"Shock The Monkey" as written by and Peter Gabriel....
Shock the monkey to life
Shock the monkey to life

Cover me when I run
Cover me through the fire
Something knocked me out' the trees
Now I'm on my knees
Cover me, darling please
Monkey, monkey, monkey
Don't you know when you're going to shock the monkey

Fox the fox
Rat the rat
You can ape the ape
I know about that
There is one thing you must be sure of
I can't take any more
Darling, don't you monkey with the monkey
Monkey, monkey, monkey
Don't you know you're going to shock the monkey

Wheels keep turning
Something's burning
Don't like it but I guess I'm learning

Shock! Watch the monkey get hurt, monkey

Cover me, when I sleep
Cover me, when I breathe
You throw your pearls before the swine
Make the monkey blind
Cover me, darling please
Monkey, monkey, monkey
Don't you know you're going to shock the monkey

Too much at stake
Ground beneath me shake
And the news is breaking

Shock! Watch the monkey get hurt, monkey

Shock the monkey
Shock the monkey
Shock the monkey to life

Lyrics submitted by magicnudiesuit

"Shock the Monkey" as written by Peter Gabriel

Lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC

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Shock The Monkey song meanings
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  • +8
    My InterpretationAs someone else wisely pointed out, many specific/linear interpretations of this song will work. It could definitely be related to things like drug use, masturbation, etc. But I get much more out of the song when I think of it metaphorically and relate it to the human psyche, which is what the video is trying to bring out imo.

    In the video for Shock The Monkey, we see a business man in a suit trapped in a very dark, uncomfortable room with lights flashing in from the outside. This room represents the physical/material world. The lights are very invasive, which indicates feelings of paranoia/fear. We also see a few quick flashes of a statue of a human head with stones underneath the skin. This is symbolizing the split between modern man and his inner psyche (i.e. his connection to the spiritual realm is frozen or cut off... in other words, it has turned to stone).

    The man sits down at a desk, opens his briefcase, and takes out some paper with the words "shock the monkey" written on it in different languages. There's also a projector playing a movie showing monkeys. The man becomes increasingly frustrated and scared, as he can't seem to keep his desk from violently shaking and disrupting his work. This represents his inability to control his repressed inner demons which are now bubbling to the surface in a disruptive way.

    His specific "demons" are difficult to identify from the video alone, but the lyrics of the song (and other comments made by Peter Gabriel) definitely indicate that these are feelings of jealousy in relation to a woman (that's why he specifically says "darling" in a few lines). But again, the main idea is that this man cannot control his fear because he keeps trying to repress it instead of dealing with it in a healthy manner. So we see the man become exhausted trying to push these feelings back down, as he slumps back into his chair.

    The camera then fades over to the same man in a similarly-structured room. Only now, the man and the room look much different. He's dressed in white, and his skin is also painted white. This represents the man as a spiritual being... a being of light and energy who is not living in constant fear because in the spiritual realm, nothing is repressed... so there's nothing to really be afraid of (or to be jealous of, to be addicted to, to covet, etc.). You'll notice that he's sitting comfortably at his desk, and lets white chips fall from his hands. This shows that he is not afraid to "let the chips fall where they may". He's able to comfortably work around the things in his environment that he cannot control.

    In this room, we also see that the lights are located on the inside this time, rotating around and making the room much brighter and dynamic than the previous one (indicating that this spiritual being understands that his fears come from within himself and they are malleable, just like the physical world). He sits cross-legged on the floor in a meditative position, holding two red sticks that he apparently uses to create a spark. I'm not sure of the exact significance of the sticks, but I think they're generally symbolic of the initial spark (or "shock") that ignites man's desire to reconnect with his spirit (or his unconscious, or whatever you wanna call it). This might also be referred to as "the process of individuation", "alchemical transformation", "rehabilitation", etc. These are all essentially the same idea that this song is describing.

    Anyways, this "spark" ignites a circle of flames that surrounds the spiritual man sitting on the floor (showing that he is in perfect balance), while the paranoid material-man runs frantically through a forest (completely unbalanced, and victimized by his unconscious). As the spiritual man meditates in the fire ring, we see the paranoid material-man jump through the ring after being submerged in water. This shows us that the man is starting to become in-touch with his spiritual self. His unconscious spirit is shocking his conscious self, which initially makes things even more uncomfortable for him in the physical realm ("don't like it, but I guess I'm learning"). That's why it starts to rain in his dark room, and the ceiling starts to fall.

    Then we see the spirit-man in the white room letting chips fall on the table again, while he laughs at a shadow of a monkey on the wall. He's laughing because he is in touch with his shadow-self. His shadow doesn't weigh him down, as opposed to the paranoid material-man whose monkey is much more than just a shadow on the wall. It comes in the form of midget people who literally hang on his back and arms, pulling him down and rendering him virtually immobile.

    The spirit-man then flips one of the white chips as if it's a coin-toss, and then we enter a new room with a "gabriel" sign on the door. This new room is the material-man's new office. This new room is much more spacious and comfortably lit from the inside. You can also notice the statues on his desk, which are the same statues that we got quick flashes of in the beginning of the video. These statues represent his former paranoid, fearful self that is now dead. The material-man appears much more relaxed as he flips a coin just as his spirit-self did.

    Finally, we flash back to the paranoid version of the material-man who has his head down on his desk. This means that he's been dreaming of the scene we just saw in his ideal, comfy office where he's a much calmer version of himself. This tells us that he's had a vision of a better life for himself because he's becoming more in-touch with his whole psyche, not just his ego-self. That's why when he wakes up from the dream, we see that his face is painted white just like the spirit-man. He has "shocked the monkey to life", and is on his way to becoming a more enlightened human being who can live a richer, fuller life.
    rejesterdon October 03, 2011   Link
  • +1
    General CommentAs always I look at lyrics in a poetic sense; so this is my analysis of the symbolisms.

    I think that the monkey is a symbol for the basic mamalian self and the hedonistic desires. The shocking of the monkey represents multiple things: first the shock is the semi-literal sence of electricution (semi-literal, meaning that the humanity hates and hurts itself for taking part in hedonistic behaviors). Another meaning for shock is for the surprise that the "monkey" feels when it finds that it's needs are not being met in the culture.

    Hedonism: an ethical system that evaluates the pursuit of pleasure as the highest good.

    so technically the idea that the song is about masterbation fits into the symbalism.
    hiddenaway4everon October 02, 2005   Link
  • +1
    General CommentIt's about jealousy.
    division2roninon February 03, 2006   Link
  • +1
    General CommentPeter said in a somewhat recent live performance (one you can stream from his site, I think) that this is a song about jealousy.
    nosebleedon June 02, 2006   Link
  • +1
    General CommentI agree with the comments that many interpretations possible.
    Never knew Gabriel had given his intended meaning as it being about jealousy, but the earlier comments have well described some interpretations along those lines, some of which work for me.

    I like Isaac Asimovs comment (elsewhere) about interpretation of creative writing by the author not being sacrosanct. The words mean what they are read to mean, and that can be vastly different to what was intended when written. Although, I am pretty sure Gabriel would have been quite deliberately allowing himself many meanings along with his original personal focus for the song about jealousy.

    Just a small correction about the lyrics - I think the song actually says "rat on the rat" - a familiar animal metaphor for some human behaviour, similar to the other adjacent ones, "fox the fox", "ape the ape" and "dont ... monkey with the monkey" - whereas its quoted above as "rat the rat" (which is meaningless without the preposition, unless you are introducing 3 animals a fox, a rat, and an ape, whose names are fox, rat, and ape, which is inconsistent with the monkey phrase shortly after, which correctly includes the preposition "with").

    I read the song to be about coping with life in the world as it is, with lots of stuff going on that we would rather not be a party to, or not even aware of, nor to suffer the consequences ("cover me").
    But just as the electro-shock experiments done on monkeys are a vile corruption of ANY serious concept of human decency, by scientists who are self absorbed and/or self serving, all sorts of things are continuing to happen (wheels keep turning) and no matter how painful it is for a decent person to absorb the influences of those things, eventually we realise, if we are sentient, that a lot of what goes on is important and is something we are part of ("too much at stake", "and the news is breaking") and those things make us realise we need to act to bring wrongs to an end ("shock the monkey to life").

    Hard not to like a song that speaks so powerfully about ethics as the lyrics of this one can be interpreted to do, regardless of whether the main intention of the songwriter was about jealousy.
    EliotRosewateron June 30, 2012   Link
  • 0
    General CommentIt's about masterbation. They did a whole episode of "self pleasure" videos on VH1's Pop Up Videos.
    kmk_natashaon April 30, 2005   Link
  • 0
    General Commentmasturbation? are you kidding me? why is it everyone thinks every song written is either about masturbation, drugs, or satan worship? fuck!
    TheSyndicate88on January 07, 2006   Link
  • 0
    General CommentMight it be referring to people with no individuality? "Shock the monkey to life" meaning trying to get through to such a person.
    ilyon April 23, 2006   Link
  • 0
    General CommentReally? Thanks! I'm going to look for that streaming video.

    And here I could've sworn PolesApart76 (1st post) had it right.
    The lyrics seem to allude to the invention of the wheel and the discovery of fire , not to mention being knocked "out' the trees," lol. They would seem to depict evolution, both biological and cultural, in a negative light, processes of "learning" that "the monkey" would rather go without (e.g. "don't like it" or "I can't take any more").

    If you decide to watch the video, which is availiable on Gabriel's site, you'll notice he appears as a well-dressed man, before him a desk littered with papers; he's in a dark room watching what appears to be a documentary film on primates. He acts in angry, vexed sort of way, at one point slamming his fists into the desk. He's also shown panicking in several situations: as the room grows smaller around him, as he runs through the woods, presumably being pursued, and as water rains down from the ceiling.
    These various effects, I believe, serve to show the discomfort of modern man, the proud descendent of primitive man, as he gracelessly surrenders to the pokes and prods of modern life, the mass neurosis that is civilization.
    If you're at all familiar with the idea of learned helplessness, you'll understand what I mean when I say that "the monkey" has likely been "hurt" too many times to believe that he could ever better his lot (If not, I think you still get the picture.). At least, this is what we have been led to think, by the middle of the song!
    There is, however, a ray of hope. Note his repeated cries to his "darling," which I think would be either his god, mother earth, his system of living (family, job, the whole bit), or all three. Note also his repeated pleas for "cover" perhaps clothing, shelter (for the primitive monkey) or salvation (for the modern monkey). These cries and pleas are obviously for naught, as the monkey continues to be shocked (and complain about it too, lmao). Yet, throughout the video one sees Gabriel in an alternate setting, a far brighter room, in lighter colored clothes, wearing whitish-colored tribal face paint. This setting appears with increasingly frequency, until we find it's the original office-worker who's wearing the face paint, staring determinedly into the camera! Instead of simply being shocked, the monkey has been "shocked to life"!

    Well, it made sense to me. I'm not sure about masturbation; I would bet that the Pop Up Videos was just poking fun at the lyrics, not interpreting the song.
    lnd3005on June 22, 2006   Link
  • 0
    General CommentWell, Gabriel is actually having a remix contest for the song... and on the page: realworldremixed.com/… it has the quote:

    "...people saw that as a sort of animal rights song, but it wasn't actually it was a song about jealousy."
    nosebleedon June 29, 2006   Link

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