The song has been described as a “thought-provoking emotive eulogy” for Kaufman and is largely seen as a tribute to the comedian’s rebellious spirit. Among the most controversial lines from the song is “Mister Andy Kaufman’s gone wrestling.” This reference to Kaufman’s stint as a professional wrestler in the 1970s is a clear reflection of his desire to live life by his own rules and reject the expectations of others. Other lines from the song that have drawn attention include “Hey Diddle Diddle,” which references the nursery rhyme and suggests that the world around us is a lie.
The lyrics to man on the moon are a densely packed collection of symbols and metaphors. The song has been interpreted as a love song, a political statement, and a celebration of the individuality of all people.
Despite the complexity of the lyrics, Stipe has said that he does not know what the song means. He has also admitted that he did not write the lyrics while intoxicated, and simply remembered them the next morning. The song was originally recorded as an instrumental/demo version of C to D Slide 13 and was released as part of the 1992 album Automatic for the People.
The song has been compared to Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah, and both songs have become popular in their own right. Ultimately, the meaning of man on the moon is up to the listener, but it is important to note that the lyrics are a cryptic and obtuse reflection of the complicated nature of human emotion and thought.