If you encounter David Byrne in New York or, for that matter, in Paris, Istanbul, or Buenos Aires, chances are the co-founder of the Talking Heads will be pedaling on a bike. Ever since the early eighties, this versatile musician, visual artist and filmmaker has been getting from Point A to Point B on his convenient, lightweight, and, as it turns out, ecologically-friendly bike. In Bicycle Diaries, which features cycling jaunts around Berlin, Manila, San Francisco, and all the aforementioned cities, Byrne proves that his rides haven't been just mindless exercises. In fact, they provide the stimulus for observations on a plethora of subjects, including cultural differences, urban planning, music, visual arts, globalization, and even the collapse of civilizations. Fast-paced road trips; now in paperback.
…despite the title, this is no travel diary. Byrne's reflections are as varied as the countries he visits: He muses on everything from urban planning to bike helmets to art criticism to Latin music, often on his bike (but not always). Even if you don't own a bike and have no plans to mount one, you'll pedal through the pages of Bicycle Diaries in no time; the book is full of musings by a compelling eccentric.
The Washington Post
Inevitably the diary format gives the book a random, scattershot quality: Byrne is in no sense a "programmatic" bike rider, and he admits he's sometimes just skimming over the surface of the cultures he encounters. Even so, his interests and activitiescutting-edge art exhibitions, rock festivals, a subversive PowerPoint presentation about PowerPoint presentations, a belly dance partyand certainly his personality are singular enough to give the book consistency and coherence…The book, then, is partly about cycling but also about whatever Byrne happens to have on his mind at the time, and fortunately a lot of it is quite interesting.
The New York Times
Byrne is fascinated by cities, especially as visited on a trusty fold-up bicycle, and in these random musings over many years while cycling through such places as Sydney, Australia; Manila, Philippines; San Francisco; or his home of New York, the former Talking Head, artist and author (True Stories) offers his frank views on urban planning, art and postmodern civilization in general. For each city, he focuses on its germane issues, such as the still troublingly clear-cut class system in London, notions of justice and human migration that spring to mind while visiting the Stasi Museum in Berlin, religious iconography in Istanbul, gentrification in Buenos Aires and Imelda Marcos's legacy in Manila. In low-key prose, he describes his meetings with other artists and musicians where he played and set up installations, such as an ironic PowerPoint presentation to an IT audience in Berkeley, Calif. He notes that the condition of the roads reveals much about a city, like the impossibly civilized, pleasant pathways designed just for bikes in Berlin versus the fractured car-mad system of highways in some American cities, giving way to an eerie “post apocalyptic landscape” (e.g., Detroit). While “stupid planning decisions” have destroyed much that is good about cities, he is confident there is hope, in terms of mixed-use, diverse neighborhoods; riding a bike can aid in the survival of cities by easing congestion. Candid and self-deprecating, Byrne offers a work that is as engaging as it is cerebral and informative. (Sept.)
When he's in a city, Byrne's preferred form of transportation for 20-some years has been the bicycle. Here is a grab bag of his observations—always interesting, frequently original—caught on the fly as the much-traveled Byrne crisscrosses the globe, from London and New York to Manila and Buenos Aires. In London, Byrne, known of course as the cofounder and lead singer of Talking Heads, attends an exhibit by an award-winning cross-dressing potter, who shows up at the exhibit with loving wife and daughter. In Manila, he is invited to sing along at karaoke with the Heads' hit, "Burning Down the House," but declines. The clean, safe streets in Berlin impress him, but he is disturbed by the lack of concern for bikers and pedestrians in his own country. Preoccupations recur: how do genes and myths shape our behavior and attitudes? Is creativity just a sophisticated form of lying? Why do souks and shopping malls look the same everywhere (is there "some kind of meme for social shopping?")? VERDICT The man who emerges from these pages is the type of person we'd all like to meet, just more observant than most. Enthusiastically recommended for all readers of travel memoir or of just plain good writing.—David Keymer, Modesto, CA
Renowned pop artist shares snippets from his travels and thoughts. In recent years, Byrne (Arboretum, 2006, etc.) best known as the founder of the Talking Heads, has branched out into modern art, video and sound installation and writing, among other pursuits. Here he offers a compendium of brief travelogues colored by the unique perspective of an urban cyclist. From Manila and Sydney to Berlin and San Francisco, Byrne played shows, met with galleries and musicians and ate and drank in fine and humble restaurants, all the while finding ways to get from A to B using his folding bicycle. Not surprisingly, his preferred means of transportation worked beautifully in some cities and proved challenging in others, though he relished the edgy charms of even the grittiest routes. Byrne fans will enjoy this peek into the star's daily life, which seemed calm, ruminant and pleasantly simple, yet shot through with the privileges that his fame and reputation afford-specifically, the opportunity to travel regularly and well. The narrative drifts from subject to subject-architecture, urban planning, modern art, music, politics, food, philosophy-never lingering on any one for more than a paragraph or two. One of the few recurring themes is Byrne's notion that cities can be viewed as three-dimensional projections of people's hopes, dreams and fears, and that this tangible collective spirit shapes the lives of residents in a self-perpetuating interplay. Whether describing what he made for lunch during a blackout or puzzling over the thorniest problems of civilization, the author is undeniably an intelligent, sensitive citizen of the world. It's evident that he has thought deeply about many of the topics hepresents, but his well-intentioned reflections on complex issues could benefit from a gifted editor and a more sustained analysis. As the book progresses, Byrne emphasizes the diary aspect more than the bicycle, which appears occasionally in the midst of his desultory ramblings before reemerging as the main subject of the final chapter. Disjointed but diverting.
"Entertaining . . . newcomers will enjoy these off-the-cuff sketches from an unpretentious cultural polymath; acolytes will cherish a closer look at Byrne's weird, wonderful brain chemistry."
--Time Out New York
"Whether you are a cyclist or not, Byrne's insights into everything from outside art to aboriginal folklore are wry, witty, and more often than not, wise as well."
--The Philadelphia Inquirer
"Reading Bicycle Diaries makes cosmic indifference a lot easier to deal with."
--The Seattle Times