david bowie

Meaning Behind “The Man Who Sold The World” By David Bowie


One of the few songs that is remembered as one of a great artist’s greatest is David Bowie’s The Man Who Sold The World.

The song would take on a life of its own and be recorded by some other big names despite never being made available as a single and only appearing on the B side of reissues.

This article will examine the lyrics of David Bowie’s song The Man Who Sold the World as well as the song’s music.

How Did “The Man Who Sold The World” Come To Be?

One of the last songs to be recorded for Bowie’s 1970 album, The Man Who Sold The World, served as the album’s title tune. When it was released, the song mostly slipped under no one’s notice.

Despite being the album’s title tune, it was never made available as a single. When Scottish singer Lulu recorded the song in 1974, it finally attracted widespread notice and peaked at number three on the UK Singles charts.

The song was subsequently covered by Midge Ure and Nirvana in the 1980s and 1990s, respectively.

The song was one of Bowie’s greatest when seen in retrospect. Its eerie, gloomy mood was a departure from his usual aesthetic and only started to appear often in the 1990s.

Because it lacked the theatricality of his previous songs, it stood out on its own CD and precisely reflected his contemptuous attitude about the tune and how swiftly it was created.

He was quite irritated with the project overall while composing the entire record. This one was composed on the final day of recording since his job schedule was getting in the way and he essentially didn’t write until he had to.

With this one, he would end up making references to a number of poems, novels, and novellas while conveying the song’s true purpose.

The song’s lyrical structure is one of the factors that led to the writing of this essay. In order to avoid giving away the entire plot of the song, he purposefully made things as hazy as possible by omitting certain details.

Because of this, a great deal of research has been done into the song’s lyrics, and many fans are eager to learn what it really means.

The Meaning Behind “The Man Who Sold The World”

The Man Who Sold The World’s startling and unsettling lyrics are one of the things that stick out the most.

They do, however, serve as the catalyst for the song’s whole narrative. And that environment fits in perfectly with the numerous allusions that this song uses.

The phrase “The Man Who Sold” appears in several well-known works. A 1954 DC comic book called The Man Who Sold The Earth, a 1968 Brazilian satire called The Man Who Bought The World, and a science fiction novella called The Man Who Sold The Moon are all examples of such works.

Bowie was obviously aware of all of them, even if the song doesn’t actually have anything to do with any of them.

The first few words of the song are taken verbatim from the poem Antigonish by William Hughes Mearns.

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 a surprise
I spoke into his eyes
“I thought you died alone
A long, long time ago“

We may look at another piece of media that incorporates identical lines from that poetry using it as a cue.

A person’s character, coping with several personas, and various variations of one person are the main themes of the 2003 horror movie Identity.

Bowie was going through a similar identity issue at the time. He was losing himself in the process of becoming a great star and discovering who he wanted to be.

He converses with a younger version of himself in the song, maybe before he became so well-known. Due to the fact that both his old self and his new self are in charge at once, that version of him is going through an identity crisis.

He had to make many sacrifices in order to achieve the degree of renown that he attained. It’s almost like selling small pieces of your identity and your soul one at a time.

And perhaps it is the metaphorical meaning of the song’s “the world” section. Everything revolves around Bowie giving up pieces of himself and his soul to the point where he can no longer recognize the man he has become.

It’s surprisingly sad and profound for a song that was only written in one day.

His alter persona Ziggy Stardust might be referenced in the song’s lyrics. Bowie never lost sight of who he was, but he convinced everyone else that he had changed into Stardust.

He chuckled and shook hands with others, but he, not Ziggy, was in charge.

These last two interpretations are ultimately the most insightful ways to consider the track. They are the only two, in fact, that is supported by hints in the song, events in Bowie’s life, and the few comments he has given about the song.

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