Pop Up Video: Man On the Moon (1992)

Man on the Moon
Single by R.E.M.
Album: Automatic for the People
Released: November 21, 1992
Recorded: 1992
Genre: Alternative rock, country rock
Songwriters:
Bill Berry, Peter Buck,
Mike Mills, Michael Stipe

The lyric to "Man on the Moon" was written by lead singer Michael Stipe, the music by drummer Bill Berry and guitarist Peter Buck. But like all their songs, authorship is credited to the whole band. The tune peaked at number 30 on the US Billboard Hot 100 and number 18 on the UK Singles Chart. It topped the music chart in Iceland. 

If You Believed

"Man On the Moon" is a tribute to the comedian Andy Kaufman. The title and chorus refer to the moon landing conspiracy theories, referencing rumors Kaufman faked his death in 1984.  The 1999 film based on Kaufman's life took it's name from this tune.


Are You Goofing on Elvis?

In the '70s, Kaufman played an immigrant mechanic named Latka Gravas on the television series Taxi. Latka was based on Foreign Man, a character from Kaufman's nightclub act. Foreign Man was from an island in the Caspian Sea, spoke with a thick accent and performed his comedy act so poorly you felt bad for him. 

Andy Kaufman
Andy Kaufman

At the end of his act he'd announce his intentions to impersonate Elvis Presley. He’d turn around, do a costume change, and when he faced the crowd again, Kaufman would do an extraordinary Elvis impersonation. Even Elvis liked Kaufman's imitation.  "Foreign Man" was part of the show all along. "Elvis" let the audience off the hook of discomfort Foreign Man created. If Elvis was reality, Foreign Man was just a mask. Somehow this was  comforting.


Mister Andy Kaufman's Gone Wrestling

By design, Kaufman's stand-up routine was antagonistic performance art. He irritated his audience by reading The Great Gatsby word for word or taking a nap onstage. In professional wrestling, his gig was known as a “heel;” a character who gets attention by angering crowds. Some of the famous wrestling "heels" are the '50s  Gorgeous George and Ric Flair in the '70s.


In 1981, Kaufman adopted a "heel" persona for the ring. With little athletic ability and no experience he became a professional wrestler and huge attraction in the Memphis area by challenging women and billing himself the "Inter-Gender Wrestling Champion of the World." .


Did You Hear About this One?
That is an easy song to sing. 
It's hard to sing a bad note in it.
Michael Stipe
Michael Stipe wrote "Man On the Moon" in tribute to Kurt Cobain. The repeated "yeah yeah yeah yeah" at the end of most lines was his attempt to put more "yeahs" in a song than Cobain. Stipe thought Cobain the master of making them fit and wanted to out-do him.  


In the liner notes for "Part Lies, Part Heart, Part Truth, Part Garbage 1982-2011" Peter Buck recalled the music for this song came together pretty easily. But the lyric was a different affair. Stipe struggled with the words and felt pressured because the album was due soon. The band took a few days off and Stipe listened to the track on a cassette in his car until he found inspiration. 

For the "In Time: The Best of R.E.M. 1988–2003" album notes Buck said, "When we reconvened, Michael walked into the studio, sang, 'Man On The Moon' once, and walked out. We were all stunned. It was one of those magic moments I'll remember long after the award ceremonies and the photo sessions have disappeared into the mists of time." After R.E.M. called it quits, Michael Stipe told Rolling Stone this song he would most miss performing. "That is an easy song to sing. It's hard to sing a bad note in it.

A Truck Stop Instead of Saint Peter's

Michael Stipe
Michael Stipe

Peter Care directed the music video near the Antelope Valley area of California. Stipe, wearing a cowboy hat, hitches a ride with Bill Berry to a truck stop. Once there, they meet Care tending bar while Mike Mills plays pool, and the cast of customers joins in singing the song's chorus. The late Andy Kaufman even makes an appearance on the truck stop's television set as the video ends.

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