"Doubt, belief, transition, conspiracy and truth"
To mark 25 years of their classic single ‘Man On The Moon’, REM have spoken to us about the inspiration behind the track. Watch our ‘Song Stories’ interview with bassist Mike Mills above.
This month saw the release of the 25th anniversary edition of the art-rock veterans’ classic 1992 record ‘Automatic For The People’ – and today (November 21) marks a quarter of a century since the second single from the record was released. To celebrate, we sat down with bassist Mike Mills to discuss how a demo called ‘C To D Slide’ nearly remained as an instrumental – until the inspiration of Andy Kauffman, conspiracy theories, and a cowboy hat in the desert saw an indie classic take on a life of its own.
“Bill Berry is still a very a good songwriter,” Mills told NME. “He had a lot of musical ideas, then he and Peter [Buck, guitarist] fleshed the rest of it out musically. It was a song that me, Pete and Bill really loved and had musically finished right up to the last day of recording and mixing in Seattle, and we’d been leaning on Michael very heavily for some time trying to finish it. He was like ‘oh, it’s an instrumental’ and we were like ‘it is not an instrumental – you need to finish it because it’s a story that needs to be told. Whatever that story is, you need to tell it’.”
He continued: “So Michael worked very hard towards the end and came up with this beautiful lyric that encompasses doubt, belief, transition, conspiracy and truth. Then at the very end of the last day Michael came back and said ‘I’ve got something’. He sang it, we loved it, we put the harmony vocals on it and it was done.
In the interim, Stipe was struck by the inspiration of the stunts of surrealist comedian Andy Kauffman – using him as a ‘guide’ to run through everything from the moon landing to Mott The Hoople and childhood to make for an ‘all encompassing song’.
“Andy Kauffman was a performance artist,” Mills continued. “He wasn’t a comedian, he wasn’t a comic, he was a performance artist. Some of what he did was funny, some of it was annoying, some it was irritating – but it was always provocative. As such, as someone that you couldn’t really pin down in terms of what he was and what he was not. Was he dead? Was he faking?
“He’s the perfect ghost to lead you through this tour of questioning things. Did the moon landing really happen? Is Elvis really dead? He was kind of an ephemeral figure at that point so he was the perfect guy to tie all this stuff together as you journey through childhood and touchstones of life.”
As for the now iconic music video, Mills revealed: “Peter, Bill and I were not enamoured with the entire idea of music videos, but we understood their necessity and what they could do for you, so we did them. This one was actually a lot of fun – it was probably the most fun one to make. I basically sat in the desert and played pool in a bar, so that’s not that hard.”
He added: “I thought putting Michael in the desert in a cowboy hat was always a good idea, Bill got to drive a semi-truck, it worked out really well.”
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- Watch our full ‘Song Stories’ video with REM at the top of the page