To the center of the city where all roads meet, waiting for you
To the depths of the ocean where all hopes sank, searching for you
I was moving through the silence without motion, waiting for you
In a room with a window in the corner, I found truth

In the shadowplay, acting out your own death, knowing no more
As the assassins all grouped in four lines, dancing on the floor
And with cold steel, odor on their bodies mad a move to connect
But I could only stare in disbelief as the crowds all left

I did everything, everything I wanted to
I let them use you for their own ends
To the center of the city in the night, waiting for you
To the center of the city in the night, waiting for you

Lyrics submitted by typo, edited by MrWillow

Shadowplay Lyrics as written by Ian Kevin Curtis Bernard Sumner

Lyrics © Universal Music Publishing Group

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Shadowplay song meanings
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  • +17
    General Comment

    I think the song is about alienation and helplessness, he wanted to move closer but something always kept him to the ground, like a ball and a chain. He searched everywhere within his closed world, but he knew it was just "moving through the silence without motion", he was tied up in another dimension, like there was a thick glass wall between him and the other people.

    He was a public person being a band frontman, often among crowds of people, but he felt as lonely as ever. People were dancing on the floor before him and he tried to connect even though they smelled as cold as steel. He reached out to them but they didn't get it, just as he opened up they left since it was nothing more than a show to them. He was entertaining them with his seizures, "acting out your own death". They didn't take him seriously, or, from his point of view, it wasn't what he was searching for.

    blueberryhillon May 06, 2007   Link
  • +7
    General Comment

    blueberryhill's take seems most accurate to can take a cue from Shakespeare: "Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player, that struts and frets his hour upon the stage, and then is heard no more; it is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing...." Ian Curtis feels like he's just going through the motions, and is lonely even as he performs on stage. The only place where he finds "truth" ie: reality is alone in a room with his own thoughts.

    delphinus44on October 10, 2007   Link
  • +7
    General Comment

    Plato, a philosopher wrote about a shadow play. It was about men chained up in a cave watching shadows on a wall not knowing anything of the outside world, believing the shadows were all there was to life. The second verse seems to be somehow tied to what Plato wrote.

    bkane45on August 02, 2008   Link
  • +3
    General Comment

    There's something about the line "As the assassins all grouped in four lines, dancing on the floor" that is just so amazingly evocative. It's one of my favourite song lines.

    ReActoron October 11, 2004   Link
  • +3
    My Opinion

    Ian Curtis was very interested in the Nazi movement. Not that he was in favor of it, per se, but he makes some very direct references to it. The original name of the band was Warsaw. I think that this song leads us in that general direction and infuses it into his own personal experience by drawing parallels.

    glossolaliaon March 05, 2010   Link
  • +2
    General Comment

    I don't know exactly what the words mean, but the image it creates for me is of walking through a north-west England town in Winter at around 6 or 7pm. I can't believe it's changed much around here since Curtis wrote Shadowplay, having seen photos of Joy Division around Macclesfield and Manchester. When you're walking alone down the empty streets of concrete and steel, the sky and the surroundings grey and dirty, this song will come into your head.

    Rich_Mon May 27, 2002   Link
  • +2
    General Comment

    Why do I think this song is about the narrator stalking his unrequited love, and then witnessing her death?

    He says "To the center of the city where all roads meet, waiting for you," as if he's only looking to see her arrive, but not talk to her. Then he says "To the depths of the ocean where all hopes sank, searching for you." Hopes sank. As if he knows he has no chance with this person, but he still follows her and wants to know about her.

    Eventually, he follows her to the room that had the window in the corner. He sees her get killed in the dark ("in the shadowplay acting out your own death"), but he doesn't do anything. He let them use her for their own ends. And he sat there and witnessed it, with shock, and still didn't do anything.

    And maybe he says "I did everything I wanted to," because he resented this person for not reciprocating these feelings? Maybe deep down he thought she got what she deserved and that's why he didn't speak up as she was getting killed. He wanted her to feel the kind of pain she was causing him. Not being with her felt like death. And now when he says "in the center of the city in the night, waiting for you," the night could symbolize that she's dead. Although he saw her die, and didn't do anything, it doesn't mean he's not stopped loving her either.

    What a morbid interpretation, lol. I've never had a meaning for this song until today. It just came to me as I was listening to it.

    bueller84on August 11, 2009   Link
  • +2
    My Interpretation

    To me the big question is: who is "you" in this song.

    I'd offer: the "you" is the singer himself -- more specifically, the child or innocent good person inside himself. And he's searching for that innocent, good child and trying to reconnect. He's done so many bad things and reached such a state of shame, guilt, and anger, that he feels like he's lost that person and needs to find him again. He doesn't know how, it's like moving without motion.

    A "shadowplay" a reference to Plato's shadow world. All we can do is act out our own death... we know no more, just like Plato's shadow people.

    The room without a window in the corner may be a counselor's or psychiatrist's office where he finally faced this question.

    The assassins are then his own self destructive thoughts and actions, he feels like they're just grouped on the floor and dancing as if to mock his ability to control them. But when they make a move to connect, i.e. carry out their threats, an amazing thing happens... nothing happens and nobody cares... "I could only stare in disbelief as the crowds all left". This is usual in therapy, you find out that the demons you think you have aren't real.

    The final lines "I did everything I wanted to.. I let them use you..." are then the singer lamenting that he let the good innocent child at his core be kicked around by others, and he participated willingly.

    MyDogHasFleason April 09, 2010   Link
  • +1
    General Comment

    I was grooving to the silence without motion waiting for you? -jess

    jessepenceon January 28, 2005   Link
  • +1
    General Comment
    laurelinwyntreon May 15, 2008   Link

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