Kurt Cobain stops sexual assault during a Nirvana gig, 1993
(Credit: Subpop)

Revisiting Nirvana’s electrifying cover of David Bowie song ‘The Man Who Sold The World’

We are taking a trip down the Far Out vault to uncover a gem of Nirvana performing an electric version of David Bowie song ‘The Man Who Sold The World’. The grunge icons famously added their own unique spin on the classic track acoustically during their MTV Unplugged session and it sounds equally glorious when delivered plugged in at full volume.

Nirvana’s MTV Unplugged appearance has achieved legend status over the last three decades since it was recorded on November, 18th, 1993, just a few months before Kurt Cobain’s sudden death which meant that the session was one of the band’s last recordings. Cobain was captured at his rawest and most vulnerable which provided an insight into the fragile state he was in at the time when the recording was made.

A week after the recording, Nirvana set off on what would turn out to be their final world tour and their cover of ‘The Man Who Sold The World’ would become a mainstay of their set during the run of dates, the band performing a blistering electric rendition of the track a total of 31 times.

The Bowie song tells the story of a man who no longer recognises himself when he looks in the mirror and details the terrible feeling that comes with it. Somewhat fittingly poignant, Cobain himself seemingly resonated greatly with the meaning of the song during a time when he was clearly going through a distressing period.

David Bowie was initially taken aback when he discovered that Nirvana had covered the track and felt an immense level of pride that Cobain was a fan of his work, praise that arrived as a testament to Cobain’s immense talents.

Bowie said this of Nirvana’s cover: “I was simply blown away when I found that Kurt Cobain liked my work, and have always wanted to talk to him about his reasons for covering ‘The Man Who Sold the World’” and that “it was a good straight forward rendition and sounded somehow very honest. It would have been nice to have worked with him, but just talking with him would have been real cool.”

Bowie also labelled Nirvana’s cover “heartfelt” and noted that “until this [cover], it hadn’t occurred to me that I was part of America’s musical landscape. I always felt my weight in Europe, but not [in the US].”

It’s evidence to the strength of the original song as well as Nirvana how the song can be re-imagined in so many different ways with both Nirvana versions being completely different to Bowie’s but still as poignant and moving.

Take a few minutes out to enjoy this stunning performance of Nirvana performing ‘The Man Who Sold The World’ (1:07:46) from Tallahassee County Civic Center on December 2nd, 1993.

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