Let me first say that not giving a damn is not the same as not giving a damn. Tricky I know, but let me explain. When I say that I stopped giving a damn, this wasn’t to imply any sort of intended incompetence. It wasn’t meant that I would walk, completely unrehearsed and unpracticed, onto a stage for a classical recital and mindlessly pound on the piano keys with my closed fists and while people booed and threw tomatoes I would scream, “I don’t give a damn! This is me and this is what you get!” What I mean, is at some point, as a professional we have to be confident enough in our abilities to know when something is wrong because we fell short and when something is wrong because the customer’s taste is just different. Not an easy thing, by any stretch and in fact a version of the Serenity prayer, re-written for the arts would be most welcome and appropriate here.
For those of us in the arts, we are expected to take a huge amount of intangibles and make them tangible. It’s a huge undertaking whose difficulty is little understood by those outside of what we do. What’s a good guitar sound? What’s a tasty riff? What’s a creative dance step? What is interesting prose? What is a thought provoking painting? All of these are highly subjective, yet as professionals in any of these fields we are expected to know these answers and provide them consistently on a daily basis without hesitation. A massive undertaking in and of itself no doubt but now consider the recording engineer trying to understand the vision of an album by a band that most likely can’t consistently agree on a collective vision between themselves. Or the choreographer trying to understand what a certain song is trying to convey so they can choreograph a relevant dance number for 20 dancers with that song. We would be crushed under the weight of our own insecurities in such situations without faith in our basic abilities. And that is what I mean by not giving a damn.
There are those of us hitting our heads on ceilings for a long time. We are trying to get to the floor above us but we can’t find a way. I don’t want to say we hit a plateau because for us in the arts, we never plateau. We hit ceilings because we’re always trying to reach the next step up in our development; our evolution. For me, deciding to not give a damn was more than bursting through a ceiling up to the next floor; it was blasting out of this building I had been in for so long and finally entering a brand new building.
For me, learning to not give a damn meant that finally I can stop second guessing myself when I solo. It’s not about thinking about chords or what’s correct. It’s not about trying to guess which scales fit. It was about just playing and trusting that what would follow would be good. My fingers knew the patterns because I practiced the scales incessantly. My ears knew the notes because they were coming from my mind’s ear and all I had to do was listen and let it happen. It’s about not thinking and just being. It’s not about A/B’ing countless microphone positions but rather just moving the mic for a few seconds in front of a guitar amp and stopping the second it sounds good. If you trust your ability and you trust yourself, the second it sounds good you know it is good. There’s no reason to A/B or compare. It’s not about practicing brush strokes or blending techniques or stressing over which shade of blue matches the sky you’re looking at. It’s about moving beyond that, and just painting. If you trust yourself, you will just grab blue — any shade of blue — and make it work.