The Great Beyond
May 22, 2008
“The Great Beyond” is the closest thing to a sequel in the R.E.M. discography. The song was composed for the soundtrack of Milos Forman’s Andy Kaufman biopic Man On The Moon, and its thematic and musical continuity with the band’s hit of the same name does not seem like an accident. Whereas “Man On The Moon” grounds the spiritual quest of its agnostic protagonist in folksy chords and country affectations, the mild psychedelia of “The Great Beyond” seems to launch its character deep into the cosmos. It’s still the same journey, but “The Great Beyond” is just further along — Kaufman remains a sort of patron saint, but this time around, he’s not called out by name. Instead, by being less specific, we get to the heart of why Kaufman was invoked in the first place: Michael Stipe is essentially characterizing the artist — any artist, but he chose comedians, probably because they are seldom taken seriously — as a person whose job it is to interpret the world, and attempt to suss out its meaning. “Man On The Moon” is loose enough to be universal; it could be anyone’s search for truth and reason, but “The Great Beyond” emphasizes the notion that any sort of understanding must spring from intuition, creativity, and courage.