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Friday, August 10, 2018

In Defense of a Hot Afternoon

In response to someone's blog post from 2009* claiming that "Never waste a hot afternoon" is a garbage line that makes no sense in the song "Nobody's Side" from the musical "Chess":

In "Chess", one of Florence's major conflicts is strung between her duty (to America, to her partner, her career), and her heart (which wants what it wants, come what may). She seems like she wants to prioritize her career and destiny ("There must be more I could achieve") over her heart/emotional life.

In "Nobody's Side" (lyrics, song), Florence recites a litany of hard rules and observations that she has developed, a set of mantras and trusims - sprinkled with cautionary and presumably hard-won cynicism - with which she lyrically surrounds herself at a time of stress; rules which she can repeat to herself for guidance, or just as likely (especially for those of us who have dealt with anxiety) to berate herself for perceived failures. The mantras cycle between:
  • love ("I don't want to let that go", "Take a little love where you can")
  • action ("Never stay too long in your bed")
  • enlightened self-interest ("Never make a promise or plan", "Never be the last to deceive")
  • suspicion ("Never be the first to believe")
  • dignity ("Never stay a minute too long")
  • trust ("Never take a stranger's advice")
  • independence ("Better learn to go it alone")
and counsel resilience in the face of:
  • betrayal ("Never let a friend fool you twice", "how the cracks begin to show", "No lover's ever faithful")
  • opposition ("Everybody's playing the game/ But nobody's rules are the same")
  • misfortune ("Don't forget the best will go wrong")
  • uncertainty ("There's nothing certain left to know") 
  • and temptation ("The one I should not think of").

Prioritizing her individual accomplishment and independence, Florence navigates between two competing drives, her heart, and her head (both of which are explicitly named and set in opposition to each other, per the line "Never lose your heart, use your head"), and aims to come out on top ("I've still a lot to prove").

From this critical perspective, "Never waste a hot afternoon" complements the line "Take a little love where you can", both of which are counter to "work/career", and more evocative of emotion and freedom. "Never waste a hot afternoon" is a sensory mantra, an appeal that evokes a sunny day outside, which one could easily "waste," either by staying indoors, doing unfulfilling work, or simply being lazy ("Never stay too long in your bed"). It's one of the few comforts she is allowing herself in this minefield of cautions and warnings: a reminder that one's work is not one's life, and that there must be some things one insists on keeping for oneself. Even if nobody is on nobody's side, Florence tries not to forget that she should, above all, be on her own side, even if it means focusing on something besides her career from time to time.

In the drafting of this response, I realize how much of my thoughts on the song, and on that line in particular, could be categorized as "reader response" critique informed, in no small part, by the sun-loving and avid runner I dated in college, who coincidentally included this song in a mix tape (never a good sign, I still maintain).

* What is wrong with me.

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