"The Man Who Sold the World" as written by and David Bowie....
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 face to face
With The Man Who Sold The World

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 gazely stare at all the millions here
We must have died along, a long long time ago

Who knows? Not me
We never lost control
You're face to face
With the Man who Sold the World

Lyrics submitted by magicnudiesuit, edited by Attap

"The Man Who Sold the World" as written by David Bowie

Lyrics © EMI Music Publishing

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The Man Who Sold the World song meanings
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  • +10
    General CommentI think that it goes like this:

    Bowie meets an old friend ( alcoholic, addict, somebody that stayed in the hood ).

    Although he ( Bowie ) was not there for a long time, this man calls him a friend, which suprises Bowie a lot, since he has been away for long time.

    Bowie tells this man to his eyes that he thought that this man has died a long time ago, knowing abut his sin. This man responses that he always had control ( over his addiction I suppose ), but he feels like failure after all ( he sold his career, his world, his everything )

    Now, Bowie shakes his hand, smiles politely, and goes away.

    After that, Bowie is travelling a lot, looking at millions of people, and then he realizes that we are the ones that have sold the world, we have died alone, and sold everything ( our worlds ) when we sold our dreams and became grown ups.


    Here in Serbia, we have a saying that goes something like: " God bless the man that goes crazy early in the life, at least he spends his life in joy ". To me, this song has a lot to do with it

    That is just how I see it :)
    vlada021on January 15, 2010   Link
  • +5
    General CommentThe song name-checks (to use a term decades in its future) the Robert Heinlein story The Man Who Sold the Moon about a business man, one Harriman, who puts together the financing for the first lunar expedition. In a subsequent story, the old Harriman has never got to the Moon, and bribes a barnstorming rocket jockey who flies people to orbit and back (this is by analogy with '20s- and '30s-era pilots who would do something similar at county fairs and the like) to bring him there---he's too old and in too bad shape to be allowed an official trip. I think of this when I hear 'I thought you died alone, a long long time ago'---Harriman is never depicted as a particularly nice or warm man, just one who got things done and didn't crave the limelight, and so I can easily image the pilot's believing that he (Harriman) had died alone awhile back.

    I'm a bit sceptical about all the heaven and hell stuff, for the simple reason that Bowie never seemed to care about that sort of thing that much...you need remember that back a few decades, when Bowie was coming up, the more rationalist among us, of whom D.B. is one, really believed that we had superstition on the run. Growing up, if you had told me that in the U.S. people would be fighting over teaching standard biology in our classrooms unto this day, I would have thought you were crazy. Admittedly, Heinlein might have bought that, as he grew up around Bible-thumpers even though he never was one, and understood the deep American need to be conned....we'll fall for anyone who claims he can sell us a ticket to heaven, or the Moon, or the World.
    GeraldFnordon June 02, 2009   Link
  • +3
    General CommentThis is a kind of metaphoric meaning, but I always kind of thought of it like he was taking to himself, sort of, like a past self. He has a conversation with a younger version of himself, and they're talking about his life and such.
    c_o_c_oon May 29, 2005   Link
  • +3
    General CommentI agree that the song's meaning is in line with the theme of the album of an alien super-race. But I also think that there is a more indirect meaning involving people who are lost and trying to find who they are and what their purpose is. For instance, he makes his way home and roams for years in foreign land but never actually makes it home. There's is also a kind of sarcastic, "in denial" element to the chorus "oh no, not me, i never lost control" after which he laughs and also the "who knows, not me" which i really think says it all. It's intended to be dreamy and vague, kind of a wandering journey with no clear meaning. A good allegory for life in general.
    TKallionzon May 25, 2010   Link
  • +2
    General CommentKurt did a really good job covering this song.

    My interpretation is that the song is about fascism rising again. Hitler spoke of an Ayran "master race", and maybe Bowie is talking about the sort of feelings that led to the creation of fascist regimes coming to the for eonce more
    Gvilleneuve_27on September 07, 2002   Link
  • +2
    General CommentI might be way off here but i think its about someone who lost himself thru drugs or by any other means but then got his act together.

    " thought you died alone, a long long time ago

    Oh no, not me
    I never lost control"

    for me its about someone cleaning up their act when everyone had given up on them and wrote them off.
    australianfanon January 23, 2006   Link
  • +2
    General CommentI love this song. I adore David Bowie for writing such a great song, and Nirvana for doing such a great cover.
    Catroaron March 12, 2006   Link
  • +2
    General CommentI think David Bowie had a moment of supra-lucidity due to a massive abuse of extra-terrestrial drugs.
    So he was transported to another dimension, somewhere between heaven and hell, where he met Kurt Cobain, He immediately KNEW that some twenty years later, a group called Nirvana (the bhoudist "paradise") would cover his song (i.e. sell the world), even if it wasn't written yet.
    He also discovered that Cobain would commit suicide (sell the world twice), and die "alone / a long time ago", which means a long time before his own death.
    The most extraordinary is that Bowie was able to write parts of the lyrics from the point of view of Cobain. There is also a remarkable ambiguity between who really "sold" the song the most, and who is on which side of the stair.
    I particularly appreciate the allusive play on words : "He said I was his friend (-> buddy -> buddhist)". This could even indicate that the real inspirator was the 5-years-old Kurt Cobain, which would explain the silly instruments like the cheese-grater.
    ... I know the pieces fit !
    Eroson June 25, 2007   Link
  • +2
    General CommentWell, I get the feeling that the folks that are saying "It's about god, or the devil, or jesus, or Adam and Eve!" are rather mistaken. Bowie has never been big on religion. He seems to make a fair study of it, but every time he does a song that touches, or potentially touches, on religion, it's something like Saviour Machine, or Loving the Alien, or God Knows I'm Good- none of them even really acknowledging the force behind a religion, especially the christian one. So given that this song would seem to relate directly to, and give credibility to, one of those forces; I sincerely doubt that's the case.

    ... As to the meaning, I can't recall where, but I remember a long while back reading a short story about a man that was approached by an alien in disguise as a human. The alien met him in, I forget, a bar or something I think... And told him, since the man was a salesman of some sort or other, that he wanted to buy a bulk amount of basically useless items. He offered a ridiculous sum for them, too. The man accepted, and the alien forked over the money.

    That happened a few times- I think three or so, and the man was incredulous at first, in total disbelief that anyone would pay that much for junk, and eventually decided that the alien was nuts and an easy mark. The final transaction, the alien tells the man that he would like to buy Earth. The man, again just thinking this is some insane rich man, gladly accepts. The alien insists on a receipt, and then reveals what it is. The man is horrified at what he's done, realizing that he just literally sold the world.

    I honestly don't have the vaguest idea when it was written- I don't even remember the name, it was half my life ago that I read it, but it seems to me that if Bowie read that same story, this song would make a fair bit of sense in connection with that.

    The man and the alien have a chance encounter, passing upon the stair so to speak, they get friendly, the guy thinks he's in total control, and finds out he's the man who sold the world.

    Admittedly, there'd be some perspective issues there, we'd have to assume there's a lot of POV-shifting in the lyrics, but Bowie's good at that. And at any rate, I'm not saying that's the definitive meaning, but it'd fit, and it'd be interesting, eh?

    If Bowie can get inspiration from The Uncle Floyd Show, no reason to think he can't get inspiration from a story about a man unknowingly selling the world to an alien, especially given his Fascination (Sure 'nuff) with aliens. (Yeah, okay, bad pun. I just couldn't make 'loving the alien' work.)
    JudeccaGunneron September 22, 2008   Link
  • +2
    General CommentTo me, when you strip away the nonsense-poetry wording, this song is about becoming infected - polluted - by another person's nihilism and hopelessness. The song's protagonist meets a man who claims to be an old acquaintance. This man denies that he met with any kind of disaster - he certainly hasn't died although clearly *something* has happened: he takes some pyrrhic pride in calling himself The Man Who Sold The World.

    The protagonist laughs this off and goes on his way, but in time he finds he has been changed by that meeting: no matter how he searches for something solid and meaningful in his life - for "form and land" - he can no longer find it. Instead he sees humanity as wandering aimlessly across the planet, and comes to believe that "we should have died alone, a long, long time ago". The second time the chorus is sung, it is not the stranger who identifies as The Man Who Sold The World, but the protagonist: he has lost any sort of faith which he previously had. The nonsense-poem about the "man who wasn't there" matches the absurdity of the human condition. Not only that, but this mournful realisation has been passed onto you, the listener, by contact with the song, in the same way as it was passed onto the protagonist by his encounter on the stair.

    ...which was nice.
    CatSoupon December 07, 2012   Link

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