Family Moab

Family Moab
In Arches National Park

Monday, July 8, 2024

Vienna, Ennui and Getting What you Want

 "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 go so much to do and only / So many hours in a day (ayay)

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 (oooh) / When will you realize, Vienna waits for you?"

- Music and Lyrics to "Vienna" by Billy Joel, The Stranger (album), 1977

As New York Times subscribers we receive The Daily newsletter via email each morning (and play the games religiously, but that's for another blog). A few days ago the Times linked to this article in The Guardian, explaining how Billy Joel's 1977 song,"Vienna" is "an anti-hustle" anthem for Gen Z, capturing "their particular feelings of ennui."

I brought this up on our drive to the mountains Sunday morning as our (Gen Z) daughter drove a carful of sleepyheads up to the mountain where she had arranged an early start for our semi-annual family hike. As the driver, she chose her favorite playlist, and "Vienna" came on as we drove through Boulder.  

"I just read about this being an anthem for Gen Z," I piped up helpfully, between verses. "Supposedly, it describes your generation's feeling of ennui."

General groans from the older children. "We know, mom, that's why it's on the playlist," followed by silence until the end of the song. Aden added kindly, to rescue me, "I just learned what ennui meant. My friends and I were discussing it because of the new Inside Out movie."

It took me a minute to understand, per usual. "The new Inside Out movie has ennui as a character?" 

"Yep, and in the movie it means boredom." 

William added helpfully, "I'm the only one in this car who has been to Vienna."

I sat in silence, desperately wanting to expound on the definition of ennui (a feeling of listlessness and dissatisfaction arising from a lack of occupation or excitement - per Google) but heroically refraining so as not to elicit another round of groans. Whenever I bring up a "new" trend that I read or heard about, the children shake their heads at me, having known about said trend for several years.

Back to ennui: Joel might capture the dissatisfaction of Gen Z in Vienna (a B-side to "Just the Way You Are") but different lyrics call to me in middle age. On our hike through high altitude lakes and purple/yellow/blue wildflowers, the lines "You can get what you want or you can just get old" kept running through my head. If "Vienna" tells young people to slow down, get off the phone, appreciate life, he is also telling older people to get up and get after what you really want because "you're gonna kick off before you even get halfway through."

Though perpetually late to trends, I still grasp the concept of carpe diem readily (partly from my own childhood pop culture exposure to The Dead Poets Society). When I commented on my new appreciation for Joel's lyrics as they apply to my Gen X peers and I, Aden affirmed my outlook. "The best way to add years to your life is to put more life in your years," she noted as she swung a sharp left turn up a switchback. "I heard that in a podcast."

So true. It's not too late for us, William, we can still get put more life in our years. As the master himself said,  "When will you realize, Vienna waits for you?"

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