Song of the Day #2,121: ‘Vienna (Live)’ – Billy Joel

billy_joelBilly Joel’s ‘Vienna’ is a song that I tend to forget when compiling lists like this one.

But when I listen to it again, it feels like the only song in the world I’ll ever need.

It’s so beautifully written and performed, so expertly produced by Phil Ramone, and its message is so simple and profound. It’s truly perfect.

In recent years, it’s become cool to like Billy Joel again. I’ve never understood why it wasn’t for so long.

Here’s Exhibit A proving that Joel is one of the greats.

Slow down you crazy child
You’re so ambitious for a juvenile
But then if you’re so smart tell me why
Are you still so afraid?

Where’s the fire, what’s the hurry about?
You better cool it off before you burn it out
You got so much to do and only
So many hours in a day

But you know that when the truth is told
That you can get what you want
Or you can just get old
You’re gonna kick off before you even get halfway through
When will you realize
Vienna waits for you

Slow down you’re doing fine
You can’t be everything you want to be
Before your time
Although it’s so romantic on the borderline tonight

Too bad but it’s the life you lead
You’re so ahead of yourself
That you forgot what you need
Though you can see when you’re wrong
You know you can’t always see when you’re right

You got your passion you got your pride
But don’t you know that only fools are satisfied?
Dream on but don’t imagine they’ll all come true
When will you realize
Vienna waits for you

Slow down you crazy child
Take the phone off the hook and disappear for a while
It’s alright you can afford to lose a day or two
When will you realize
Vienna waits for you

And you know that when the truth is told
That you can get what you want
Or you can just get old
You’re gonna kick off before you even get halfway through

Why don’t you realize Vienna waits for you
When will you realize Vienna waits for you

4 thoughts on “Song of the Day #2,121: ‘Vienna (Live)’ – Billy Joel

  1. Dana says:

    From the songs you have picked so far, this is one that will absolutely appear on my list as well. So, if we are stuck on that desert island together, perhaps that means one of us could get to pick an additional song since the other one got this covered. 🙂

    In a recent Town Hall meeting hosted by Howard Stern on satellite radio, Joel discussed the story behind “Vienna” and that it was written after he went to visit his father who had moved to Vienna. The inspiration for the song came after seeing an older woman working sweeping the streets and realizing that, unlike in the US, the elderly there continue to feel useful, productive, fulfilled and respected, rather than being placed in nursing homes and “put out to pasture,” In all of the years I have listened to and loved this song, I always assumed it was inspired by a young person pursuing his or her dreams. The song is clearly touching upon that as well, but it was interesting to hear the additional inspiration and meaning behind this great song.

    In another interview Joel said the following about the song, which encapsulates the story about his father and the old woman, but gives some additional insight:

    Why did I pick Vienna to use as a metaphor for the rest of your life? My father lives in Vienna now. I had to track him down. I didn’t see him from the time I was 8 ’till I was about 23-24 years old. He lives in Vienna, Austria which I thought was rather bizarre because he left Germany in the first place because of this guy named Hitler and he ends up going to the same place that Hitler hung out all those years! Vienna, for a long time was the crossroads. During the Cold War, between the Eastern Bloc, the Warsaw Pact nations and the NATO countries was the city of Vienna… Vienna was always the crossroads – between the Ottoman Empire and the Holy Roman Empire. So the metaphor of Vienna has the meaning of a crossroad. It’s a place of inter…course, of exchange – it’s the place where cultures co-mingle. You get great beer in Vienna but you also get brandy from Armenia. It was a place where cultures co-mingled.

    So I go to visit my father in Vienna, I’m walking around this town and I see this old lady. She must have been about 90 years old and she is sweeping the street. I say to my father “What’s this nice old lady doing sweeping the street?” He says “She’s got a job, she feels useful, she’s happy, she’s making the street clean, she’s not put out to pasture”. We treat old people in this country pretty badly. We put them in rest homes, we kinda kick them under the rug and make believe they don’t exist. They [the people in Vienna] don’t feel like that. In a lot of these older places in the world, they value their older people and their older people feel they can still be a part of the community and I thought ‘This is a terrific idea – that old people are useful – and that means I don’t have to worry so much about getting old because I can still have a use in this world in my old age. I thought “Vienna waits for you…”

    There is also a lot of inside stuff on the song. The beginning and the end is very Kurt Weill. That kind of sick, middle-European, kinky decadent thing.. cabaret kinda…. there’s a lot of crazy stuff going on. We are seeing the result of it in this ethnic warfare in the Balkans which is a tragedy. This century started out with this Assassination of the Archduke in Sarajevo and that begat World War I which begat the Russian Revolution, then you had the Depression then that begat World War II and then that begat the Cold War and all that’s over but they’re still blowing each other to smithereens in Sarajevo. So this whole thing is going on in middle Europe – it’s Kurt Weill. And some composers, Dvořák, Smetana – they captured it.

  2. Clay says:

    Great insight… thanks for posting it. The song really does have that other-worldy European feel to it.

  3. Andrea Katz says:

    I wonder if Daddy waits for you too?

  4. pegclifton says:

    Very interesting–thanks for posting and thanks for picking one of my favorite songs, artists and albums.

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