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 alone
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

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, BillIamBillIam, LukasKlein, smigon

The Man Who Sold The World Lyrics as written by David Bowie

Lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC, Warner Chappell Music, Inc.

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The Man Who Sold the World song meanings
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  • +31
    General Comment

    I 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 :) Vlada

    vlada021on January 15, 2010   Link
  • +14
    My Interpretation

    As I passed along, trying to move up in the world, someone heading in quite the opposite direction reminded me of the man I used to be; so deeply, in fact, that it was like I was seeing my ‘former self’. As he passed, I continued to think about my previous self-seeking ways – the way I used to be. Though I think of my ‘former self’ as an old friend – I would not expect that he would say the same of me (his future self) because… I have done everything that I can to put him behind me, put away those evil ways. So, it was surprising, the closeness I felt to my old personality. I said to ‘myself’, “Didn’t I put away the old personality along with its practices, a long time ago.”

    My old personality, though, as it turns out, was not deadened, as I had thought.
    In fact, it has always been leading me about as a slave.
    I must face the fact that I am my own worst enemy, the one who forfeited my own future.

    Resigned, I shrugged off the thought, and went back to ‘business as usual’.
    For years and years, I pursued happiness for myself in search of some foundation of real value to build my life around, where I could stand on my own two feet, yet I wandered. I turned to looking intently at others; maybe somebody out there – out of all the people here in the world – might have the answer? But no, they’re all as lost as I am! And apparently the future of all mankind was lost a long, long time ago.

    If anyone has the answer, it is certainly not me.
    The wicked and foolish have never lost control.
    Look into the face of anybody who simply goes with the flow of the system… And you are looking at an unwitting supporter of the One who sold into slavery, the world of mankind.

    “The ‘Man’ who sold the world”

    (You do it to yourself; we did it to ourselves.)

    BillIamBillIamon November 22, 2015   Link
  • +13
    General Comment

    This 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
  • +8
    My Interpretation

    I found out on wikipedia that Bowie himself commented on this song: Bowie commented: "I guess I wrote it because there was a part of myself that I was looking for. Maybe now that I feel more comfortable with the way that I live my life and my mental state (laughs) and my spiritual state whatever, maybe I feel there's some kind of unity now. That song for me always exemplified kind of how you feel when you're young, when you know that there's a piece of yourself that you haven't really put together yet. You have this great searching, this great need to find out who you really are."

    So reading this, for me it's kind of an image of what happens in our heads when we evolve and our personality evolves. Somewhere along the way things can remind us of our "older self", the way we thought before (for example as kids, teenager, young adults etc...), and also along the way we realize that although we think we changed a lot ("I thought you died alone a long long time ago"), these older selves are part of who we are too ("Oh no not me, I never lost control"). This is for the first verse.

    Then when experiencing those thoughts we also come to realize that although we long to find stability in our minds ("I searched for form and land ... "), ultimately the way we think will evolve by making new experiences, and our personality/way of thinking will continue to evolve. So who we believe we are at a particular moment in time is just one of many versions of ourselves that we will come to experience during our life "I gazed a gazley stare at all the millions here ...".

    For the part of "selling the world", I see it as every past versions of ourselves having "sold" the world to the next, ultimately for our own greater good, but sometimes constrained by society etc... (like when we have to stop acting like kids because we have more responsibilities to ourselves and others as we grow up etc... )

    onsenwebon January 17, 2016   Link
  • +6
    General Comment

    The song name-checks (to use a term decades in its future) the Robert Heinlein story <i>The Man Who Sold the Moon</i> 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
  • +4
    My Interpretation

    Well as many have said I believe too that this song talks about God.

    My interpratation is that for some reason (maybe death experience?) our protagonist is on the stairway to heaven "We passed upon the stair", talking with God. He is talking with God and God says that he is his friend, but the protagonist feels suprise because he thought God had forgotten the human race. He actually thought he "died alone, a long long time ago".

    Then God says that no, he never died. He never lost control (trying to put the blame out of him), but then admits that He actually sold the world (maybe to the devil or just by leaving us with no guidance).

    Our protagonist finds that funny (maybe because he doesn't believe Him) and tries to get back home (his death experience is over and he will actually survive), but when he returns (to life?) he is not the same. He is roaming in the society like he is in a foreign land, watching the human race and stating "We must have died alone, a long long time ago". We lost whatever good we had as a society by the time God sold - abandoned us.

    But then he says "who knows? not me, we never lost control" "we" refers to the human race. He tries not to put the blame on the human race like God tried earlier by saying "not me, I never lost control". and concludes by staring at the society admiting that "You're face to face. With the Man who Sold the World" meaning that WE actually sold the world. And it is our fault too...

    The other alternative I have is that the man in the first verses who sold the world is Judas by betraying Jesus. That fills the gap of "I thought you died ALONE"... Judas died alone.

    Haroson September 27, 2010   Link
  • +4
    My Opinion

    It's just an unexpected look into his innerself, where he finds himself to be someone very different.

    moonishon March 23, 2013   Link
  • +3
    General Comment

    Its about Judas. Judas "died alone" by hanging himself after selling the world(Jesus).

    I am not Christian but thats my take on the song.

    chobitpersocomon August 03, 2005   Link
  • +3
    General Comment

    I 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
    My Interpretation

    If you just look through the lyrics for a second I believe that there are possible bible references to Adam and Eve in the last verse like scholesy said, but also if you think about it, you could relate it to all/any of the people who take everything for granted (and there are a lot out there who do). So also in the last verse when he says "I gazed a gazely stare at all the millions here", he could be getting at all the people who have taken everything for granted and then suddenly lost everything (which once again relates to the story of Adam and Eve) and therefore "sold the world" in a metaphorical sense.

    zeppelin895on July 14, 2009   Link

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