Tomorrow is my husband’s 35th birthday. And I didn’t get him anything. I have no money. Really, it wouldn’t matter if I had any. I have no ideas.

But I always have music.

So, we’ll call this his birthday present. A collection of songs that will always remind me of him. A retrospective of our relationship, in music.

And, because I know how much he dreads public displays, I’ll try to keep it short.

Marshall Tucker Band, “Can’t You See”

The first song my husband ever played for me on guitar. I sang the flute part out loud while he played. It was our first duet.

John Mellencamp, “Key West Intermezzo”

The second song my husband ever played for me. I didn’t realize it at the time, but both of these songs are about unrequited love. About loving a woman you can’t have. I was dating my college boyfriend at the time, and I never realized until later just how significant these two songs must have been for my future husband.

The Allman Brothers Band, “Melissa.” The Black Crowes “Wiser Time.”

Both songs about distance. About missing the one you love so much you feel hollowed out inside. About being faithful, even through the inevitabilities of temptation. For three years, I lived 140 miles away from my husband. I was finishing up coursework for my graduate degrees, living in Indiana during the week and driving to our house in Ohio on the weekends. Some nights, I would call him, just to burst into tears at the sound of his voice, at the thought of his scent. When he proposed to me one September afternoon, I knew that I would soon become a commuter instead of an on-campus resident. When the semester ended (in a furious snowstorm), he and my parents came to my campus apartment and moved me out. Took me home.

Leonard Cohen, “Hallelujah.”

While we were dating, my husband was diagnosed with Ulcerative Colitis. He lost 50 pounds in 3 months. He was anemic. Exhausted. Ill. I feared I would lose him. One day, driving down to the hospital to meet with his doctor, we listened to Warren Haynes singing this song. It was raining, and the concrete on the Columbus loop was grey. My husband reached over and put his hand on my thigh as he steered the car towards the hospital. We were completely silent.

Nothing needed to be said.

Lucero, “Sixes and Sevens.”

A song about getting drunk and going to a strip club, then going out gambling with the strippers.

Hey, it hasn’t always been grey hospital mornings!

Warren Haynes, “Soulshine.”

This is his song. This is him. That’s all I can say.

Reverend Al Green, “Let’s Stay Together.”

As our wedding approached, we realized that we didn’t have a “song.” On a whim, we chose “Let’s Stay Together.” Classic. Grooving. Timeless. And with a sound that is almost deceptive, seems almost simple, until you begin to deconstruct it. To see just how many layers are hidden beneath.

The Black Crowes, “Oh, Josephine.”

41 weeks pregnant with our first girl, our first miracle of science child, we were driving into the hospital for my induction when this song came on. “We chose the wrong name!” I shouted in a panic.

My husband just patted my anxious knee (he always knows when to play it cool, to counteract my mania with his calm). “I don’t think that we did, but when she gets here, we’ll decide for sure. We’ll see who she looks like.”

Our daughter is not Josephine, but I sang it to her every night that first year.

Jason Isbell, “Cigarettes and Wine” and “Codeine.” James McMurtry, “Hurricane Party.”

I remember when these songs first came out, because my husband was on the phone with me, telling me to check my email. He had sent me links to songs. Excited. “Listen to this. Listen to this.” These are the songs that told the stories he wanted to tell, in the way he wanted to tell them, with exactly the right mood and sound. These are the songs that perfectly combined lyrics and composition for him. And they made him excited. Amazed. I’ll never forget his face when he played me those songs.

The Drive By Truckers, “Where the Devil Don’t Stay.” Jason Isbell, “Never Gonna Change.” John Mellencamp, “Crumbling Down.”

Because, at the end, he’s still a punk ass kid.

Happy birthday, babe. We always have the music.

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