“Don’t walk away, in silence”

There are bands, and then there are great bands, and then there are unique bands, and then there is Joy Division. In a mere two years (1978-80), between their incarnations as Warsaw and New Order, they shimmered in that rare genre, the absolute song. Through it, Ian Curtis, an epileptic writer who was their lead singer, tried to say two basic things to his girl and to his mate. When he felt that neither of them could listen, he hanged himself at 23.

He confessed to his wife:

“When routine bites hard,/And ambitions are low,
And resentment rides high,/But emotions won’t grow,
And we’re changing our ways, taking different roads

Then love, love will tear us apart again.”

He implored his friend:

“Walk in silence,/Don’t walk away, in silence
See the danger, Always danger,
Endless talking, Life rebuilding,
Don’t walk away.”


With its symphonic expanse and Heideggerian title, the song “Atmosphere” unfurls an unalloyed mood/Stimmung. Two months before Curtis’ suicide it was first released on a single by the French label Sordide Sentimental. The other song was “Dead Souls.” The single was called Licht und Blindheit [= Light and Blindness]. In addition to the lyrics, the package included a blue piece of paper that identified it as “Gesamtkunstwerk” [= Total Artwork].  Another insert quoted German Romantic author Heinrich von Kleist, dead in 1811 at 34, another suicide, whose essay “On the Marionette Theater” (1810) has been invoked in descriptions of Curtis’s spastic dancing.  The cover by J-F Jamou was redolent of Caspar Friedrich’s atmosphere. Its monk appeared also on the official video of the song.



Walk in silence,
Don’t walk away, in silence
See the danger,
Always danger,
Endless talking,
Life rebuilding,
Don’t walk away.

Walk in silence,
Don’t turn away, in silence
Your confusion,
My illusion,
Worn like a mask of self-hate,
Confronts and then dies,
Don’t walk away.

People like you find it easy,
Naked to see,
Walking on air
Hunting by the rivers
Through the streets
Every corner abandoned too soon,
Set down with due care
Don’t walk away, in silence,
Don’t walk away.

Joy Division has inspired some of the most passionate pop admiration and analysis (Paul Crosthwaite:  “Trauma and Degeneration:  Joy Division and Pop Criticism’s Imaginative Historicism,” in Carroll and Hansen, eds.:  Litpop:  Writing and Popular Music, 2014).

February 9, 2015

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