“Hey man, new band in town. It’s got that guy Nate from that one band, and that other guy Tim from that other band, remember, from like three years ago, and there’s like another dude, and some other girl in it who plays a keyboard. Anyway, they’re playing tonight.”
If you’ve ever heard anything like this salvo of information regarding any given night’s social plans from your local alternative weekly, or worse, an actual human being, your immediate internal response is probably along the lines of “maybe I’ll go if there’s a chance I could get laid” or “that sounds boring as hell, can I be your plus one?” It’s extremely unlikely for you to actually care that Nate and Tim and a dude and a girl are in a new band, and it’s statistically totally impossible that this new band will be so great you’ll end up telling your grandkids you were there at their first show. Mostly it’s going to be a night of standing around in a dark room, nodding absentmindedly out of a vague sense of obligation to be positive and encouraging to some nonentity of a rock band that sounds like a less good mix between betterthing and betterthing, probing for an ideal level of socially acceptable drunkenness, trying to look cool, gabbing about nothing with mild acquaintances you’re not sure you actually like, and hoping that Sarah or Tony will be there. The whole idea of the band being a certain way is a distant afterthought.
Congratulations, my friend, you don’t give a shit.
Let’s say you end up attending this event. You pregame heavily because you know how pointless and patently unfun the night will be and your best strategy for dealing with this unavoidable fact of your current life is to preemptively erase all boredom and mediocrity from your memory. That way you can just float around and smile at things like some kind of a whimsical blackout ghost. Upon arrival, you tell the guy at the merch table what you think of the fact that one of the bands is selling bumper stickers in a way that seems witty to you but to him sounds like “I don’t even have a CARRRRRRR!” You dance feverishly to whatever the bartender is playing but then get angry when an actual band starts to play. Between songs, you dole out obscure heckles that to you seem like something that needs to be said but to everybody else sound like “C.C.ARRRRRRRR!” You spend the night floating around and generally causing some combination of bemusement and aggravation, until eventually during the course of a conversation you were never invited into, you touch somebody on the arm in order to make sure to drive home some point your brain thinks is worth making, and they freak out and there’s some weird scene, possibly somewhat bad, that you’re incapable of processing, and you finally get kicked out, and the exertion of this sequence jumbles your innards so bad you puke on somebody’s shitty ass Toyota, and they witnessed this and said, “Hey man, you PUKED on my CELICAA-ARRRR!” (He tried to say the “car” at the last minute so as not to be the type of person who yells “Celica” out loud, which is something you and your friends will laugh about forever). Sure, in this scenario you’re about as fun to be around as a chemical truck on fire, but guess what: at least you were not BORING like Nate and Tim’s new band. All this happened mostly because it was just kind of your turn, and you take it in stride.
This scenario is known as not giving a FUCK.
On the other side of the stage, Nate and Tim and that other dude and that one girl have a quandary as well. How much of a shit do they give? How much of a fuck? Let’s say Tim snaps an E string. Does he stop everything to restring the son of a bitch while Nate tries his best to make lame jokes, or does Tim just keep playing without an E string? If he goes the rest of the set without an E string, does that indicate he does not give a fuck or does not give a shit? What if he breaks all the rest of the strings too, and strips down and dances around with the mic stuck down his sweaty briefs, coming dangerously close to electrocuting himself in the dick? Fuck, right? That’s not giving a fuck. That’s probably not giving TWO fucks. While also not giving a shit. But: what’s the difference and how are the two related?
I’m glad you asked all these questions, Rhetorical Device. Allow me to allow myself to answer them for you.
In our broken E string scenario, if Tim gives a (one) shit about being perceived as a professional-quality musician, he’ll restring his guitar and he’ll tune it. That’s just a basic unit of measure of give-a-shit for the situation. You’re there to play music, the audience is there to listen to the music, and the music you’re playing involves playing an E string. Sure it’s best to keep the momentum going from song to song, but shit happens. Restring the fucker and get on with the show. Tune it up. Make sure it’s in tune, so when you play your songs they sound like how they’re supposed to sound. You owe that to the audience and to yourself. That’s basic respect. That’s giving one shit.
Now, I want to make clear that I am not placing any judgment on whether or not he should give a shit. Tastes are subjective, we’re just defining. We’ll get to that later.
Let’s say Tim gives two shits. That’s bringing an extra emergency guitar that he didn’t otherwise plan on playing, just in case he breaks a string on the first one. That’s asking the audience if somebody could go grab Dave, who Tim refers to as his “guitar tech,” from the merch table to restring the primary guitar while Tim temporarily rocks out on his slightly inferior emergency guitar. That’s Tim telling the audience to sign up for the email list for prizes and giveaways, and then actually following through on the prizes and giveaways and emails. That was Tim who placed a few phone calls to key tastemakers in the local scene to assure that the alternative weekly and maybe a couple of other bloggers covered the nonevent that was their first show. Those bumper stickers were Tim’s idea. Tim is a pain in the ass. The nicest thing anybody ever says about the version of Tim who gives TWO shits is that they “admire his ambition.” That’s what Tim has instead of friends.
Two give-a-shits strains the threshold of tolerability. Beyond two shits is technically mental illness. That’s where you care so much about what you’re doing, you can’t even handle being a human being. This is where you kick somebody’s teeth in for talking during your set when your whole set is you rambling incoherently with a tambourine, and the guy you kicked is just some drunk idiot yelling about C.C.R. This is The Brian Jonestown Massacre Zone.
If our imaginary E string-less Tim gives not one shit, he’s finishing the set without an E string, maybe making an extra effort to make the E string break into a punk call to arms where he’s like “Fuck it, let’s go!” Because this Tim is operating under the assumption that the audience is there to see a show, rather than to sit and quietly listen to your songs that you wrote that they love so much because they’re so great. This Tim realizes that the likelihood of anybody ever being disappointed that you didn’t totally nail that one riff they love is next to zero, especially at the first show. Not give a shit Tim understands that the sound in this club is so shitty there’s no way anybody, including the sound man and rest of the band, will even be able to hear the difference between a guitar with an E string and one without an E string. Not give a shit Tim knows the songs ain’t exactly mean motherfucker era Leonard Cohen masterpieces anyway. This Tim is there to rock, and doesn’t give a shit if he’s got an E string or not, especially on the second to last song of a 12 minute set. That is one unit of not give a shit.
If Tim gave not TWO shits, he would just stop playing. Fuck it, I’m thirsty. I give more of a shit about being thirsty than I do about dealing with this E string. Giving less than not two shits about anything means that you are barely aware that it is currently happening. -2.001 shits is how you feel about non-things in your life like what your bus driver had for breakfast or what kind of pills your neighbor’s dog has to take for diabetes. It is practically impossible to give not three shits. You would stop keeping track by then, and you’d be so aggressively apathetic nobody else would even know you’re there. In a negative two or more shits scenario, Tim wouldn’t bother to come to the show. He’d have no excuse, either. You’d just see him years later, running the popcorn machine at your cousin’s company picnic you randomly went to in Albany. It’s the Syd Barrett Zone.
In the E string scenario, Tim would exhibit the behavior of giving a (one) fuck if he apologized for the delay, or, alternatively, if Tim gives not one shit that his E string is broken and plays the rest of the show without it, he can still give a (one) fuck if he apologizes for the songs sounding less good than they would had he restrung his guitar. If Tim gives TWO fucks about his E string breaking, he will totally freak out about it to the tune of multiple post-set conversations on the topic, perhaps going so far as to bemoan the unfairness of such an event or even cry about it in order to show that he very much wishes not to be associated with the minor inconvenience of watching a band restring a guitar. More than two fucks given is a full scale public meltdown where regardless of how you feel about your music, you can’t even really handle being around people ever. It’s the Cat Power Zone.
Conversely, if Tim gives not one fuck that his guitar string broke, he will without comment either calmly fix it or else just as casually brush it aside, depending on shits given. If Tim gives not two (-2) fucks about his string breaking, he’ll likely continue with the show in any number of strange, dangerous, and/or potentially nonmusical directions that involve anything but restringing a guitar provided he also gives not one shit about his guitar missing an E string. Giving fewer than not two (negative two) fucks is dangerous psycho/sociopathic territory. The police will eventually be called, and the offender will eventually be placed in state custody with the other people in the high negative fucks ward who have tattoos on their eyeballs. The GG Allin Zone.
SHITS AND FUCKS TOGETHER AT LAST
Uh oh. Looks like math just got involved. Here’s a diagram:
So now we have a visual system for categorizing bands based on how many shits and fucks they give or don’t give, with the extremes demarcated by the appropriate form of mental illness. It’s possible to fall just about anywhere on this chart, but the four most recognizable areas are as follows:
All of which is to say, you’re probably not going to have too much fun at Tim and Nate’s new band’s show unless either you or they are in the yellow area, hopefully with a fucks per shit ratio of double negative 2. That’s just where the best stuff happens, and everything else is either boring and polite or bizarre and unenjoyable. It’s all pretty much common sense, sure, but now you have science on your side.