In its original context, David Bowie’s “the Man Who Sold the World,” the title track of his third album, the song tells the story of many of the haunted, lost characters who inhabit the world of the record. The song—with its distorted alien vocals, glowing synths, and lonely guitar line—feels very much like late a ’60s speculative science fiction story about a man who meets his own doppelgänger. The song has captured the imaginations of many subsequent generations of musicians, famously performed by Nirvana during an iconic 1993 MTV Unplugged session.
In 1997, Bowie said of the song during the BBC Radio Changes Now Bowie recording session:
I guess I wrote it because there was a part of myself that I was looking for. Maybe now that I feel more comfortable with the way that I live my life and my mental state (laughs) and my spiritual state whatever, maybe I feel there’s some kind of unity now. That song for me always exemplified kind of how you feel when you’re young, when you know that there’s a piece of yourself that you haven’t really put together yet. You have this great searching, this great need to find out who you really are.
It’s interesting to hear his thoughts on the song 27 years after he first wrote it, where it has morphed throughout the decades to mean something different to the man who first penned the song.