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.

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