Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Recording engineered by Ian Grimble and Richard Matthews of Communion Music at 2KHz, Crouch End, London
There's a story in George Saunders' new collection, "The Tenth of December," that takes place in a clinical setting, where non-law-abiders, or societal offenders, are punished through emotional and psychological experiments that are meant to advance the wellbeing of the entire human race. The idea behind the experiments is to develop a drug, a pill that can be taken, that will take the guesswork out of love. It's a drug that can manufacture the illusion of love, but in a way that it feels as real as it could ever be felt. It could also remove love between two people, if perhaps, people on both sides of the relationship agree that it will end badly, or that those two people should not be together. It's a drug that's seen as a possible breakthrough in adjusting the behaviors of enemies, essentially allowing those who might know better, or those with the best interests of everyone, to orchestrate peace between warring people.
The sentences of these subjects amount to being rigged with chemical packs that are filled with a handful of substances that are then administered by a scientist into various cocktails - straight into their systems - all while the effect of the various combinations is noted and analyzed, until the desired behavior is attained and then proven in further testing. These guinea pigs - a male and a female - are put into rooms together and in every situation, neither person found the other attractive. There was no emotional or physical reaction to speak of before different chemicals were introduced into the body. As they were, the two subjects suddenly become wildly attracted to each other, believing that they might be soul mates, engaging in uninhibited sexual activities right there in the room, feeling the loudest and most stimulating pleasure they've ever felt with anyone. They are horribly in love. Then the chemicals are reduced and they're taken back to baseline, at which point, they again feel nothing for the other person, even after all of that. The fictional, or speculative conclusion is made that love can be such a trifle, that it can be operated on and rigged up to be what it needs to be, not just what is happens to be.
English band, The Good Natured, make us think of the test subjects as they're tampered with, as they're manipulated into their passions, though they're quite unaware that those feelings aren't authentic, or more importantly, will be taken away, with no residual effect. The people that singer Sarah McIntosh, her brother and bassist Hamish McIntosh and drummer George Hinton bring to us are those who get themselves so wrapped up in their fevers that they're gone. They black out within the power of the sensations. They're barely able to make the choices that they should be making. They're exposed and there's nothing that they can do but to go with their sweaty whims. They can hardly contain themselves and still, they know that they should, but in a song like "Skeleton," they find themselves exposed and McIntosh sings, "So, we're standing all alone/And I am naked to the bone/Take it all off/Give it what you've got/Rip it all off/So hot/Don't stop/Now you can see my skeleton." It's a rush that overcomes them. The same thing happens elsewhere on this session, many different times, where love is an opiate, or a person is a fire, burning in the back of a head. Here, there's not a chance of wiping them away. There is no getting back to baseline, just a free-for-all plummet, but it sure feels good.