Urbanista! had a chance to talk to artist, musician and bicyclist David Byrne about his new book, Bicycle Diaries, which in loose fashion chronicles his experiences, observations and musings while pedaling through cities far-flung and near-to-home.
Here is the author pic from the jacket. The scholarly pose may be a bit of Byrne whimsy. But he actually has some sensible (he’s absorbed his Jane Jacobs) things to say about why some cities are good and others Detroit. The book’s alternate title could easily be David Byrne’s Urbanist Manifesto.
An edited Q&A – in which it took only the slightest prompt to get Byrne to wax on how much he enjoys cycling in Miami -- ran in The Herald’s Tropical Life section last week.
Now, thanks to a cleanup by Herald online producer Pierre Taylor, you can listen to a nearly unexpurgated audio version here, with a caveat: Urbanista! is no Ira Glass. There’s a couple of things here for cyclists that didn’t make it to print, including his Solomonic answer to the helmet-or-no-helmet question.
Here is the intro I wrote for print:
For 30 years, artist and musician -- and, oh yes, former Talking Head -- David Byrne has been getting around New York, his hometown, mainly on a bicycle. Nothing fancy, mind you. Just a sturdy, upright hybrid with handlebar-moustache handlebars and a firm saddle, which is actually less tiring than the cushy kind.
When he travels, Byrne packs a folding bike in a case, and from this two-wheel perch he has investigated cities the world over, jotting down in a journal the peculiarly Byrnesian musings and observations as he pedals through bombed-out Detroit, stately and orderly Berlin or, in an especially daring foray, car-choked Istanbul.
But don't let the faux-naif persona Byrne has so ably cultivated in his work fool you. The rock star who sang about burning buildings, highways and life during wartime turns out to be an acute observer of the urban condition, a veritable rolling philosopher. The evidence is in Bicycle Diaries (Viking, $25.95), his seventh book, a breezy, loosely threaded compendium of accounts of the places he sees and the people he meets in his urban bike-wanderings.
Byrne delivers pithy indictments of the damage wrought on cities by the onslaught of the automobile and planners' blind obedience to it, even as the artist in him can't resist admiring the strange grandeur of urban ruins like Buffalo and Detroit. And he extols cities like New York that have managed to nurture neighborhoods and find space for people on bicycles.
No proselytizer by nature, Byrne has found himself increasingly taking a public role as bicycle advocate, organizing a forum in New York that surrounded talks by planners with music, video and performance art. He spoke to The Miami Herald from New York on the eve of his departure for a mostly West Coast book tour, some of the stops on which will be public forums on cycling.
``I realized that a lot of towns and a lot of people are at the point where they're just about willing to accept this idea of the bicycle as a way of getting around,'' he says. ``It doesn't seem out of the question, where a few years ago that might just have seemed like a really strange or geeky idea to a lot of people.''