David Byrne has a marvelous mind. I’ve known it from the time I was a child, because my dad said so. And trust me, there is never a doubt as to the pedigree of a musician that has been dad-approved. I remember dancing around to “This is Not My Beautiful House” as a kid, and wondering what it must have been like for my dad to have met Byrne in concert in 1970s Boston. The music Byrne did with the Talking Heads came to be integral to our wedding festivities, with “This Must Be the Place” as our wedding party intro music and seeing how it was one of the only albums we listened to during our dream honeymoon in St. Barts. As time has moved on, I’ve read about the fascinating new projects he was working on, like a sound installation in NYC, Love This Giant — an album with the trendy and adorable St. Vincent and a musical about a Filipino first lady Imelda Marcos. Needless to say, I am loving Bicycle Diaries. Without giving away any details of the book, I’ve breezed through the chapters Byrne’s contemplative writings about his bike trips around the world. Each chapter, set everywhere from Berlin to Buenos Aires, is less about him and more about the world he’s absorbing. The sociology minor in me loves it. Byrne traces back the cultural and historical threads that have led each area down its chosen path, without being judgmental or prescriptive. He seems to see the inherent beauty in each area he visits, even Rochester: “Biking around one can see that the city is beautifully situated—but the past is holding on for dear life with a viselike grip, a grip that strangles too many of these towns. Not that old buildings and neighborhoods should be torn down, just the opposite, but hey probably need to have new functions” (Byrne, 18-19).
A few questions to ponder, as you drive through Bicycle Diaries:
- What places in this book are you most looking forward to reading about?
- Why do you think the order of the chapters goes the way it does, if it’s not chronological? He starts with upstate New York, moves on to tropical places, then hops to Europe and finishes in NYC.
- Could Byrne have started with Rochester because the city has had to reinvent itself after o many manufacturing jobs have left, much like as Byrne’s hometown of Baltimore?
- Will we learn more about Byrne himself in the book, and his history with the Talking Heads?
- We’ve seen Byrne write music. What can we learn about Byrne from the way he writes prose?
- What has surprised you most about the book?
What do you think? How are you liking or not liking the book so far? And hey, no judgement here. Share what you think and stay tuned for a recap at the end of the month.