o if I tell you Bicycle Diaries was written by David Byrne, you’re going to snap your fingers and say “Byrne, Byrne! Where have I heard that name before?”
Talking Heads. Okay, now remember? He was involved in that group.
So since the eighties, Byrne has been interested in traveling the world (as part of his work, and also part of his spirit). And over much of these travels, he brings a folding bike with him so he can explore and expand through these new cultures.
The book isn’t a clear diary – it doesn’t follow his life day-by-day. Rather, it studies each city mostly from its ability to be a city, to move its people while not surrendering (as it is all too easy for cities to do) to the poisonous allure of the automobile. And while you might be thinking, Oh, that’s just Robert – then you haven’t really looked at the world as Byrne has (and I have). You don’t see the neighborhoods slashed wide open by eight lanes of elevated roaring mayhem. You haven’t really noticed neighborhoods that wither and die as cities become rumbling fume-traps and whites flight to their spacious sprawl. Yes, for all the good it’s given us in terms of freedom and flexibility, the car has robbed us of lives and communities. So think about that next time you yell at a cyclist to get on the sidewalk.
Byrne dosn’t just logjam about cars for his entire book. He also looks at cultures, how they’ve changed in the last thirty years, their people and customs and such. Overall, it’s very interesting reading. And for many of my tour-bus travels, it makes we wish I’d had a bike too, and wandered about cities and towns and lonely roads, looking for adventure amid the exotic backgrounds.
There is also a great deal about music here, many memories of small smoky clubs and dissections of musical cultures, sub-cultures, and even sub-sub-cultures. I hadn’t given it much thought but when you consider it, every district in some city might have several bands playing whatever venue they can find, trying to get their music out. And these bands are trying to find their own sound, be it a mix of regional and international flair. So if you think all Latino music is Latino music, you’ll find out otherwise here.
So overall, a very good book, one full of travel and insight, long enough to be worth it but not overly so. I’ll give it a check-it-out rating, especially for musicians and cyclists in my readership.