Billy Joel is an American singer and songwriter who revolutionized performance art as a whole. You may be familiar with the artist’s biggest hit, “Piano Man,” a piece in which Joel sings and plays the piano and harmonica at the same time. This iconic song was popular in 1973, holding a special place in all of our parents’ playlists. Joel’s stylistic performance choices and distinctive voice are not the only reasons why his songs are so beloved. Some fans are fond of every individual word of his songs. A classic, and the lead track of Joel’s second album, is my personal favourite: “Vienna.” The song questions ambition, success, and the extent people are willing to go in order to be happy. The song greatly applies to teenagers, and the stress undergone by upcoming university applicants.
1 Slow down, you crazy child
You’re so ambitious for a juvenile
But then if you’re so smart, then tell me
Why are you still so afraid?
5 Where's the fire, what's the hurry about?
You'd better cool it off before you burn it out
You've got so much to do and only so many hours in a day
From a young age, Joel demonstrated ambition – a yearning for something great. He dropped out of high school to pursue a musical career. During this time, Joel’s parents were getting a divorce, leading to his father’s decision to move to Vienna. The song is written from Howard Joel’s point of view. He is explaining to his ambitious son he must never let his drive for success render him unhappy.
In lines three and four, Howard questions Billy’s future plans. Billy Joel was confident enough in his musical abilities to drop out of high school, yet he still expressed fear as to whether or not he would be successful. Howard expressed concern for Billy’s wellbeing throughout his teenage years. The artist dedicated all of his time towards his goal. This demonstrates perseverance, but removed the possibility of maintaining a well rounded lifestyle.
8 But you know that when the truth is told
That you can get what you want or you could just get old
You're gonna kick off before you even get halfway through,
When will you realize, Vienna waits for you?
The ninth line of the song demonstrates Howard Joel’s admiration for his son’s ambition. Illustrating typical parental values, the father wants his son to be both happy and successful. The song illustrates the time and commitment needed in order to achieve both outcomes. The tenth line once again illustrates concern, knowing that Joel never stops to appreciate the moment. Finally, Howard reminds Joel that “Vienna waits for you” (11). Vienna symbolizes peace, a haven. Having chosen to move to Vienna after his divorce, Billy Joel’s father admires the beautiful city. It symbolizes happiness and a purpose to his life.
12 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
Having not yet achieved his goals, sharing his musical talent remains Joel’s dream. By addressing the “romance on the borderline tonight” (14), Joel depicts the beauty of today. This contrasts with the following line:
16 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
This pessimistic outlook shows Joel’s self doubt and fear of failure, of never achieving his goals. This theme is common amongst a student population: prioritizing our futures over our self-care in inevitable. For this reason, Joel’s explains, “you’re so ahead of yourself that you forgot what you need” (17).
20 You've got your passion, you've got your pride
But don't you know that only fools are satisfied?
Dream on, but don't imagine they'll all come true, ooh
When will you realize, Vienna waits for you?
The final verse is the audience’s last perspective on Joel’s philosophy of success. He explains ambition and desire. Stating that he will never be satisfied, he strives for improvement. This is reflected throughout the success of his career. The last verse focused on young Joel’s strive for success, despite knowing that not all his dreams will come true. His eventual musical career demonstrates the importance of ambition. Though he doubted himself, Joel worked to become the musical icon he is today.
I felt that this song merited the attention of the ambitious TFS student population. Students are dedicating so much time to achieve their goals. Keep striving for success, but remember “Vienna waits for you.”