The name of this song came from the title of a dark, experimental collection of linked stories by J.G. Ballard called Atrocity Exhibition. Ian Curtis only read the novel after writing the majority of the lyrics.
The version sung by Ian Curtis (who killed himself later in 1980), features a sideshow barker encouraging people to come in and see the freaks - a commentary on people's fascination with the grotesque.
The song describes a person locked away in a mental institution because he has no control over his body. It is a starkly honest nod to Ian Curtis' increasing struggles with epilepsy.
Kat from Manchester UkDoes anyone else suspect that he wrote this following news of The Jonestown Massacre? It occurred within 2 years of the album being released.
Ginger_fro from IlAs it is. The lyrics reference not only Ian's own personal problems, but an author and particularly a book of the same name that Ian and other band members read and got it from. Author JG Ballard Book The Atrocity Exhibition
Eddy from Sf, CaIn the Joy Division documentary. Ian Curtis' wife explains that Ian went through a phase in which all that interested him was human suffering; the holocaust, wars, etc. and would research and read about it. This song is his own interpretation in how people are fascinated by human suffering. himself included.
Sebastian from Copenhagen, DenmarkIan Curtis was as a child very fascinated with the Roman Empire, and gladiators. So I think the meaning of the lyric is that he compares himself with a gladiator, who suffers in front of an audience. Of course meaning that he was in real life suffering with his epileptic fits. People was paying to see gladiators suffer, and the people who payed to see Joy Division, got to see Ian Curtis suffer.
Chere from Lumberton, TxI'm not sure of the exact meaning of this song (who does really?) but here is my own interpretation. As Joy Division's popularity grew, people stopped going to concerts for the music and began going to see if Ian Curtis was going to fall into an epileptic fit during his manic trance dance. I think that he wrote this song about his loss of control with his fans and his own personal life, while desperately trying to say, 'behind his eyes he says, "I still exist."
Ronnie Van Zant wrote the Lynyrd Skynyrd classic "Gimme Three Steps" after making the mistake of dancing with a girl whose boyfriend was in the bar and probably had a gun. He asked for a 3-step head start.
Who writes a song about a name they found in a phone book? That's just one of the everyday things these guys find to sing about. Anything in their field of vision or general scope of knowledge is fair game. If you cross paths with them, so are you.