The Man Who Sold the World

Michael Stipe:



David Bowie:–SJKVQQ


Over the last 24 hours, I have been inundated with videos of Trump and Stipe, with headlines about the most incredible audio from these men.

Trump managed to suggest that women who get abortions should be punished, and when the backlash was immediate and fierce, he backtracked and suggested that doctors who perform abortions should be punished, not the women who undergo the procedure.

Even abortion foes reacted strongly against Trump’s comment. John Kasich tweeted: “Of course women shouldn’t be punished for having an abortion.” This from a staunch opponent of abortions. Really? Since when have women who are pro-choice, much less suffered through an abortion, not been punished? Granted, the punishment is not prison or a fine, but the endless shaming and aggression against those who are pro-choice has always trumped (pun intended) compassion or concern or even curiosity about alternatives.

Whether Trump’s latest belch will affect his polling remains to be seen. After all, he’s the man who sold the world. He says what some think. He’s a zillionaire, so he must be the most capable and smartest in the world. He wrote The Art of the Deal. He’s bought and sold so much, you won’t believe how much. He’s the man who sold the world.
As all the media, social and anti-social, were broadcasting and posting Trump’s comments—about punishing women or physicians, the media was also sharing a rebroadcast (you-tube) of Michael Stipe, former frontman for R.E.M., singing a haunting cover of “The Man Who Sold the World”, by David Bowie. He performed it on The Tonight Show the other night, in advance of his “Music of David Bowie” tribute concert. His haunting rendition hardly conjures The Donald, but captures the personal searching for ourselves that Bowie’s version, and Nirvana’s unplugged version, also evoke. Yet, Stipe puts his own stamp on it, as did Bowie and Nirvana (Kurt Cobain, especially).

Art speaks truth to the human experience, and individuals find their specific identifications with a work of art. The style of Bowie’s 1970 song, and Nirvana’s 1995 Unplugged cover, and Michael Stipe’s 2016 rendition are each artist specific, yet the song seems timeless.

Demagoguery and hate are also timeless. There are always those who would sell the world for power. I couldn’t help but consider this song that was being posted everywhere yesterday in the context of the events of the day—namely, Donald Trump’s latest. The interesting thing about “The Man Who Sold the World” is that it is both the demagogue and us.

If the original intent of the song was to meet and “shake hands” with our “other” (lesser) selves, its meaning extends to a societal level. We not only have tremendous economical, social, religious, educational, cultural differences among us in the U.S., but we somehow have to shake hands and meet. We can’t merely sell the world and think we will continue to be successful.

I know that the man who sells the world, i.e. Donald Trump, is far from the guy Michael Stipe, Kurt Cobain, or David Bowie were evoking, but there is something quite amazing about The Man Who Sold the World. It is fitting that Stipe’s affecting rendition was being played everywhere the same day that Trump’s “punishing” comments were everywhere.

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 gazley 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. —David Bowie, first released in the US, Nov.1970


I just discovered Lulu (To Sir With Love)’s version of the song from 1974. Perhaps this version, albeit 1974 pop, is the most appropriate version. Women still feel face to face with The Man Who Sold the World. Of course, the more versions, the more we each recognize The Man Who Sold the World. We’re face to face with him.

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