It's been 12 ½ years now and that question still pops up in my head. In fact, on most occasions when I'm enjoying a beer (or two) with friends and my wife is around, the story ends up popping up like Christmas elves at the mall.
It just won't go away.
And for good reason.
We made a deal. She lost. I won. That's it. What was the bet about? I have no clue now and I probably forgot hours after we made it, but I do remember one thing: We were having another son and his name was going to be Stipe. Middle name? It didn't matter, but I knew it would fall in line with our overall thinking and belief in names that are "unique," and memorable.
"So what's his name going to be?" her mother asked.
"Stipe," I responded proudly. Poking my chest out just a bit and flexing a little bit.
"No we're not. His name is not going to be Stipe," my wife promptly responded.
"What do you mean his name isn't going to be Stipe?"
"It's not. I'm not naming my child Stipe."
What ensued was a long conversation on the finer points of integrity and "word is bond." This dug deeper into the importance of marital connectivity and proper spiritual alignment (all my terms), and ultimately led to our son not being named Stipe.
Of course, I didn't give up so easily. I pushed for Stipe up until after our son was born, though I had already agreed to his name. Between you and me, I strongly considered telling the delivery nurse his name was Stipe when she asked me and my wife was still groggy and feeling good from the epidural she had been given for his delivery.
"Yeah, babe, you changed your mind and told me to name him whatever I wanted." I could hear myself saying those words as the nurse wrote up a second birth certificate for our son and shot me a "fool" look. Nah, I couldn't do that. I had to keep my word.
So I waited ... for three years as a matter of fact until we found out we were pregnant again. It was a foregone conclusion that our third son's name would be Stipe.
Naw homie. It ain't happening.
His name is Kingston.
I had lost my chance on Stipe. That ship had sailed. The tide had come in and the beach was eroding. There would not be a Stipe in the Waring household.
Well kinda sorta.
The truth is Stipe was and will always be a part of my existence because Michael Stipe is the lead singer of R.E.M. (though they've officially split up at this time), my favorite band.
Like, I'm a member of the fan club and had stickers on my bomber skateboard... a couple of years ago. While I was in my late 30s.
It wasn't always that way. In fact, there was a definite period of time where I wouldn't even entertain listening to a song by R.E.M. R.E.M.? What?
There was a group of girls at my high school that loved R.E.M., and the Pixies, the Sundays, and everyone else of that ilk. On the rare occasions when we could play music at school, I just recall them playing R.E.M. At the time "Stand" and "The One I Love" were big hits. I couldn't stand (no pun intended) either song. I was into Public Enemy, X-Clan, Guns-N-Roses (yep), Living Colour, EPMD, and a lot of everything else.
I had always had an eclectic and varied taste in music but the hippie, Southern rock, love fest that came from bands like R.E.M., 10,000 Maniacs, the Allman Brothers Band, and others simply were not my forte.
Ironically, this all changed during the first semester of my freshmen year, while at Morehouse College, a historically black college in Atlanta. Yes, the same Morehouse that produced Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, Atlanta mayor Maynard Jackson, Spike Lee, Samuel L. Jackson, Edwin Moses, etc. Dear Old Morehouse that bastion of rock music, especially for bands with a sexually ambiguous singer from Athens, Georgia, by way of St. Louis. Yes, that is where I learn to love R.E.M.
The truth is Morehouse College, an all-male school, was full of guys just like me; guys who had attended primarily white high schools, who at the time were in search of their own true identity, while navigating the social make-up of a school that fostered academic excellence, social aptitude, and endless competition, while reinforcing an afrocentric perspective to life. We were all there to grow and become leaders in our respective fields.
This sounds precisely like the place to get reacquainted with R.E.M. right? Right?
It turns out, for me, it was.
I remember sitting in my room one evening and the familiar organ intro of "Stand," came blasting from three doors down across the hallway. It immediately caught my attention and I went to see who was playing it. It was a guy named John from some rural city in Alabama. He was there with four other guys and I believe they were playing cards and listening to this?
That evening when everyone left, I asked John if I could borrow his tape. For those that may not know what a cassette tape is, Google it. I popped it in and began listening to every song on R.E.M.'s first major record label release, Green.
I listened to "Pop Song '89," "Get Up," "You Are My Everything," "Stand," "World Leader Pretend," and "The Wrong Child." Then I flipped the tape over and listened to "Orange Crush," "Turn You Inside out," "Hairshirt," and "I Remember California." Then I repeated the process. At the time, I didn't even bother to listen to "Untitled" which would one day become my favorite song of all time. As I listened to Stipe's vocals, and the melodic rhythms of those I immediately found myself back in my high school pre-calculus class with Kim, Tess, and Allison. It was the last day of school of our high school lives. They talked about boys and surfing and wore shirts with R.E.M. and Ziggy Marley pictures on the front. As Green played in my dorm room, I drifted through many of my high school experiences and began to get homesick.
Months before I was so ready to leave and go to college that I came three weeks early. I couldn't wait to get away from Hanahan, that is until I heard R.E.M. Reminiscing was refreshing and it made me realize just how good things had been. When life was really simple and I didn't have to worry about scholarships and classes. I missed my old high school friends and judging by the songs that rang through the hallways, my dorm mates did too.
Listening to Berry, Buck, Mills, and Stipe, re-awakened this rich creativity in me. I had known it was there. It made its presence known when I was in the 6th grade, but I had put it to rest. It was useless.
I began to write down my thoughts. Simple things at first and then I got an idea to write a movie about my college days. As the years went on I dipped in between listening to the latest R.E.M. albums and truly ingesting their old ones. Murmur touched my soul and I wrote an entire screenplay to "The Perfect Circle." "Talk About the Passion," inspired me to create something I had never done before. Document, Monster, Out of Time; they all traveled with me as I crisscrossed the country.
"Half A World Away," harvested a deep and indomitable friendship between my brother and I that still grows to this day with R.E.M. as the backdrop.
It didn't matter what Stipe's sexuality was. Or that he was part of a band from Georgia. Or that they were white and I was black. What mattered was that they evoked an emotion within me.
R.E.M. and Michael Stipe changed my life. He helped me recognize that writing, no matter what I was writing, was a gift that should be shared.
And for that I'll always be chasing Stipe.
I wonder if we have a daughter my wife let me name her Stipe?
Ayinde Moir Waring is a screenwriter, essayist, playwright, poet, journalist, and author whose work has appeared in various media outlets throughout the country. He sometimes moonlights as a political consultant, entrepreneur, marketing and communications strategist, and soapbox preacher (without a license).
Illustrator and Cleveland native, Tom Galmarini, as one might expect, is fiercely loyal to Cleveland sports. Tom currently has his own design firm, DIG Creative, and also teaches full-time at the Art Institute of Charleston. You can find him at digcreativestudio.com.