Friday, December 11, 2009

Bicycle Diaries by David Byrne

Some people cope badly with early success, and spend their lives trying to get back into that charmed circle once they fall out of it. (And everyone does fall out of, eventually, for a while or forever -- and the more charmed and mass-popular the circle, the more precipitous the drop.) David Byrne, on the other hand, helped to shut down Talking Heads without rancor when its time was over, and has spent the past two decades doing various other things -- all in the realms of art and entertainment, one way or another -- with the same energy and interest, even as they've all had a much lower profile in the world. Sure, it's a problem we'd all love to have had, but Byrne has been an exemplar of the best way to go on with an exciting, interesting life once the spotlight passes by.

Like so many of us, Byrne has been blogging these past few years, particularly about his travels -- he both creates visual art and writes, records, and performs music with various groups and accompanists, so he travels frequently -- and he's now gathered up many of those blog posts, reorganized and rewritten some of them, and wrapped them up into a larger narrative. It's organized by city, but the real organizing principle is Byrne's bicycle -- since the early '80s, he's used bicycles as his major means of getting around Manhattan (where he lives) and, more recently, has been using folding travel bicycles as ways to get around the cities he travels to.

Bicycle Diaries should feel scattered and random, but it doesn't -- Byrne's interests are enough of a piece, and his references to bicycles and riding frequent enough, that the book hangs together as a single narrative. It's the view of the world -- or at least some pieces of the world, viewed carefully -- from one man on a bicycle. Byrne is predictably in favor of bicycles and art, but entertainingly in favor of them. He's also not against very much here -- he lets himself mildly dislike American Bush-era paranoia, but that's about as far as it goes. The reader definitely gets the impression that Byrne prefers to focus on what's interesting and pleasing to him, which is a great object lesson.

This book probably only was published because of Byrne's residual fame and coolness, and most of its readers -- myself included -- were attracted to it because it was David Byrne's thoughts on urbanism, bicycling, various cities, and art. But Bicycle Diaries delivers -- it has that cool, amused, not-quite-as-detached-as-it-would-have-us-believe voice that we remember from True Stories, and what Byrne has to say is well worth listening to.
Listening to: Great Northern - Warning
via FoxyTunes

1 comment:

Michael Berry said...

The shutting down of Talking Heads was hardly "without rancor." Tina Weymouth seems to despise Byrne with a fiery passion and isn't afraid of saying so. Franz and Harrison are more circumspect, but they are on record with comments about lingering bad feelings. Could have been worse, and Byrne has definitely taken the high road.

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