The Man Who Sold the World: David Bowie and the detachment from reality

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The Man who Sold the World, a song written by David Bowie (although many continue to think that it comes from Nirvana) that, after years, remains enigmatic.


Let’s start from this verse: “Oh no, not me, I never lost control…”

David Bowie wants to highlight a difference, compared to someone else who someway has lost control. But not him. He says it clearly.

Who lost control? And about what?

The protagonist of the story has lost control towards reality. This individual can be any of us; overwhelmed by this frenetic modern times, we hide and transform our being, our appearance and our thinking. Whoever has lied to himself, anyone who has benefited from being mistaken for someone else, whoever created a character, a world apart from achieving success, can be considered “the man who sold the world”.

Losing control with reality we seriously risk to forget who we are, to adapt ourselves to the mask that we wear just because that’s what society wants from us, and we believe that only by selling our world, our way of being, we could be accepted. We think this is the only way to become part of the society around us.

This is who Bowie talks about: all the people who, in order to achieve something, transform their own truth and life in the theatre of masks that we see every day, minimizing their “ego”, like a feeble flame to extinguish, a nuisance to eliminate. But this is like hiding dust under the rug: there is no way to erase what we are, who we are, without that same rug beginning to swell, sooner or later.

Many, however, prefer to ignore this and continue to sell the world to conquer love, to succeed in work, to be always at the top in a community that drives us to be and to do more and more.

Perhaps the song was written for himself. Even though, as we have seen in the beginning, Bowie tries in all ways to distance himself from this type of individuals… he wants to emphasize that he is not like everyone else. He perceives within himself a Bowie who is different from the mask that everyone knows, different than the rock star. Under the mask that has been created there is his ego, his world, the true one. In the song tells us precisely the encounter with the part of himself that he’s been thinking dead for years. But luckily it was still alive.

In 1997, in an interview with BBC, David Bowie revealed: “I think I wrote it because there was a part of me that I was still looking for… For me that song has always exemplified the state of mind that you feel when you are young, when you realize that there is a part of us that we have not yet managed to put together, there is this great research, a great need to really understand who we are. “

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