"Handshake Drugs" as written by and Jeff Tweedy....
I was chewin' gum for something to do
The blinds were being pulled down on the dew
Inside, out of love, what a laugh
I was looking for you

Saxophones started blowing me down
I was buried in sound
Taxicabs were driving me around
To the handshake drugs I bought downtown
To the handshake drugs I bought downtown

They were translated poorly, I felt like a clown
I looked like someone I used to know
I felt alright
And if I ever was myself
I wasn't that night

Oh it's okay for you to say
What you want from me
I believe that's the only
Way for me to be, exactly
What you want me to be

Oh it's okay for you to say
What you want from me
I believe that's the only
Way for me to be
Exactly what you want me to be

Oh I was chewin' gum for something to do
The blinds were being pulled down on the dew
Inside, out of love, what a laugh
I was looking for you

Saxophones started blowin' me down
I was buried in sound
The taxicabs were driving me around
To the handshake drugs I bought downtown
To the handshake drugs I bought downtown

Oh it's okay for you to say
What you want from me
I believe that's the only
Way for me to be
Exactly what do you want me to be?
Exactly what do you want me to be?

Felt like a clown
They were translating poorly
I looked like someone
I used to know
And if I ever was myself
I wasn't that night

Exactly what do you want me to be?
Exactly what do you want me to be?


Lyrics submitted by eastcidskl

"Handshake drugs" as written by Jeff Tweedy

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Handshake Drugs song meanings
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24 Comments

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  • +3
    General CommentHere's my theory. I believe this song like many of Wilco's songs sticks with the themes of co-dependence in both relationships and addiction. Tweedy, unlike many rock songwriters, comes from a nuclear family and has been able to sustain a nuclear family (married to the same woman, had kids) of his own. He has done this while negotiating the lure of addiction in a variety of forms (cigarettes, booze, drugs, probably art and now apparently he's a workout freak). This song pits his two compulsions, his family and his addictions against each other. That's why he is "inside out of love." He is conscious of the effect that his need to satisfy his physical loves (the addictions and artistic passions) have on the emotional love he has for his wife and family. He is conscious of how, in this case, drugs, make him feel and act like a clown. However, he doesn't know how to harmonize his twin passions and let's face it, they are both necessary to Jeff's ability to create great art. So he asks his wife what she wants from him. He knows she just wants him to stop with his compulsions but those compulsions are him and he won't stop being who he is. I think the feedback that sounds like radio static at the end of the track is the real interesting part of the song. The simple melody (D-G-F) collapses but continues under the feedback and distortion. I think the melody is love, or soul or whatever you want to call it and the noise is the chaos that is created when one tries to be true to oneself while trying to love your wife and family. That's I think what makes Jeff different from a lot of other guys. He's not Lou Reed or Kurt Cobain. He's not battling homosexual urges or reeling from a childhood in a broken home or a total misfit. He's more of a regular joe facing killer addictive urges and it becomes even more difficult and scary when you fight those urges and you can't say "well I was born gay or I come from a broken home." You have to just blame yourself.
    supposablethumbson July 06, 2007   Link
  • +1
    General CommentThis is a song that so utterly exemplifies how i feel sometimes, when walking in the city, when really knowing what a loose end is, when just looking for something for something or someone to do. Mostly it means for me the achingly long summer holidays when London is gorgeous and I'm when i can go for weeks without rearing a sober head. Its that lethergy of sun bleached bones, its exactly not having washed behind your ears.
    Molesworthon January 08, 2006   Link
  • +1
    General CommentI love this song, for the deceptively simple chords (D-G-F (falling into a kinda E7), and sometimes D-G-C), the beautiful happy-go-lucky melody, and the striking images in the lyrics:

    "inside out of love" - "I looked like someone I used to know" - "I was buried in sound" - "if I ever was myself, I wasn't that night" - and the change between being "exactly what you want me to be" and the demanding question "exactly what do you want me to be?"

    God knows what he wrote it about, but I always felt it was a stoner guy, hanging around town, slightly out of his head, enjoying the sensations of the city, and maybe he's listening to music on headphones ("saxophones started blowing me down"), looking idly for a girl he likes.

    I also love the line "They were translating poorly" - I always thought that referred to the drugs he had taken translating poorly into his system, i.e. having a slightly bad trip, but he puts in a comical, kinda "Fear and Loathing"-esque way, with those lines about "I felt like a clown..." ending in the humourously juxtaposed "I felt alright".

    Great song. Another great solo at the end...Nels Cline, that's the dude, not Klaus as I said in an earlier post. Sorry Wilco fans...and Nels.
    FishesWillLaughon April 24, 2008   Link
  • +1
    General CommentI think Chuck Klosterman's Spin piece around the release of A Ghost is Born gives a pretty good idea of what Tweedy was feeling when he wrote this song. I'm not exactly sure if the rehab stint mentioned was before or after the song's recording. In any event, apparently Tweedy had been on painkillers to treat migraines, all the while he was taking anti-depressants. When he tried to kick the painkillers, he resorted to other opiates, the handshake drugs of the song's title. When he crashed and went to rehab, the doctors had to treat both illnesses: addiction and mental illness. Both afflictions that can make you feel unlike yourself. Just the send of an idea, I try not to make too much of Tweedy's lyrics--just enjoy them and think about perspective.
    josheron January 19, 2009   Link
  • 0
    General Commentit's funny cuz everything that this song says is sorta against how i feel...about his problem with drugs and how he only wants to change himself for this woman (i hate phoniness)...and yet i love it anyway! that's the beauty with music...even the lyrics strike me..as stuff i don't wanna do...and yet i'm so moved...by his voice, the lyrics, the collaboration of instruments...there are no words to explain the depth of genius in this band! and yet...something just struck me...perhaps he wants to change positively for this woman...like give up those nasty drugs!! that would be something beautiful to see...but his tone declares that it'll never happen...and he's not good enough...or feels not good enough..."exactly what do you want me to be?!"
    finallyCLARITYon October 10, 2004   Link
  • 0
    General CommentThis song is not about taking drugs to be someone else. The singer of the band, Jeff Tweedy had to go on medication because of a condition he has. This song, and most of the album, is about him taking this medication. My favorite line of the song "and if I ever was myself, I wasn't that night" just goes to say how he wasn't himself on that medication.
    Canadian Guyon December 02, 2004   Link
  • 0
    General CommentThis song is not about taking drugs to be someone else. The singer of the band, Jeff Tweedy had to go on medication because of a condition he has. This song, and most of the album, is about him taking this medication. My favorite line of the song "and if I ever was myself, I wasn't that night" just goes to say how he wasn't himself on that medication.
    Canadian Guyon December 02, 2004   Link
  • 0
    General CommentI,m not sure handshake drugs are medication. It refers to the passing of money and drugs in a handshake fashion as to not draw attention to the fact your selling drugs. I think this is one drug user who wants to stay a drug user. He wants to be what the girl wants but feels like a clown and not himself. She continues to try to change him and soon he can't figure out what she wants him to be.
    reefpaddleron December 10, 2004   Link
  • 0
    General CommentDuring a concert, Jeff Tweedy once dedicated this song to his sister. I think that alot of times people automatically assume that the "woman" must be his lover, when infact his sister and his deceased mother have had a great impact on him. I think that he's been married to the same woman for several years.
    Also, he was definitely abusing prescription drugs. Chronic migraines and other chronic pain. So he could have been buying them as well as some illegal substances.
    sunbenon January 05, 2005   Link
  • 0
    General Comment"They were translated poorly, I felt like a clown
    I looked like someone I used to know
    I felt alright
    And if I ever was myself
    I wasn't that night"

    A lot of different meanings in this song it appears.
    kmson January 27, 2006   Link

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