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Today's ear X-tacy: R.E.M. "Man On The Moon"

R.E.M. pay tribute to comedian Andy Kaufman

One of my favorite albums from R.E.M. (and one of my favorite bands) is Automatic For The People released in 1992. While “Everybody Hurts” became the big hit from the record, I’m especially fond of the second single release from the record, “Man On The Moon.”

The song pays tribute to comedian/performance artist Andy Kaufman. It makes numerous references to his career including his Elvis impersonation, wrestling, and the film My Breakfast with (wrestler Fred) Blassie. The song's title and chorus refer to Moon landing conspiracy theories alluding to the rumors that Kaufman faked his death in 1984. “Man On The Moon” was used as the title for the Andy Kaufman biopic starring Jim Carrey and was directed by Miloš Forman. The song was also featured prominently in the film.

In the liner notes for Part Lies, Part Heart, Part Truth, Part Garbage 1982-2011, Peter Buck recalled how the music for this song came together: "'Man on the Moon' was something that Bill [Berry] had this one chord change that he came in with, which was C to D like the verse of the song, and he said, 'I don't know what to do with that.' I used to finish some of Bill's things ... he would come up with the riffs, but I would be the finish guy for that. I sat down and came up with the chorus, the bridges, and so forth. I remember we showed it to Mike [Mills] and Michael [Stipe] when they came in later; definitely we had the song finished. I think Bill played bass and I played guitar; we kept going around with it. I think we might have played some mandolin on it in the rehearsal studio."

While vocalist Stipe felt the song was great as an instrumental, the band felt otherwise. Stipe struggled to find the right words and instead of working through it in the studio, the band took a few days off until he found inspiration.

Buck continued, "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."

Michel Stipe and Mike Mills share more about the song:

R.E.M. performed "Man On The Moon" with Eddie Vedder when they were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2007. Vedder gave their introductory speech, It remains one of R.E.M.'s most popular songs.

Today's ear X-tacy features a classic track or deep-cut from the Alternative era every weekday at 10:10.

John is the mid-morning host on WFPK. Email John at jtimmons@lpm.org