Meaning of the song The Man Who Sold the World

The composition “The Man Who Sold the World” for most inexperienced listeners is primarily associated with the Nirvana group. Only a few connoisseurs of music know that Kurt Cobain once recorded only an incredibly successful cover, and the author and original performer is no less legendary David Bowie.

Story of creation

The song The Man Who Sold the World was released by David Bowie in 1970, when the future Nirvana soloist was only 3 years old. This track became the title track in the album of the same name.

The title of the track refers the listener to Robert Heinlein’s sci-fi novel The Man Who Sold the Moon (“The Man Who Sold the Moon”). In fact, it is not known whether the author of the song himself was trying to hint at a romance, or whether it turned out to be a mere coincidence. It is believed that David read this work, but there are no references to Heinlein’s work in the track itself.

But the fact of borrowing from the poem by Hughes Mearns The Psychoed cannot be denied. Before the first quatrain:

“Climbing the stairs,
I met a man who was not there
Today he was not there again
What a pity, what a pity that he does not leave”

Here is the first verse of the musical composition:

“We walked up the stairs
We talked about different things
Even though I wasn’t there
He said I was his friend
What came as a surprise
I told him to his face
I thought you died alone
A long time ago”

Obviously, David was at least inspired by the poem.

Some critics believe that at the time of writing the composition, the musician was in search of himself and suffered from this. Bowie’s images on the album cover also hint at this – the performer was in a woman’s dress and did not look like himself at all.

The meaning of the song

First of all, I would like to note the name of the composition, because it also deserves some attention. The person who sold the world is someone who has made the decision to make a deal with the devil. Bowie himself did not willingly explain anything to the audience, so he had to think it out on his own. It is not known for sure whether the hero in the song sold his soul to the devil for real, or whether it was implied that the person changed something concrete today for something abstract in the future.

Be that as it may, it is obvious that the author does not approve of the decision made by the character. Why does Bowie condemn the character? And what happened to him then? Why and for what did he sell his world? To answer these questions, you need to turn to the lyrics of the song.

The song begins as a conversation with someone vague. There is nothing strange in this, because in those years such a technique was periodically encountered by a whole range of authors. As the song progresses, it becomes obvious that David is talking to himself from yesterday. “Yesterday’s Bowie” tells the performer about various life events, but for some reason David cannot remember them.

As already noted, it is not completely known what exactly Boiu meant by “deal with the devil.” Music critics agreed that the main message is to give up something significant and important in the present for something incredible in the future. That is why the performer cannot remember the events that happened to him “yesterday” – David exchanged all these moments for a dream, which ultimately disappointed him.

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