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posted Oct 13, 2009, 8:45 AM by Vu Nguyen
Bicyle Diaries

“… as I edit these pages I am aware that I have an urge to see my sometime random wandering as having a plot.”

Reading David Byrne’s latest release, I have to ask, “What hasn’t this man done?”  Currently, the co-founder of The Talking Heads is working with Fat Boy Slim, creating a musical collaboration on the life of Imelda Marcos.  He recently completed a commission to design artistic bicycle racks for New York City.  He also took some time to publish his fifth book, Bicycle Diaries, a passing view on two wheels.

Byrne first took to the bicycle not as an eco-statement or as health kick but as a way to get around his neighborhood in Lower Manhattan.  He quickly enjoyed the freedom and decided to bring a folding bike on his many journeys.  And through his travels, Byrne muses on why his favorite mode transportation isn’t as popular in other parts of world, like Istanbul where biking might imply being poor to Buenas Aires where no one bikes because no one has ever biked before.  He also comments how the bicycle lanes are fully integrated in Berlin’s transportation grid and cycling in Manila is anything goes. 

The best part of this book is Byrne’s thoughts and opinions as bicycles through the major cosmopolitan centers of the world, reflecting on land reparation in Palestine, Tibet and South Dakota and comparing Third World Markets to American malls in how uniformly similar they are from suburb to suburb, country to country, “… a kind of self-reflecting architecture.”

Byrne also provides unusual facts that don’t make it into the usual travelogue.  Like did you know the founder of Kodak, George Eastman, committed suicide, leaving a matter-of-fact note, stating, “My work is done.  Why wait?’  Byrne also writes about a museum in Berlin dedicated to the now-defunct East German secret police, showcasing the absurd (a birdhouse/camera) to the telling (the modest office furnishings of the head of the Stasi).

Like a bike ride, this is a breezy read.  Neither bed rocked in a firm notion nor adhering to a solid belief, Byrne’s Bicycle Diaries are like the artist, himself, open, refreshing and in motion.