Nirvana’s “The Man Who Sold The World” Lyrics Meaning

This song, originally by David Bowie and later performed by Nirvana, is about a man who is shocked to meet the other version of himself or his personality he thought had been done away with.

He is able to recognize this different version because it’s probably from his past and he thought he had buried it. The writer must have mentioned ‘stairs’ to illustrate his journey upwards and away from the kind of person he originally was. When he meets this other self, it calls him his friend, but he gives him a very hostile response. He confesses that he thought this old character died a long time ago. This could mean that there was something about this former version he did not expect to survive.


In the chorus, the other version tells him that he did not die but was able to take hold of himself and survive. He adds that he’s face to face with the man who sold the world; where world here signifies his soul.

The second verse reveals how the writer tries to move on despite the encounter. Laughing and shaking hands, they part ways but the current version of himself is somewhat lost while searching. He is virtually at a crossroads trying to figure out which version of himself to show the world. Roaming around for years and years probably represents his tours and businesses. He keeps on searching for answers, trying to get himself ‘together’. He however, finds out that in pursuit of pleasing a ‘million’ people in the world, he lost his real self and died alone.

Song’s Writer explains song’s inspiration

The writer, David Bowie explained why he wrote the song in an interview with BBC Radio 1 in 1997. Bowie said he wrote it because there was a part of himself he was looking for. According to him, the song exemplified how you feel when you’re younger and you’re aware there’s a part of yourself you are yet to put together.

David Bowie on "The Man Who Sold The World"

All in all, “The Man Who Sold the World” deals with the struggles individuals face with regards to self-identity. It exposes how easily it is to change one’s own identity to suit a current lifestyle without even noticing it.

"The man who sold the world" lyrics

32 Responses

  1. SANJIT says:


    • mike mestas says:

      i’d like to refer to a text some of us are familiar with—and in this song its poetry, i’d say, is
      like what—-is explained at face value, and indeed a welcome commodity of open minds, i
      guess or it’s an opinion of mine that not only Bowie, Corban, a lot of young adults 15-30yrs.
      had gone thru this way the song is portrayed….to sum the gist of what i am saying: when i
      became a Christian, i thought i’d be good always but that hadn’t been the case–and the argument may be short, by believing in the teachings ,or struggling to mastery which i had never seeme to satisfy csuse this has to be this and revolve on my freedom–but by following hosts and hosts of teachings, etc–mental phenomena that we universally express our —?—-full of answers, our I don’t have answers…what was our question? Mood….im being taken down by the man, who i really follow who sold the world—up the river like a bill of good, and my view is heavily influenced by will vs acquiescence but not cowardly,,, someone said I won’t even judge myself and that Cobain fellow so serenely sings this—i feel, he does in a powerful way

  2. Ephy M. says:

    Wow…I always thought it was Judas..??? I …Well there you have it folks, I totally dig it!! Now that I know the meaning and inspiration for this masterpiece

  3. Mashu Mashu says:

    Isn’t the man who sold the world god?

  4. Anonymous says:

    Great song, thanks for writing this out

  5. Anonymous says:

    WOW! I see myself in this song. I’ve learned a lot about me in the last 120+ years.

  6. Angel says:

    I honestly felt this ties in to everyone’s true identity crisis. Of course we suffer these complications no one is exempt ..but to me it’ reach down further than me where the very roots and origins for this inner struggle came from..imagine meeting the first man Adam ..yes in the Genesis story just always thought what a strange thing to meet the man who truly sold the world…now wanders alone and you happened to meet him you’d recognize him and some strange respect that’s leaves you dumbfounded being face to face with the man who sold the world ..

    • Anonymous says:

      Adam did not sell the world bro. Adam was searching for knowledge and churches don’t like the idea of people searching for knowledge… otherwise people might stop putting into the collection bucket. Plus it was all part of the big mans plan so Adam had no choice lol

  7. Dainty Daisy says:

    This is based on the Antigonish Poem.
    “As I past upon the stair I met a man who wasn’t there.
    He wasn’t there again today
    Oh how I wish he’d go away!

  8. Sarju says:

    It is real

  9. Seol jihu says:

    I see this junior has intaken my spilt personality gu plz bring him to the peak of mount chunchunmaru this venerable shall take care of him

  10. Anonymous says:

    David Bowie wrote this song. It’s about a man talking to his former self while looking back at what he left and how he sold himself. It doesn’t have anything to do with religion.

  11. Anonymous says:

    The missing piece you are still longing for

  12. Bettina Stap says:

    This is Vladimir Putin. And David and Kurt were {prophets}

  13. Anonymous says:

    It’s about perennial battle between good vs bad. I find it disturbing why Good is always shown as weak, underconfident, confused. Whereas bad is always shown as mean, cunning, clear. High time that Good learnt the cunning and clear part, and flipped the game in its favour. Enough of misguidance, get practical. Get a grip.. whether with past, present or future self. Make a choice, be bold. Stop acting confused just for f**k’s sake. Stop wasting time. Clock is ticking. 100 yrs max. Get that right!

    • Anonymous says:

      Sh-t. I am the “good” that has just gotten brutal with carrying out this good. I felt a shame about it, but I see how children stand up for being loving and now your comment empowers me. My inner child says, “Do not give the f–ks away.” Meaning that it’s time to “not give a f–k” when the world is living a lie and we know how to stay walking in truth. It can upset and trigger people – and we KNOW HOW to be gentle. But sometimes we are called to hold our position, and (to hold it) the physics of the energy sometimes calls for a glare. Flame UP Children of Reality. Love AS our real self together, the ones not selling. ✊? Everybody wants us to. We can knock us back together. We ARE the good that we sold.

  14. now you know says:

    ‘The man who sold the world’ is about the day Bowie met Satan when he sold his soul. And how weird and unreal it was for bowie to meet the devil and see that he looks just like any other man. No horns and no pointy tail. You can’t tell him apart from you and me from just looking at him. Just the same is true about God. That’s why they rejected Christ. They couldn’t believe this ordinary looking man was anyone special though in fact He was God almighty in the flesh.

  15. Anonymous says:

    No this has a deeper political meaning. 7 family’s

  16. S.T.A.L.K.E.R says:

    David Bowie, Jimmy Page, and Ozzy Osbourne
    Crowley had a major influence on David Bowie, a musician who had been interested in the occult since he was a young teenager playing with Tarot cards and performing exorcism rituals. Bowie paid tribute to Crowley in his 1971 song “Quicksand,” while in 1976 he admitted to Rolling Stone, “Rock has always been the Devil’s music…I believe rock’n’roll is dangerous. I feel we’re only heralding something even darker than ourselves.” Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust character is perhaps popular music’s most potent embodiment of the archetype of the “dying god,” and the musician continued his interest in mysticism right up to his death in 2016.

  17. Mariusz says:

    Thought it was about a man who sold his soul (the world). Still amazing song and somehow bonding to it

  18. Mike Rotch says:

    the man who sold the world is SATAN

  19. Fiona Davis says:

    Um @Mike Rotch, Satan or more accurately Lucifer is not and never was a man! He was a fallen Archangel! Furthermore I think that this song has different interpretations for different people! I had always interpreted The Man Who Sold The World as being Jesus

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