What does The Man Who Sold the World mean?

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David Bowie: The Man Who Sold the World Meaning

Covered By: Nirvana (1994), Lulu (1974)


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The Man Who Sold the World Lyrics

We passed upon the stair, we spoke of was and when
Although I wasn't there, he said I was his friend
Which came as some surprise I spoke into his eyes
I thought you died alone, a long long time ago

Oh no, not me
I never lost control
You're...

  1. 1TOP RATED

    #1 top rated interpretation:
    anonymous
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    May 20th 2010 report

    It is a Bowie song about meeting the man he used to be (Ziggy Stardust)and seeing how other people saw him, but still convinced he's changed, Bowie saying to Ziggy "I thought you died alone, a long long time ago". "Oh no, not me. We never lost control" is Ziggy saying back, no I'm still here, I'm still in control. The "we" is referencing the fact that the conversation only involves one person. "The Man Who Sold The World" is referencing the way he "sold" his image and personality to the world. "I laughed and shook his hand, and made my way back home" Bowie thinking, no way is that true, and disregarding what Ziggy has said. "I searched for a foreign land, for years and years I roamed I gazed a gazeless stare, we walked a million hills I must have died alone, a long long time ago" is about him making a sort of inner journey of self-discovery.

    The whole song is about looking back at who he (Bowie or Cobain) used to be and how he's changed to who he is. It's not about growing up, it's about understanding yourself.

  2. 2TOP RATED

    #2 top rated interpretation:
    anonymous
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    Mar 4th 2013 report

    I read up on this, and according to an interview that Bowie had the song is about self-discovery through the comparison of two different personalities w/in the same person (one from the past, one from the present). I originally thought it to be about death and the final acceptance of it, but that seems far fetched.

  3. 3TOP RATED

    #3 top rated interpretation:
    A_Nony_Mous
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    Mar 12th 2011 report

    I believe that the song is about addiction. The meating on the stair is having to face the urge to use, and he thought that the addiction had died a long long time ago, but the addiction says, oh no, not me, we never lost control. The "man who sold the world" is the guy in his addiction, he gave up everything, "the world" for a high.

    Maybe I'm wrong, maybe I'm right. Addiction is what this song means to me.

  4. anonymous
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    Feb 19th report

    The Man is God that abandoned us all. He created the world but then "sold" it (left it to faith). It's for me about the Death of God (Nietzsche).

  5. anonymous
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    Jul 26th 2020 report

    Is about someone who meets himself, his inner self after long years he changed and think that old self was dead. it came as a surprise the innerself sees him as a friend, although he was yet not there with him. the inner self boasts then that all was as planned, and that he had sold the world (it is conquered the world, packed it and sold it, as a matter completelly understood and not giving a f**k about it anymore). is not about stupid drugs, death or holy Jesus, those are stressed out of the ballpark interpretations. is just as literal as the song lyrics says, a encounter in the stair of a building with somebody vaguely well known that reminds himself.

    This interpretation has been marked as poor. view anyway
  6. anonymous
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    Jul 2nd 2019 report

    I left* and shook his hand

  7. anonymous
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    Aug 20th 2018 report

    This has nothing to do with Ziggy, the character had not even evolved at that time. His was mourning the death of his father, who he loved & his brother Terry was severely mentally ill in an asylum. He had widely studied philosophy & religion. He meets Jesus who had said he died for the sins of man to give them a way to heaven. In the scenario Bowie isn't aware he had died, in finding no form or land realizes it was all a lie. He finds it ironic while gazing at the millions, discerning there are just spirits without purpose. Jesus is the man who sold the world to the concept of religion.
    It also refers back to The Width Of A Circle, where he discovers "God is just a young man too" with duality & desire. The whole album is about examining the value & meaning of life, reality & illusion.

  8. anonymous
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    Jul 14th 2017 report

    See the David Bowie page for song meaning.

  9. anonymous
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    Feb 15th 2016 report

    This song is about a man who gave his life away without realising the consequences, I think. This IS a cover song, so I can't connect it to Kurt's life at all

  10. anonymous
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    Jan 26th 2016 report

    this song is a perspective of a father who meet his son after abandoning him.

    Although I wasn't there
    He said I was his friend

    (his son don't know this man is his father)

    I spoke into his eyes
    I thought you died alone
    A long long time ago

    (father thinking, " I don't know how you survive without me all these years")

    (ad his son says)
    Oh no, not me
    We never lost control (we, he and his mother)

    father - You're face to face
    With the man who sold the world
    (the man who abandon his family)

    I laughed and shook his hand
    And made my way back home
    I searched for form and land
    For years and years I roamed
    I gazed a gazeless stare
    At all the millions here
    (he went after money forgetting his family)


    I must have died alone died along]
    A long, long time ago
    (I died long time ago when I leave my family)

    Who knows?
    Not me
    I never lost control

    (I was never broke, I was strong with financial, but yet I didn't come to be with you)


    Who knows?
    Not me
    We never lost control

    ( he has a new wife and family now)

    With the man who sold the world

  11. anonymous
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    Jan 14th 2016 report

    He met Elvis who many people claim to have met and talked to. What did Elvis give up? He couldn't live up to his image anymore and some refused to accept him and the way he had aged. No longer The King, he faked his death and "sold the world!" Haha, why not?

    This interpretation has been marked as poor. view anyway
  12. anonymous
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    Feb 14th 2015 report

    I guess this song can be about the transformation of himself [David Jones] into David Bowie or David Bowie embracing JESUS or god in some form, or anybody else especially if you ever expierience going through a nervous breakdown of the psycotic force of the brain that can lead you to feel the presence of the entity that is now new to your mind to transform you by leaving your old one behind that can feel like death of your old animal natured friend[ maybe ego] that you left behind, thinking that part of yourself died years ago until one day when you and your new identity crosses paths by the old haunts of the staircase that the old reminds the new identity that it has not lost control, it just wants unity in solidarity with the new for a better balance and a peace of mind to share in the world they are living in for the next day.

  13. anonymous
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    Jan 2nd 2015 report

    Bowie wrote brilliant space oddity when he was 21. In The Man Who Sold the World Bowie talks to Major Tom (space oddity) who never lost control over spaceship, never died alone and sold the world to aliens.

    Bowie is talking to young Bowie (Bowie is a friend of young Bowie although he wasn't there at a time of 21). He searched for millions and lost control over himself

  14. host99
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    Aug 17th 2014 report

    Hey guys, this is the song about the man who sold the world (the man who has lost all his family ,home and friends and has ultimately died). In the begining of the song, the man is passing by the stair (stairway to heaven) and he comes to find God with whom he talks about all his bad and good deeds and all his past experiences. God says that he was friend of the man which surprises the man and the man says that he had never seen him and how could he be his friend. The man could see eyes of god and he could know whether he was telling truth or not but he really got amazed when god said to him that 'i thought you died alone a long long time ago' and the man replies oh no we never lost control and never felt as if both of them were dead. So he laughed at god and shook his hand and left to go back to his home and roamed and wandered for many years in search of his body and family and his homeland but couldn't find it. All he could see was millions of soul wandering in heaven and he used to gaze and stare at them but he couldn't find someone whom he knows. At last, come to know that, the man he met was god and accepts that the god was right and says that he really had died and accepts death.

  15. anonymous
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    Aug 10th 2014 report

    i think of the song as two long-lost friends/warriors who are reunited in a sort of limbo. we passed upon the stair implies one going up the stairs and one coming down. the main character in unaware of his own demise and is marching upwards. perhaps his friend died on another battlefield or died unattended. they spoke of shared experiences. he is surprised by being thought of as a "friend". maybe he felt as though he had abandoned his friend and feels guilty about not being there in the end."i thought you died alone" tells us that he is certain of his friends death and cannot wrap his head around his new reality.i think the title and chorus could be a nod to the man who lost control at the worst time and begged/prayed to survive, only to discover that he was all that survived. during this chorus the man is trying to convince himself that he never lost control but ultimately realizes that he "sold" his world for his life. The second verse speaks of the man wandering this new-found plane of existence, searching for landmarks of home and finding none. And , at last, coming to terms with his own death. whether this is correct or not is of no concern to me nor should it be to you. there are many thoughts about these lyrics; who is to say what is right/wrong? a truly beautiful song/poem can be looked at from many angles and be just as beautiful. i recommend reading the lyrics by itself and forming your own opinion. thanks

  16. anonymous
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    Jun 14th 2014 report

    "Who knows? Not me.."

  17. anonymous
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    Jul 18th 2012 report

    It is about a man that faked his death and the world bought it. If you listen to it backwards it is about a man that faked his death as well. THE BACKMASKING ON THIS SONG IS INCREDIBLE. Kurt was into reversed lyrics and that explains his interest in ledbelly.

    This interpretation has been marked as poor. view anyway
  18. anonymous
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    Jul 6th 2012 report

    A man meets death, again. He is incarnate.

    This interpretation has been marked as poor. view anyway
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