"Atrocity Exhibition" as written by Ian Kevin Curtis, Peter Hook, Stephen Paul David Morris and Bernard Sumner....
Asylums with doors open wide,
Where people had paid to see inside,
For entertainment they watch his body twist
Behind his eyes he says, 'I still exist.'

This is the way, step inside.
This is the way, step inside.
This is the way, step inside.
This is the way, step inside.

In arenas he kills for a prize,
Wins a minute to add to his life.
But the sickness is drowned by cries for more,
Pray to God, make it quick, watch him fall.

This is the way, step inside.
This is the way, step inside.
This is the way, step inside.
This is the way, step inside.

This is the way.
This is the way.
This is the way.
This is the way.
This is the way, step inside.
This is the way, step inside.
This is the way, step inside.
This is the way, step inside.

You'll see the horrors of a faraway place,
Meet the architects of law face to face.
See mass murder on a scale you've never seen,
And all the ones who try hard to succeed.

This is the way, step inside.
This is the way, step inside.
This is the way, step inside.
This is the way, step inside.

And I picked on the whims of a thousand or more,
Still pursuing the path that's been buried for years,
All the dead wood from jungles and cities on fire,
Can't replace or relate, can't release or repair,
Take my hand and I'll show you what was and will be.

Lyrics submitted by typo

"Atrocity Exhibition" as written by Ian Kevin Curtis Bernard Sumner

Lyrics © Universal Music Publishing Group

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Atrocity Exhibition song meanings
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  • +7
    My InterpretationThe title is probably an allusion to the novel by J.G. Ballard.

    In earlier days people could pay to 'tour' lunatic asylums and look at the inmates, it was a popular attraction, much like going to the zoo. The British artist William Hogarth has an engraving of this, 'In the Madhouse' as part of his A Rake's Progress series.

    Roman arenas, nothing more need be said.

    You'll see the horrors of a faraway place
    Meet the architects of law face to face
    See mass murder on a scale you've never seen

    The law as a theme figures prominently in Kafka's writing (the story: The Law, the incomplete novel: The Trial, a fragment: The Problem of our Laws) the later of which is particular in that it asks directly what Ian promises that one will 'see'. It is not clear whether this is being referenced directly here but it is undoutable that Kafka was a strongly relevant to Ian, both in art and spirit.

    A more literal reading to meeting the 'architects of law' is that the listener is going to see those in power who make the law as they really are (face to face). As opposed to their generally abstract nature that a person who is born in a society is confronted with - where all the laws have already been invented codified and set into stone without his say.

    To 'see mass murder' seems to imply Hitler and Fascism as a referents, though the ambiguous use suggests that it was obviously meant to encompass more than that. (Both the name and origins of the band, as well as other songs such as Walked In Line, bear closer to these themes.)

    This is the way, step inside
    This is the way, step inside

    Take my hand and I'll show you what was and will be

    Essentially the narrator is inviting the listener 'IN' he is going to relate the world of past and future the and promises that it will be an 'Atrocity Exhibition'.
    hurin66on February 17, 2010   Link
  • +6
    General CommentI just think it's a little unnerving to name the opening track to an album "Atrocity Exhibition" and have it's chorus be "this is the way, step inside!" i.e., my work is an atrocity. And then there's the whole "for entertainment they watch his body twitch" - i.e., my misery has become your entertainment. It's a profoundly disturbing song, and not one I listen to very often... but damn he was brilliant.
    mirrornoiron April 03, 2012   Link
  • +3
    General CommentThis is the song that got me into Joy Division. I had owned Unknown Pleasures for about five years,
    and never got into it, couldn't understand what the fuss was about. But then, hearing Closer for the
    first time, expecting to not like it and expecting it to be similar to UP... and then being assaulted
    by THIS as the opening song - wow! Like much of the album, it really surprised me, because rather
    than the gloom I was expecting, there is just this incredible energy and purpose that to my ears,
    just wasn't there on Unknown Pleasures. The drumming, the screeching guitar, the utterly CONFIDENT
    vocals that grab - no, BITE - the song by the neck. And the lyrics - poetic disgust, the evil banality
    of the modern world expressed in a way that is both beautiful and utterly chilling. But there is an
    irony to the words which stops them being just a miserable commentary - we are all complicit in this
    obscene circus, the singer included, so much so that he can act as tour guide while still being
    horrified by the whole thing.

    Having said all this, there's no way of knowing what Ian Curtis really meant in this song, but
    it's incredibly tempting to transpose it onto the here and now, and the way that we are all
    morbidly fascinated by reality shows, despite (or because of) knowing that they often ruin
    the lives of those taking part. Regardelss, there is so much furious certainty in the
    lyrics and Ian Curtis's delivery of them, a certainty that just wasn't there in the
    first album, and it's matched perfectly by the insistent and savage musical accompaniment,
    an energy which continues through Isolation, Colony and A Means to an End. Whether you take
    this song (and album) in the context of Ian Curtis's death or not, it is propelled by a glorious
    rage and conviction that exhilarates far more than it saddens.
    sproutboyon December 15, 2008   Link
  • +1
    General CommentOne of the best songs on Closer. Oh who am I kidding all the songs are equally brilliant.
    bappers13on May 08, 2002   Link
  • +1
    General CommentThe meaning seems obvious to me..It is about watching something atrocious and being entertained by it..like when Ian would have Epileptic seizures on stage. Everybody thought it was just great, the way he "danced"..They thought it was just part of the show and they wanted to see more.
    Shock_Resistoron March 11, 2003   Link
  • +1
    General CommentThis song is obviously about Ian's illness, but it always reminded me of "the Elephant Man".
    njguyflaon June 11, 2008   Link
  • +1
    General CommentAtrocity Exhibition. The title is from JG Ballard. Jon Savage says that Ian Curtis hadn't actually read the book when he wrote the lyrics (saw this on old interview on the net).

    'This is the way' line apparently comes from T.S. Eliot's 'The Hollow Men'. I read Ballard's book to see how things fitted, and couldn't make head or tail of how it connected to the song. Martin Hannett was right, Ian curtis was like a gestalt conductor...so many things seemed to come together in his lyrics and performance.

    On the Picadilly Radio version, Ian sings 'See that we're the real atrocities'. It is certainly a song about suffering, exploitation of media. I thought I heard Ian sing, 'the architects of love' on a live version.

    There is so much to say. It definitely compares gladiator's experience to that of Ian's own performance. Burroughs is an important influence.

    Dante's inferno, which Ian was reading at the time, is referred to here. I am guessing, but how about a reference to Led Zeppellin in the lines 'what was it will be'.

    I always liked the part:

    Can't replace or relate,
    can't release or repair,
    take my hand and I will show you
    what was it will be...
    Mukundaon March 08, 2011   Link
  • +1
    My InterpretationI think this song is about how he felt about performing and his fans. This first verse seems to be about people watching his eplipsy and being facinated with his depression and consuming his suffering as entertainment (I'm guilty).

    Yet he continued to perform like a beaten down gladiator until he lost the fight. A lot of duality here.
    sunnysson February 10, 2013   Link
  • 0
    General CommentWow, just wow. Ian Curtis was one of the only lyric writers who could make his lyrics just as awesome to read as they are to hear.
    ReActoron July 10, 2002   Link
  • 0
    General CommentOn "Disorder" Curtis says 'I've been waiting for a guide to come and take me by the hand'. In this he says 'take my hand and I'll show you what was and will be'. I wouldn't have employed him as a tour guide, but he would have got a job @ Vermilion Sands, I reckon
    FelixCloudon July 23, 2002   Link

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