I found myself listening to Billy Joel’s hits this afternoon, after a Facebook post referencing his 1977 tune “Vienna” in a travel photo caption prompted me to. Listening closely to the lyrics of that particular song, I’ve realized that it was such a relatable composition to the youths of any generation.
“Where’s the fire, what’s the hurry about?… You’ve got so much to do and only so many hours in a day”
This seems a lot like our Coffee Culture today, where it’s become acceptable and “cool” to express our stresses on social media, collecting coffee cups as medals we’ve earned for working so hard and wanting everyone to know that.
In modern interpretation, that last line about doing so much is how we like to appear constantly on-the-go through SNS. There are #lateposts about travels on days you’re actually just at home, mobile apps like Swarm that inform followers of your whereabouts (which, IMO, makes you susceptible to stalking), and Instagram Stories and Snapchat that allow friends to follow your every move. We’re so obsessed with collecting experiences and showing them off that it becomes a distraction from potential nuances and the present.
“Slow down, you’re doing fine, you can’t be everything you want before your time.”
Children are in such a hurry to grow up. This generation, which has been made to believe they’re special and can do anything, has become too ambitious. We’ve been raised on the notion that we’re all going to be successful. We’re all going to be the next Steve Jobs in time, so we set unrealistic goals with only the intention of becoming Steve Jobs, that when reality checks in, we’re disoriented and ultimately, depressed.
To all these dreams, Billy Joel says, “Dream on, but don’t imagine they’ll all come true.”
That’s when we get to the most important line in the song that seems to have no connection to us, but actually makes the most sense: “When will you realize Vienna waits for you?”
What’s in Vienna? Why was it so special for Billy Joel, an American singer and songwriter, to entitle a song after it? For that, I had to do some extra research. In 2008, The New York Times conducted an interview with the artist and asked him what the song meant. After he was estranged from his father at eight years of age, they were later reunited in Vienna after a little over a decade. Billy Joel found his father in a completely different country from where they parted. And for this, Vienna connotes a homecoming in the place where your family dwells. When we’ve exhausted ourselves from overworking, aren’t occupied trying to look like we’re somewhere else, or when we actually are somewhere else, there’s always home and family to help us gain repose. And the singer phrases it in a wake-up call manner, where we’ve got to realize the significance of a home and family in our lives. For many, it’s a starting point, but in “Vienna”, it’s a sporadic pitstop and the end-goal.
Billy also recounts his visit to Vienna and his encountering a sweet 90-year old lady sweeping the street. His father reassures him, “She’s got a job, she’s useful, she’s happy, she’s making the street clean, she’s not put out to pasture.” According to Joel, the senior citizens in Vienna aren’t put in homes or retired, but rather valued and put to use in the community, as opposed to how they are treated in other countries. Another meaning behind “Vienna” unfolds. After this fast-paced life of doing this and that, making something of ourselves, trying to feel important, Billy, too, reassures us that there’s Vienna — both capital of Austria and a hypothetical situation that secures our future when we’re seemingly old and “useless.” I think that the fruitlessness of old age and being forgotten are two of the greatest fears of youth. Fret not, young ones, because according to this soulful 67-year old, Vienna will be waiting.