5 Songs About Andy Kaufman NOT By R.E.M.

Today would have been comedian Andy Kaufman's 64th birthday... assuming of course he isn't playing a really long practical joke on us all. Anyone else in the world and such a claim would be rightfully seen as conspiracy theory nuttery, but with Kaufman and his legendary dedication to character and craft, it seems almost likely.

Kaufman is rightfully renowned as a comedian and there has not truly ever been another like him. His comedy routines were wildly experimental, rarely using traditional jokes and instead revolving around a cast of characters acting bizarre, or sudden violent incidences that looked real but were staged. He parlayed these into stints on Saturday Night Live, a role on the show Taxi, his own specials, and a professional wrestling career that still holds up as one of the greatest kayfabe storylines of all time.

At just 35 years old, Kaufman was laid low with a rare form of lung cancer, and he took whatever genius he had still to produce with him. We're left with memories and a tremendous biopic starring Jim Carrey named after R.E.M.'s famous ode to Kaufman, "Man on the Moon." Michael Stipe and company aren't the only ones to ever pay homage in song to Andy, though. Today we highlight them in this week's playlist.

Peter Broderick, "With Notes on Fire" Peter Broderick is from Portland, which always makes me inclined to like a musician. His work is stunningly pretty, but with some interesting creative turns that are daring and unexpected. The sudden machine-gun delivery of the lyrics in "With Notes on Fire," is as out of left field as Kaufman himself after minutes of almost New Age soft-rock. Broderick name-drops in the course of the song as an inspiration to its own creation.

Sage Francis, "Andy Kaufman" You know who really likes Andy Kaufman? Rappers. Seriously, the next three tunes are rap songs, so if you don't swing that way, then I'm sorry. If you listen to no other entry, though, give two minutes to Sage Francis.

He's a spoken-word artist in addition to a rapper, and his quick drop of a track plays more like a short story as he details faking his death and attending his own funeral. Like I said, anybody else and I would call bullshit, but with Andy we can only be 99 percent sure, and Sage Francis does wonders with that idea.

The Audible Doctor, "Andy Kaufman Theory" I think that one of the reasons that rappers like Kaufman so much is that his entire approach was to game the world. He made you question what you would otherwise be content with by refusing to be it, and the good Doctor makes that point with near-perfect elegance.

Kaufman was also notoriously scrupulous about not wanting to compromise his art, and here too he and the Doctor match up. "That tool they use to sell you on that whole lifestyle you choose, but I refuse to buy into it it's clearly a joke." That's great stuff right there.

Monsta Island Czars, "Sumthing to Prove" One of Andy's more notorious bits was the way in which he dealt with bad audiences who insisted he do bits he didn't want to do. Instead of continuing with his show, he would begin reading from F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby.

People laughed until he kept going and going and going to the end. Rodan from the Monsta Island Czars paid tribute to this take-no-shit attitude by invoking Kaufman's trick as a laugh against those who would try to play him wrong.

Andy Kaufman, "This Friendly World" While he's never going to get the same acclaim as Charlie Chaplin as a composer, Kaufman considered himself a song-and-dance man first and wrote many of his own songs. I thought we'd leave off with one of his most gregarious tunes. Shine on, you crazy diamond, wherever you are.

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Jef Rouner is a contributing writer who covers politics, pop culture, social justice, video games, and online behavior. He is often a professional annoyance to the ignorant and hurtful.
Contact: Jef Rouner