Friday, August 26, 2011

Bicycle Diaries by David Byrne

Most people know David Byrne as a musician, with the Talking Heads and as a solo artist. In his three-decade career, Byrne always managed to incorporate a diverse collection of international influences in his sound. In Bicycle Diaries, he has found an equally engaging role as a worldwide cultural critic. The book is much more than a travelogue though. It is a grand celebration of how people live, observed from the seat of a two-wheeler as it whisks through city streets worldwide. It is made up of meditations on art, politics, architecture, and so much more.

When biking through a city, one is more agile than a car, faster than a pedestrian, and taller than anything that isn't a Hum-Vee or on horseback. You see details that others can not, providing a wholly unique perspective of how this particular city works.

Early on, Byrne focuses on New Orleans, Detroit, Pittsburgh and Byrne's hometown Baltimore, each of which has been hit with various terrible setbacks in the past few decades. Though their problems are serious, Byrne says that one can see signs of life even in the most desperate of areas. He cites Pittsburgh as a city on the upswing which started from the actions of small communities and neighborhoods throughout the town. From a car, it is easier to ignore the problematic or reassuring details of a city's livelihood.

Byrne then jumps around the world, looking at Berlin, Istanbul, Buenos Aires, and many others. Sometimes he travels to play or promote his music and other times he is working on multimedia-based projects or just visiting. These chapters are like intimate snapshots of Byrne's consciousness. He reacts to his surroundings, and often furthers the discourse a bit.

Each location offers something captivating, from the history of East Berlin's secret police to the vast barren expanse of Australia's Outback. Byrne finally returns to New York City, where he lives and works, to organize a bicycle rally and discuss how cities can be altered to better serve the growing number of people who bike for a multitude of reasons.

The book offers the best way to bike through each of these cities, but don't expect a step by step lecture on where to go and what to see. Bicycles Diaries is best read by letting Byrne's experiences wash over you. Afterwards, you will want to put your book down, get out your bicycle, and create some memorable experiences of your own.

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1 comment :

david elzey said...

byrne has always been a fascinating thinker in terms of art and culture, and sometimes i think his quirkiness works against him when he's being genuine and sincere.

i've owned a bike for well over 40 years now (not the same bike obviously) and refuse to work at a job beyond a distance i could comfortably ride to within 30 minutes. and like byrne i've discovered a lot about the cities i've lived in as a result of going slow and being able to take in more of my communities.

i'm keeping an eye out for this book.