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

This song, originally written 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

12 Responses

  1. SANJIT says:


  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

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