Bicycle Diaries

January 01, 1970

(Penguin)

 

www.penguin.com

 

BY JAKE CLINE

 

“I don’t think my personal life is very interesting or
unique,” David Byrne admits by way of explaining that Bicycle Diaries will offer no juicy details about what went on
backstage, behind closed doors or underneath those infamous oversize suits
during the performer’s days with the Talking Heads and beyond, as if anyone
would want to read about such things, anyway. 
Providing a welcome antidote to the ever-present glut of celebrity
tell-alls and self-aggrandizing autobiographies, Byrne focuses on the external
in his book, namely the artists, thinkers, musicians and other interesting
people he’s met while pedaling his fold-up bicycle through and around some of
the world’s greatest cities. Along the way, he makes a convincing argument that
there may be no better way to get to know a place, its people and its culture than
while seeing it from two wheels.

 

Armed with a wide-open mind and a seemingly boundless
curiosity about all manner of subjects, Byrne makes for an ideal traveling
companion. He largely eschews familiar landmarks and tourist attractions in
favor of small art galleries in Berlin; nightclubs at which indigenous
musicians perform in Buenos Aires; solitary detours (by car) to the Australian
Interior; and, in Manila, a karaoke bar where he is surprised to find a “guy
who looks like an ’80s Bon Jovi” singing “Burning Down the House.” Nearly every
encounter with a resident or visit to a local institution sets Byrne to musing
about a more-universal  topic. A dinner
with a gallery owner in Berlin
leads to a discussion about the meaning of beauty. A bike ride through the
outskirts of Istanbul
 causes him to consider the “religious,
ideological, and emotional element inherent” in the cheaply made new buildings
that are crowding out old and historic ones. A visit to a museum in London,
where everyday objects such as plastic combs and toothpaste dispensers are on
display, prompts a brief discourse on the act of creation, a topic he revisits
after attending a wild, impromptu party in San Francisco complete with a
marching band and guests dressed in “Victorian hats and fake mustaches on some
of the men, wigs on some of the women, and some folks [wearing] not much at
all.” Try finding any of that in a book by Rick Steves.

 

Byrne closes Bicycle
Diaries
with an essay about the benefits for cities that adopt
bike-friendly attitudes and policies. In large metropolitan areas such as New York, he argues,
bicycle transportation can provide a cheap and clean way to minimize
congestion, pollution and other traffic-related problems. But he’s also
pragmatic enough to realize the world would not suddenly become a more peaceful
and beautiful place if everyone were to toss their car keys into the deep, blue
sea and begin exclusively riding bicycles. In the end, he admits, “I don’t ride
my bike all over the place because it’s ecological or worthy. I mainly do it
for the sense of freedom and exhilaration.”

 

 

 

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