Leningrad Lyrics - Billy Joel

Review The Song (22)

Viktor was born in the spring of '44
And never saw his father anymore
A child of sacrifice, a child of war
Another son who never had a father after Leningrad

Went off to school and learned to serve the state
Followed the rules and drank his vodka straight
The only way to live was drown the hate
A Russian life was very sad
And such was life in Leningrad

I was born in '49
A cold war kid in McCarthy time
Stop 'em at the 38th Parallel
Blast those yellow reds to hell
And cold war kids were hard to kill
Under their desk in an air raid drill
Haven't they heard we won the war
What do they keep on fighting for?

Viktor was sent to some Red Army town
Served out his time, became a circus clown
The greatest happiness he'd ever found
Was making Russian children glad
And children lived in Leningrad

But children lived in Levittown
And hid in the shelters underground
Until the Soviets turned their ships around
And tore the Cuban missiles down
And in that bright October sun
We knew our childhood days were done
And I watched my friends go off to war
What do they keep on fighting for?

And so my child, and I came to this place
To meet him eye to eye and face to face
He made my daughter laugh, then we embraced
We never knew what friends we had
Until we came to Leningrad

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Resonance for Relatively Recent Immigrants | Reviewer: Gayle Hawley | 10/31/14

An American living in Britain for 41 years, I recently went "home" to N.Y. state and bought a Billy Joel CD. For some reason had never heard the song Leningrad before. My grandparents were Hungarian passing through Ellis Island just before the First World War. The words are so poignant & make me think how it was for people who couldn't escape the chaos of any war and to keep their family safe. I remember the practice air raids under our desks at school in the 1950's and how I used to wake up frightened at night thinking we were being bombed. It was real scaremongering.

I'm relatively young (born in 1985) but I grew up listening to Billy Joel..not because my parents did, but because I could always feel a strong connection to his music. I became something of a fanatic, and have seen multiple documentaries, interviews, etc. and learned quite a bit about both this song.

During his USSR tour in '87 Billy Joel met a clown named Viktor. This is a true story. He went to all six shows, having been a long-time fan of the Piano Man. When Billy learned of this, he invited Viktor backstage to meet him. They exchanged stories, spent a bit of time with each others' families, and actually stayed friends for a long time.

Personally, this is one of my top five favorite Billy Joel songs of all-time..along with "Vienna", "Honesty", "Pressure", and "Goodnight Saigon"...that's not to say there are any songs I don't like..they're all amazing.

This song always makes me cry. First time I listened to it I was a teenager. Now I am a grown man. Still cannot listen to it without tears running down my face. I just can't help it. Must be a magnificent coincidence that every time I hear this song I get something in both of my eyes.

Those who have never visited Russia cannot grasp how deep the Great Patriotic War still affects the people; not the politicians and oligarch in Moscow, but the regular people away from the capital. I have visited several times, but want to share one particular incident.

My first visit was in early May 2004. The theme of that time was preparation for the annual celebration/commemoration of Victory Day. Now dry statistics have little emotional impact. But when I found out that every single Soviet family lost at least one member in that war. Every single family! One of my Russian friends had lost both grandfathers, and grew up never knowing them as persons but rather of the sacrifice they made to keep their families safe.

I toured an elementary school with a Russian friend. The children were on holiday, but their class rooms were ready for the Victory Day celebration. Each student had been assigned to draw a picture of one of their family who died in that war... I was asked to sign the Register and leave a comment...the first American to be so honored so far from Moscow. So with tears running down my face, I carefully printed something about the importance of peace and how all of us should never let something like the Second World War ever happen again...

Billy Joel captured something of the spirit of the real Russian people with his lyrics. He went to Leningrad and found...real people! No sterotyped commies wanting to capture the world. Just hard working families trying to make it through another week...month...year, exactly as we do. There probably was a Viktor...or more likely many Viktors...and Billy was struck by their warmth and humanity.

The second time I heard the song, I realized that there really was a Viktor, and that very warm human encounter affected him. And I remembered the Registration book at the school, and the tears flowed...

The song is "true" | Reviewer: Anonymous | 9/3/10

Check out Joel's own comments on the song: Viktor was a real person, who was indeed a circus clown at the time that he met Billy Joel, during Joel tour in the USSR, in 1987. Viktor traveled across the nation to see all six of Joel's shows, and the song grew out of the visit they had together.

Some of the lines are, of course, Joel's take on their lives and times, and of course Joel has only his own perspective. Was a "Russian life very sad"? Perhaps' Viktor's was. Does it really matter if not all Russian's lives were sad? No more than it matters that Cold War kids would have been relatively easy to kill if a bomb was dropped on them, even if they were hiding under their desks. :)

True story, more or less | Reviewer: Toby | 7/26/10

The story is actually more or less true; Billy did a series of concerts in the Soviet Union and was one of the first American performers to do so as the Cold War was winding down. (His album KOHUEPT is actually a recording from that tour.) While there, he and his family (Christy Brinkley and their daughter Alexa Ray) did meet a Russian circus performer — I remember seeing backstage pictures of it — and while I do not know if his name was actually Viktor or if his background was as portrayed in the song, it seems very likely considering the circumstances.

It Works Today | Reviewer: Some Random Girl | 3/22/10

My mother and I are big Billy Joel fans (she was in her 20s when he was really popular) and she decribed things about Billy Joel songs I wouldn't have known, since I wasn't alive during the era these songs came out.

Leningrad basically seems to be about how Americans percieved the Russians. Then, he went to play a concert there, and he said "wow, these are real people".

It's like someone today writing a song called "Iran"

Nice for the history | Reviewer: BW | 9/12/09

Billy Joel brought out a nice bit of history with this work; many Americans had only briefly or never heard of the Siege of Leningrad and what it cost and meant to the USSR. The battles fought at Leningrad, Stalingrad, and Moscow can only be partially understood from the American experience when we try to comprehend what Gettysburg and Vicksburg meant to the U.S. population in our own civil war -- in other words, the three pivotal battles in the USSR were "make or break" events that defined that generation's pride in their way of life, notwithstanding whether specific aspects were good, bad, or indifferent. Billy Joel points out the human cost of such events for both the generation that endured them and subsequent generations. Bravo!

Wonderful | Reviewer: Narumi | 6/1/09

First, to Olga: While that may be true, Billy could quite possibly be talking about the American view of the Soviet Union. You see, when we hear that, we were pretty much taught to think "Evil Commies! Those poor people need resuuuuued!"
So even if we don't mean to, I'm sure a lot of us do sometimes... especially if you were from Cold War times. =/

Now, I'm NOT from Cold War times, but I'm really touched by this song. Not only because of the general message, but because Billy Joel was one of the first big American stars to go over to Russia for music and stuff.... I say that's pretty darn awesome.

a true perspective on how media represents a group of people | Reviewer: JK | 4/2/09

I migh not be from this era, or from the era of Billy Joel's youth and height of his popularity, but I listened to this song on dad's Storm Front CD the other day, I almost cried at this song, it is real touching.

and I can't help but think that this song could also be linked to the wars we have today, such as Iraq and Afghanistan, and how the media portrays them as evil ruthless sadystic killers when if you think about it, there are lots of people there who are just like you or I.

Great song........great song....

Some random reviewer | Reviewer: Anonymous | 3/12/09

This song is just so... touching. I don't really know why, but it does. Maybe it's the music itself. I don't know.

It's kind of like the Top Gun Anthem, in that the music is capable, by itself, evoking strong emotions. It's as strong as the feeling of love that one gets by listening to the chorus of Livin' On A Prayer, but accomplished not by the words so much as the tune.

This is truly one of the greatest songs ever, in my opinion. I really can't give a good reason why, but it just is.

Beautiful | Reviewer: Greg | 1/22/09

This song really speaks so much. Really. Tolerance, brotherhood, the sad truth of war. It covers it all in a sweet and sad, yet triumphant tone. And Olga- I think when he says "A Russian life was very sad" he isn't referring to all Russians, just Viktor. But he does stretch it out a little with the next line.

I can relate to this song allot | Reviewer: TBoneTony | 12/25/08

Even though I am not a child of the Cold War times, I am more of a child of the Videogame and Anime generation.

All I see on the news is people who attack videogamers and Anime all because they fear that violent videogames and Anime would turn kids into violent people.

But I am a child who loves Videogames and Anime, and I am not really violent at all.

Sorry if it may be hard to understand but this song speaks allot of feelings and emotions to me,

and even though I try to reach out and help people understand the Videogame and Anime generation, I always come across people who won't listen to me even though I am trying to tell them the good things about videogames and Anime.

Much like how there was the fear of Comic books of the 50's and 60's, at that same time there was the fear of Communism and the Cold War that were allot more real than the fear of Comic Books.

And today this decade when there was the fear of Terrorism and at the same time the fear of violent videogames...

It speaks allot about how society's fear of people who are different than us has allot to do with political propaganda than it does for the real people on the other side of the political fence or wall.

Billy Joel and others who were the first ones to reach out to the Solviet people were treated harshly by those who never understood them.

Much is the same with the people who reach out to what we as society fear the most are treated harshly by the people of mainstream society.

Also I would love to make videogames one day and some of the themes of the song Leningrad is what I would love to develop in my videogames that I one day make.

American Reviewer | Reviewer: Joe | 8/28/08

I enjoy this song a lot and I agree that it is an outsiders limited take on life in Leningrad. I would encourage Europeans to listen to the song "Allentown" by Billy Joel. He paints a very bleak picture from an insiders perspective as well.

Americans struggle with the idea that personal liberty and freedom are not as highly prized in other areas of the world. This idea is almost a religion to us. While we would see Leningrad as a sad place in time, many Eastern Europeans might not. Nor would Iraqis and many more. We must learn that what is best for us is not best for the rest. Perspective is incredibly different all the way on the other side of the world, and that works both ways.

Past Life Memories? | Reviewer: Irene | 8/19/08

When I heard the song the first time, the tune evoked unbelievably sad, desperate feelings in me, and I'm not referring to the lyrics. It is a beautiful piece of music and I would love to know if Billy composed this himself, or if it is an old piece of music. No contemporary song has ever moved me this much.

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------ Performed by Billy Joel

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------ 11/23/2014

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