The Man Who Sold the World
David Bowie 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 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 © Universal Music Publishing Group, Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC
Written by: David Bowie

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Most interesting comments from YouTube:

Absentee Lover

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 gazeless 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



S Gurney

@David Frankel I've always thought this song had a mystical meaning, but now that I know it does - he said so explicitly in an interview. It seems astoundingly rich with meaning, at least to the degree that the sense of mystical insight is capable of being intelligibly articulated. Here is how I read it, for what it's worth.

"We pass along the stairs" - Symbolising an encounter along a path of spiritual ascent.
"We spoke of was and when/ although I wasn't there" - Referring to the timelessness and transcendence of the experience of mystical union, in which the sense of 'I' dissolves.
"He said I was his friend/ which came as a surprise" - The mystical encounter is personified. There is an ambiguity about whether the "he" (earlier amalgamated into "we") denotes merely a different aspect of the Self, or an encounter with an Otherness - an ambiguity which corresponds to the redundancy of the boundary between self and non-self which results from the dissolution of the subject-object/ perceiver-perceived distinction which characterises mystical experiences. The "surprise" in the discovery of friendship in this encounter has multiple simultaneously possible meanings, the simplest of which which being the surprising warmth and joyousness of the mystical experience.
"I spoke into his eyes" - "Eyes" signifying perhaps an all-pervasive perciever with whom Bowie is communing, hence the absurd possibility of 'speaking' into an eye.
"I thought you died alone/ a long long time ago" - Bowie's well-known fascination with Nietzsche perhaps suggests an allusion to the 'death of God'. In his mystical encounter "God" is found to still be alive. But not merely alive, but a "friend": something encountered through a profound communion, an Otherness at the heart of Being which does not stand entirely aloof in solitary isolation but which permits union with it through mystical experience. (Note here another intentional ambiguity: which happened "a long long time ago", the thought or the act of dying alone?)

"Oh no, not me/ We never lost control" - If my interpretation so far is not wildly off the mark, then this is the reply, as it were, of the mystical Godhead to the claim that he is dead. The "We" is back again, further cementing the ambiguity between "me" and "we" engendered by the mystical experience.
"You're face to face/ With the man who sold the world" - Is this in the voice of the Godhead, or of Bowie? Again, there is deliberate ambiguity. "Face to face" connotes the mystical experience as an encounter of sorts. So we can interpret this in the voice of the "God" of the mystical encounter confessing that he "sold the world", i.e. perhaps that the world has been conquered by Mammon, and this accounts for his apparent death (but perhaps reassuring us that we have not been abandoned altogether, since ultimately he "never lost control"). Alternatively, we can interpret this in the voice of Bowie: we are face to face with him as he sings this song, and he is the "man who sold the world" - the man who relinquished the world for something else more valuable, namely for mystical illumination.

"I ... made my way back home" - Again, the deliberate ambiguity remains. Who is the 'I'? Is this Bowie returning to the world from his mystical experience? Or is this the divine Ground of Being, with whom the union is felt during mystical experience, retreating back into its solitary, timeless transcendence? This ambiguity is continued throughout the subsequent lines.
"I searched for form and land" - There is an intimation here perhaps of the cosmogenesis of order and materiality from formlessness, but also of the disorientation of returning to worldliness from an etherial, mystical experience.
"We walked a million hills" - The traversing of time and events; an insinuation of their cyclical nature.
"I gazed a gazeless stare" - Perceiverless awareness perhaps, which describes both the ultimate reality encountered in mystical experience and the enduring effect of having experienced the mystical.
"I must have died alone" - The cycle of time has been completed and we return back to the death of God from which we began. Perhaps this is the fading of the mystical union - a sense of aloneness constituting its death, or the death of God. Or perhaps this is the mystical union itself - the death of becoming detached from the world.

But is this really the correct interpretation? What does it all really mean?
"Who knows, not me"



All comments from YouTube:

Suriner

He covered Nirvana's song 23 years before it was even released. Truly a genius. Sad to see him go.

TheCriticalWiseMan

Lol

Censor Duck

@Kelly Sackett you don't sound like an authority on jokes. Ironically you're unintentionally very funny.

Talen Baksh

Yes

Haseeb Ahmad

500th truly a pleasure

Leon Button

https://www.ndtv.com/offbeat/watch-the-con-man-who-sold-the-eiffel-tower-for-scrap-2040477

497 More Replies...

KRIEG

Strange how the Nirvana cover feels like an entirely different song.

MoVieZafterMidNiGhT

because kurt was being paid to sing it by the people who sold the world! They are using their content now for w.h.o fundraisers....
Kurt is rolling in his grave!

Denis Lemieux

@Kefka Palazzo For all 3 of these examples, for me anyway, they changed it with the just the emotion in the singing.

Nuncotics

Nirvana does it tuned a half-step down. It’s an old americana way of playing acoustic guitar. Blues and mountain men preferred the tuning. Sounds better naturally on a guitar and gives it a somber edge

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