R.E.M.’s “Man On The Moon” Lyrics Meaning

For the most part R.E.M.’s “Man On The Moon” serves as a tribute to the late musician Andy Kaufman (1949-1984), though in varying capacities. For instance, Mr. Kaufman had an affinity for professional wrestling and Elvis Presley impersonations, both of which are referenced in this track. But the writer of lyrics, R.E.M.’s Michael Stipe, also used his recollections of Kaufman as an impetus to bring up some facets of his own childhood, such as giving a shoutout to the rock band Mott the Hoople and old school board games such as “Twister” and “Risk”, as well as other unrelated historical figures such as Isaac Newton, Moses and Charles Darwin.

Song’s Title

However, of more significance is the title of the track, for it has nothing to do directly with Andy Kaufman. “Man on the Moon” is actually a reference to the moon landing on 20 July 1969. That was when American astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became the first people to ever step foot on that celestial object. Well many people (i.e. conspiracy theorists) believe such was a hoax. Likewise some thought that Andy Kaufman, who was a well-known prankster, faked his own death from lung cancer. And that is why R.E.M. decided to name this song such – to draw a parallel between the theorized fake moon landing and the supposed faked death of Andy Kaufman.

But outside of the moon landing there is not a reference space travel or astronomy at all.  Rather “Man on the Moon” is a humorous track in which the singer basically memorializes and grieves over the death of Andy Kaufman, though once again in a comedic manner.

Lyrics of "Man On The Moon"

Facts about “Man On The Moon”

  • As one can probably deduce from the song, Stipe was a big fan of Andy Kaufman.
  • The ‘yeah, yeah, yeahs’ which are present throughout the track were an attempt by Michael Stipe to imitate the style of Nirvana frontman Curt Kobain (1967-1994).
  • “Man on the Moon” holds a special place in Stipe’s heart. And how do we know that? Because upon the dissolution of R.E.M. in 2011, he stated that this is the song he would miss performing live the most.
  • Before lyrics were added to this track (when it was still in its instrumental/demo stage), it was entitled “C to D Slide”.
  • This track was originally featured on R.E.M.’s Automatic for the People, which was released by Warner Bros. Records on 5 October 1992. It was later issued as the second single from that album on 21 November 1992, and on its B-side was “New Orleans Instrumental No. 2”.
  • “Man on the Moon” has also been featured on multiple other R.E.M. compilation albums,including In Time: The Best of R.E.M. 1988-2003.
  • The title of the track was used as the name of a 1999 film, starring Jim Carrey as Andy Kaufman, about the life of the comedian. Fittingly, R.E.M. were responsible for the soundtrack to that movie.
  • “Man on the Moon” was the song R.E.M. performed upon being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2007. They performed the song Pearl Jam guitarist Eddie Vedder.

Film Appearance

“Man on the Moon” made an appearance in the 2019 Marvel Cinematic Universe film Captain Marvel.

How did “Man on the Moon” perform on the charts?

It performed well on the charts, peaking at number 30 on the Billboard Hot 100. It reached number 18 on the UK Singles Chart.

Who wrote “Man on the Moon”?

R.E.M.’s frontman Michael Stipe wrote the lyrics to this track to music composed by Bill Berry (drummer) and Peter Buck (guitarist). Despite R.E.M. member Mike Mills not playing any active role in the composing of this song, the rest of the band still gave him writing credit.

FYI, Stipe was more or less forced to write the lyrics to this song by the rest of R.E.M., as he felt it was just fine as an instrumental. His inspiration proved to be a videotape he had of Andy Kaufman that he and the rest of the band used to enjoy.

R.E.M. not only wrote this song themselves, but they also produced it. They produced it along with their regular collaborator record producer Scott Litt.

25 Responses

  1. sir Eric von garmeister says:

    who doesn’t love REM songs, he’s a gift to mankind! the songs are sobering, and the first time you hear them, it just may raise your hair up on your arms.

  2. J falcone says:

    Too bad this worked it’s way into the American unconscious and fuelled the wacko conspiracy theorists and eroded the dying concept of truth.

    • hifijohn says:

      Not true, people were doubting the moon landing as soon as it happened, my friends, parents even my science teacher didn’t believe it.Which is why by the time the second or third landing happened people lost interest.

    • The Truth says:

      “Truth”is the last thing standing after a long fight of differing opinions meet in the ring of formal debate, to battle it out. The fight is not fought with punches and blocks, it’s based on argument and evidence, and subject to scrutiny. The argument is either true, or the scrutiny demonstrates it’s false. The truth is not simply what’s more easily digestible, safe, or “wacko.”. And as for it’s death in this country, how many essential debates have occured on national television in the last 30 years or more? None. Our most important “truths ” are decided by authorities and not public process. The champions of key arguments with their evidence are never challenged to a formal fight in public. They are simply ridiculed. – The Truth

      • Sealy Tribal Chief says:

        Well said.

        People MUST NOT be afraid to question. For knowledge is in science, philosophy and values and ideas help shape them. I question wireless technology and space travel with a landing and return trip in 1969. After all, the worst year for air disasters was 1972. Space travel certainly wasn’t perfected three years before.

      • Bob says:

        So true.

    • Anonymous says:

      If you took the time to research while having an open mind, you’d soon realize that the government actually does lie sometimes and doesn’t always have our best interest.

    • Sealy Tribe Chief says:

      Rubbish. I have been a doctor with 6 degrees. I not only question the moon landing but the idiocy of thinking wireless communication and travel were successful in 1969. We who don’t believe in the moon landing are no more wacko than BLM and CRT zealots

  3. Not A Moonman says:

    The moon missions were all faked. Stanley Kubrick was the greatest film maker to produce the films of supposed men on the moon scenes. Even James Bond also in one of the Bond Series movies ran thru a movie set in the desert and drove away in a moon buggy. It was all faked and Man on the Moon song by R.E.M. allows a time capsule of music to think about a man on the moon and to question that feat.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Some believe in moon landing conspiracies and some don’t. I just say that people should be more questioning. A government that gave us the insanity of Vietnam is capable of anything. About 60,000 dead Americans in Vietnam plus all the injured soldiers. Watch Born on the 4th of July.

    • jameswmcd remote says:

      and what if we found out it was a hoax
      not saying u believe it to be a hoax
      but it’s just stupid to think that as hoaxes go
      (even though the bigger the lie the better)
      just too too many people would have had to have been involved btw if it serves ur argmnt agnst viet fine and good

  5. pianogal says:

    Whoops, they left the camera there which filmed their take-off to return home. You know, the same camera which happened to be there to film the One Small Step scene. They think ppl are stupid — kind of like The Emperor’s New Clothes. Then, even worse, you have the so obviously faked Space Station with bubbles in the helmets when outside on the tether, bulges where cables attach to their clothing, screw-ups in the dialogue (“We’re filming this clear across the country from where you’re at.” addressing folks in Maine), women’s hair stiff w/spray to make it look like it’s floating upward…. It’s all a big Hollywood production. NASA= thieves & liars. PS. I miss Andy Kauffman, a truly funny guy.

  6. Anonymous says:

    This is such a great song. Well done, REM.

  7. Just came for the story says:

    Wow, there’s a whole lot of crazy in this thread

    • Marxist says:

      I know lmao. It’s actually ridiculous

    • Stop stupidity NOW says:

      AMEN brother. My father worked for NASA during this time. We KNEW Buzz Aldrin as his family went to the same church we did. I want to see one of these geniuses walk up to him and tell him he did not walk on the moon. At 92, he’d probably still beat the crap out them for their nonsense.

  8. Anonymous says:

    just wondering why the only time we went to the moon was during Nixon’s first term, and never again. Not saying we didn’t go to the moon. I’m just saying.

    • Anonymous says:

      Had Apollo 1 not burned up on the launchpad while testing we would have gone to the moon sooner. Or were those deaths faked too because Nixon KNEW he’d be President? Trust me, Lyndon Johnson (who the Manned Space Center in Houston is named after) would have loved to see them land on his watch.

  9. Anonymous says:

    You crazy f–ks. You can get out a telescope and track the international space station. I suppose the earth is flat too? Just wow…..

    • awake says:

      Oh well, some of us do the research, some of us just point finger and be unreasonable. I understand that youtube changed the search algorithm and its not easy to find all the nasa “official” fakery, but it is still possible. Just not so easy. This older gem called “A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Moon” can not be found by search function, even if you put the whole word sequence there, only displaying long videos, you will not find it. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=owYOouNCQnk
      And my late best of is old Buzz explaining to 8year old girl that “We did not go there” …. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=agXcpECmEvI
      Time to wake up. If they really went 60 years ago, there would be a base there about now. And now they say they dont have the technology anymore, just LOL

    • awake says:

      Oh well, some of us do the research, some of us just point finger and be unreasonable. I understand that youtube changed the search algorithm and its not easy to find all the nasa “official” fakery, but it is still possible. Just not so easy. This older gem called “A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Moon” can not be found by search function, even if you put the whole word sequence there, only displaying long videos, you will not find it. watch?v=owYOouNCQnk
      And my late best of is old Buzz explaining to 8year old girl that “We did not go there” …. watch?v=agXcpECmEvI
      Time to wake up. If they really went 60 years ago, there would be a base there about now. And now they say they dont have the technology anymore, just LOL

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