t resist just one more rendezvous. There was nothing secret like this actually going on in my life, but I guess this song represented the guilt I felt about not being able to get the image of someone else out of my head. You know what? I got over it in due time. What once seemed like a sickness with no remedy now strikes me with the clarity of full daylight – great person, but she was never meant for me. Realizing that in the months ahead finally put that persistent crush to death for good.
15) “Don’t Dream It’s Over”, Sixpence None the Richer (Divine Discontent, 2002)
While I was really irritated that the only songs Sixpence could seem to get famous for other than “Kiss Me” were all covers, and that their original work was getting sumarrily ignored by the general public, I had to admit that I really liked their take on this 80’s hit by Crowded House. Not a terribly unique cover, just an homage to a solid song about knowing there’s trouble in the world but teaching yourself to not care about it, because it’s too overwhelming.
16) “Holy Sunlight”, Steven Delopoulos (Me Died Blue, 2003)
I liked to end these mixes with something calm, something that let the angst go and allowed to the light of day to break through. This song made me want to whisk Christine away to somewhere exotic, where none of our troubles could bother us. Somewhere with a sparkling crystal sea, and ancient architecture, and the scent of romance lingering in the air. Oh, and lots of food served with a generous side of hummus.