Musicians and Bikers are not conventionally grouped together. Not on the streets; not in literature. So it makes perfect sense that David Byrne stands at the intersection of these two pursuits. He recently completed his book Bicycle Diaries, a culmination of 30 years of bike rides and observations from city streets around the world.
We have 50 signed copies of the book available (sold out). And if you sign up on our new Public website we'll have many other bike related items in the near future.
Reading Byrnes' book is a lot like taking a bike ride through a new city. You don't know what to expect next. You will encounter some stuff that makes you want to get off, stop and think, other parts you can't wait to rush through. You are never told what to think and are always allowed to proceed at your own speed. You could even take the ride in reverse, beginning with the Appendix and Epilogue where you will learn a range of things - why raccoon tails present problems on helmets, what New York can learn from Bogota, why "sidewalk ballet" is essential, and a lot more. There is something for everyone here, unless you are not interested in any of the following: art, politics, music, food, Brazil, modernism, David Byrne himself. At his formidable website you will find, among many other things, many more professional book reviews.
I came across David Byrne's connection to bikes and urban culture while researching a bike rack design contest for NYC earlier this year. Having some parallel interests and a little good fortune, I met with him shortly thereafter, and have been keeping in touch with him a bit since. He's helped me to figure out some practical things, like what type of foldable bike works best for travel, and some designer things, like how Corbusian concepts screwed up urban planning. More than anything, he has reminded me how much more authentic (and fun) it is when the world is truly seen from an individual viewpoint. He helped remind me why I really ride my bike so often.
Byrne's biking perspective has little in common with the Lance Armstrong racing culture, cardio-oriented sports riders, or die hard commuters. "I don't ride my bike all over the place because it is ecological or worthy. I do it mainly for sense of freedom and exhilaration." There is thankfully very little focus on mechanics or technology. He is after all, a Talking Head not a Gear Head. His fierce political leanings are a constant refrain throughout the book. But even more persuasive are his actions. He has been riding a bike (and often risking his noggin) for thirty years, long before it became chic.
Bikes simply allow Byrne to view the common world in a way that cars and other forms of transport do not. "On a bike, being just above pedestrian and car eye level, one gets a perfect view of the goings-on in one's own town." Biking keep him agile, balanced, a little defensive and humble. There is great humility in a rock star viewing the world this way. The book reminds me of George Nelson's How to See, which Nelson originally wrote to help civil servants appreciate design. Both works share the mission of asking us to look and think more personally and curiously about our man-made environment, as if it were new to us.
David Byrne hasn't only been studying urban culture from a bike saddle. He has used his celebrity to meet with the leaders of the modern urban design movement, like Denmark's Jan Gehl, Bogota's Enrique Penalosa, and New York's Janette Sadik- Kahn. He has incorporated the thought and vocabulary of Jane Jacobs into his view, and has become an articulate spokesperson for urban design fundamentals: intelligent sidewalks, mixed-use planning, diversity, density, and other basic concepts still generally underappreciated. His Town Hall meetings have reached a wide international audience. If this book does nothing more than introduce the ideas of these leaders of the urban movement to a broader public he will have been a remarkable advocate, as much as he demurs from that role.
I was lucky enough to see David Byrne in concert this summer at the Greek Theater in Berkeley. The performance was staggeringly great - tight, provocative, inspiring, even astounding. He is a consummate and riveting performer. OK, so Bicycle Diaries does not have quite the same energy and focus. It is after all, a diary. But this book, together with Byrne's other bike related activities - blog, Town Hall meetings, bike rack design - are as original as his seminal Talking Heads music, and may turn out to be as enduring. It is classic David Byrne. Same as it ever was.
*These fifty signed books (were) available on a first come first served basis. They cost $30 including shipping. We might not ship very fast, but biking is not always first about speed.
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