This is about a person who gets excited by any skin contact.
Gabriel got the idea from a study where people of different nationalities were observed at restaurants. In Puerto Rico and Paris, they touched each other frequently, but in London, only twice, the hello and goodbye. This led him to the idea that the English were deprived of touch.
This was featured in the 1996 movie Phenomenon, starring John Travolta. As a result, it charted 14 years after it was first released.
Mike from New Haven, CtI won't claim to know what Peter Gabriel's meaning is about this track but I can definitely relate what it means for me.
It seems to be reflective of man who's in one hand inspired by people but in the other, completely alienated. In a way, this track is reflective of the emotional conflict of the creative man, the artist, etc. Even some of the lyrics, "Any social occasion, it's hello, how do you do. All those introductions, I never miss my cue " remind me of stuffy art openings or parties where you are in the mix with some very "sophisticated" people but all you really want is Primal Contact. I've experienced this in my life, living in big cities and being involved in the arts. I would get very tense, very sad and alienated and cherish anything Primal. The healing power of touch is undeniable and nothing would relax me more than having a good hug, or somebody rest their hand on me. No chemical or drug could ever come close to that form of Primal Contact. And hey, isn't Peter Gabriel kind of obsessed with the primal world anyway?
Aubrey from Trenton, NjI had always heard that the song was about being mentally ill in some form. That was why it was all about the need for contact when no one wants to give it. This also explains the sections about blending in and moving with the crowd, and how it feels to him to have contact with people, and hiow badly he needs it. The line 'hug my knees, try drink, food, cigarette' could also refer to attempted cures for this supposed illness. Also, consider 'shaking hands' not as shaking other people's hands, but as shaking your own to get rid of something. However, this is just what someone once pointed out to me as another option behind the songs meaning. It could also easily be entirely incorrect as well. I suppose interpretation is up to the individual.
Paddy from Dublin, IrelandThe song reportedly has a series of reversed messages according to Michigan DJs Mitch Gill and Tommy Walker. One audible phrase when the recording is reversed goes: "Don't you miss Ron?" Supposedly a reference to Scientology's founder, the late (L) Ron Hubbard. And isn't the star of "Phenomenon" John Travolta a devout Scientologist!!!
Marknm from Santa Fe, Nm I have another take on what this song is talking about, and I'm probably wrong. To me, it seems very likely that it is a song about a charismatic politician. If you are in this line of work, every word of that song speaks to a politician.
The reference to 'shaking hands' is a clear reference to a politician, but if you need any more proof, take a look at the revised lyrics from the Phenomenon version of this song. Look at this line, "Words you use can devastate, can decoy and deceive." If that isn't about politicians, I don't know what is.
And yes, I am a politician, and this is my psych up song when I go out campaigning door to door.
I'd be interested in your thoughts, so post them if you have any!
Steve from Belmont, Ca I think the song has an additional meaning (as all Gabriel songs seem too), which talks to his early habit of jumping into the audience (see Lay Your Hands On Me). Some of the lyrics - 'Pull my chin, stroke my hair, scratch my nose, hug my knees' seem to document just what happens. I remember that I saw him at Madison Square Garden in NYC on the Sledgehammer tour, and being a Gabriel guy from way back and being with my 'new to Gabriel' date and a rowdy crowd of kids seeing him for the first time with his new found pop fame - I thought no way will he jump into the crowd anymore ( in the old days they would calmly pass him around as he sung). Then Lay Your Hands On Me started, and I informed my date, that this is the song but he can't - they're tear him up. But sure enough the song ended with him at the edge of the stage, his back to the audience at one of the most rowdiest arenas/towns in the world, and he slowly fell in - and sure enough the crowd grabbed at and twisted him immediately. Two large roadies pulled him back up - 30 seconds longer and he would have been naked and beaten. It was at that point that I realized that this was a religion to him and he was a much better human than most - as is written in the Lay Your Hands On Me description - it is about trust.
Buzzy from Washington Dc, DcThis song was also featured in a movie called "The Chocolate War," an off beat film that explored the Catholic School's strictness of that standard tradition of students raising money by selling those chocolate bars -- it also explores the strange depth and risks of factions within an all boys school, from one student group to another group of students.