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R.E.M.’s “Man On The Moon” is About This Famous Celebrity

R.E.M.’s “Man On The Moon” is About This Famous Celebrity

Do you know that song, Man On The Moon? Remember the slow, soft beat with that guy who says, ‘yeah yeah yeah yeah? We think you might.

The piece was a 90s hit and remains one of R.E.M’s most popular songs. But who is the man on the moon? What the heck are the lyrics about?

Let’s find out!

Who Originally Wrote the Lyrics to Man On The Moon?

Michael Stipe, lead singer of the pivotal alt-rock band R.E.M., wrote Man On The Moon lyrics in 1992. Known for his emotional stage presence and crooning vocals, Stipe was a 90s alt-rock icon.

Stipe was born in Georgia in 1960. Like many musicians born around that time, Stipe found his people and his world through punk rock. Early 70’s icons like Patty Smith, Television, and the Velvet Underground drove him to make music. He bonded with future bandmate Peter Buck in 1980 over hours and hours of listening to weird albums together.

Stipe and Buck’s band, R.E.M, quickly gained momentum after their debut 1981 single Radio Free Europe became a cult hit. Although Stipe proved challenging to work with at times, the band members became international rock stars. They produced 15 albums and accumulated countless international awards.

In the meantime, Michael Stipe keeps busy with several side projects. He runs C-00 and Single Cell Picture, two independent film production studios. Stipe is co-owner of The Grit, a vegetarian restaurant in Athens, Georgia. And although Stipe is very loud about his political activism, he prefers to keep his personal life out of the limelight.

What Was Stipe’s Creative Process for Man On The Moon?

R.E.M operated as a democratic, collaborative band. Songs tended to start as seedlings written by any band member. In this case, drummer Bill Berry wrote the first riffs for Man On the Moon. As the song centered around one chord change, Moon’s original title was C to D Slide.

At first, Stipe thought it should be left alone. C to D Slide could be an instrumental which would eventually land in the trash of discarded R.E.M. Songs. Fortunately, the rest of the band insisted for Stipe to give it lyrics – wings to fly.

An illustration of an astronaut, presumably a man, in a purple suit sitting on the crescent moon and waving.

Stipe struggled to find the lyrics. R.E.M’s producers were becoming increasingly impatient and demanding about releasing a new album. Stipe decided the band should step away from the studio for a few days so he could reflect.

Stipe played the instrumental repeatedly in his car, driving around until inspiration struck. That inspiration was the whimsical and wild Andy Kaufman. After a few days, Stipe burst into the studio with the incredible lyrics to the song he called Man On the Moon.

What Do the Lyrics in Man On The Moon Mean?

Man On The Moon lyrics are about both the comedian Andy Kaufman and the absurdities of life in general. Michael Stipe first discovered Kaufman while watching Saturday Night Live as a teenager. Kaufman’s surreal and completely erratic behavior inspired Stipe as an artist. 

Kaufman stated that he doubted anyone ever landed on the moon or that Elvis was dead.

Lyrics like Andy, did you hear about this one? And Andy, are you goofing on Elvis? Reflect Kaufman’s lust for conspiracies.

But did Kaufman honestly believe in conspiracy? Or was he goofing on everyone all the while?

The lyrics and music to Man On The Moon are playful and full of upbeat contradiction. Overthinking them will only lead to conspiracy! You may want just to listen and enjoy.

Tell Me More About Andy Kaufman

Andy Kaufman was born in New York City in 1949. Stories and television captivated Kaufman early in life. And by age 8, he was performing for friends and family. His oddly comedic characters like Latka and Tony Clifton came to life in the early 70s, landing him a job on the TV Series Taxi.

Kaufman appeared on the very first episode of Saturday Night Live in 1975. His eight-year relationship with the show came to a grinding halt in 1983 when he was voted off the show. His humor was too far off the ledge for viewers and co-workers alike.

Andy Kaufman died of lung cancer in 1984. His constant pranks in life have led some to believe he’s still alive today. Although Kaufman repeatedly stated that faking his own death would be the ultimate prank, we think the death certificate speaks for itself.

Is There a Movie Called Man On The Moon?

Yes! Directed by Milos Forman, this 1999 biopic starred Jim Carry as Andy Kauffman. Former real-life co-star Danny Devito and admirer Courtney Love we co-stars. The story loosely follows the life of Andy Kaufman, highlighting his most notable television appearances.

Although the film Man On The Moon was a commercial flop, Jim Carrey won a Golden Globe for his performance. He also drove his fellow actors crazy on set, insisting on behaving like Kaufman even when the cameras weren’t rolling.

R.E.M wrote the soundtrack, which included Man On The Moon and the track The Great Beyond.

What Is R.E.M.’s Story?

R.E.M. was formed in 1980 by four local college kids and music nerds from Athens, Georgia.

Guitarist Peter Buck met singer Michael Stipe at the record store he worked at. Drummer Bill Berry and bassist Mike Mills had played music together since high school. 

The four started recording and playing out with no significant plan in mind except to drop out of school to create more music.

By 1982 R.E.M had cult status success and defined the underground college radio sound of the day. They became international stars by the early 90s, which seven albums under their belt and music videos frequently played on MTV. 

As stated by AllMusic, R.E.M. marked music history by being the band that took us from post-punk into alternative rock. They remain an inspiration to musicians and fans worldwide.

What Does R.E.M. Stand For?

REM stands for rapid eye movement, the dream stage of sleep. But members of the band R.E.M. have said this isn’t what their name means. That said, it’s not like any of them have provided an answer for what it does mean.

When Stipe and the others met at a record store and started playing music together in 1980, they fumbled through a list of band names. Cans of Piss and Twisted Kites, for example. A random scroll through the dictionary is what drew them to the term R.E.M., and it stuck.

What Is R.E.M.’s Biggest Hit?

Released in 1991, Losing My Religion is R.E.M’s biggest hit. It won two Grammys and ranked #4 on the Billboard Hot 100. 

The story behind Losing My Religion is almost as beautiful as the song itself. As told by the band on Netflix’s series Song Exploder, it started with a desire to make an unpopular, weird song. 

Guitarist Peter Buck grabbed a Mandolin and created a riff. Drummer Berry and bassist Mills went with simple but unpredictable rhythms. Next, enter Stipe with an incredibly touching story about the vulnerability of unrequited love. 

That’s me in the corner
That’s me in the spotlight
Losing my religion
Tryin’ to keep up with you

With no discernable chorus, this five-minute masterpiece blasted R.E.M into the mainstream.

Why Did R.E.M. Break Up?

One by one, members of R.E.M. grew tired of the music business. Their 2008 album Accelerate was one of guitarist Peter Buck’s favorites. But the music industry was getting to be too much. 

Stipe came quietly to the band, proposing a break after their 2011 album Collapse Into Now. Buck came back with the proposal of breaking up the band for good. All members agreed it was time.

The bad news for fans is no more new R.E.M. songs. But the good news for the band is that they all still get along and stay in touch. Each individual continues to write, record, and create musically on their own. They just discarded the pressures of working in the music business as mega rock stars.

You, Too, Can Be the Man on the Moon

Man On The Moon by R.E.M is a great song. It’s calming, charming, and kind of weird. The music evokes the child-like qualities of comedian Andy Kaufman without reference to his annoying side. The song refers to a real man and a state of being. Listeners can let the tune lead them to their own adventures in an alternate reality.

Or, you can simply hear it, tap your feet, and get up and dance when the chorus kicks in. What do you think? Does Man On The Moon make you want to get up and groove or daydream about the skies above?

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