Lost MP3 of the Week: Billy Joel, “Vienna”

Written by Lost MP3 of the Week, Music

Have you ever felt like a song has the answer you’re looking for? That if you could just figure out what the person is really, truly singing about and saying, then you’d know what to do?

For the past couple crossroads in my life, “Vienna” has been that song.

Billy Joel, “Vienna” (download)

Judging by Billy Joel’s personal life, it’s probably not the safest bet to assume that he’s got the answers to much of anything, but “Vienna” has a certain timelessness. It was released in the ’70s, but sounds like it could have come out yesterday. It tackles the questions that never really go away: questions about what we want and what we need, about getting older, about how we live our lives. But while it may be straight-forward, it’s also somewhat vague.

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

But couldn’t slowing down be seen as being afraid, too? It all depends on what we’re talking about here.

But you know that when the truth is told
That you can get what you want
Or you can just get old

In a song about the values of slowing down, this seems to contradict his point. It sounds like he’s saying that you can work hard to get what you want or relax and just get old. If he’s advocating the latter, this is hardly convincing. Or, is this a criticism of the former, pointing out that even if you work hard to get what you want, you’ll still get old, just like everyone else? But we’re all going to get old, anyway, so isn’t it better to get what you want in the process? Then there’s that “you know” to contend with. Is this the way the subject of the song thinks, and he’s criticizing this way of thinking?

You got your passion, you got your pride
But don’t you know only fools are satisfied?

This is the most perplexing part. If only fools are satisfied, then whether you slow down (as Joel suggests) or speed up (as the subject of his song does), it wouldn’t make a difference because neither would be satisfying. Is it a criticism of people in hot pursuit of what they want, because they’ll never be satisfied? Or is it a criticism of people who are stagnant because they’re satisfied, saying they should have more goals?

Apparently Joel talks about this song on a recording in one of his box sets — but now that I know that, I’m not so sure I want to hear the answers. Trying to figure them out is part of the fun.

(Also – after looking at pictures of Vienna, I really want to go!)

Image courtesy flickr user Tom Steiner