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Not Just a Talking Head

Back in the
late seventies, my friends and I were beyond tired of the disco and classic rock
that droned endlessly over the radio waves.  The popular music scene was
sinking under the weight of formulaic blandness and exaggerated hair fashion.  Finally
along came a refreshing “new wave” of music talent that grew out of
the British punk movement.  Back then it was very hard to find new music, but
somehow my friends and I stumbled on some great new acts that made us really
excited about music again.  These included groups like Patty Smith Group,
the Smiths, Echo and the Bunnymen, and the Talking Heads.  All of these
musical groups had distinctive new sounds with highly intelligent lyrics.  Among
them the Talking Heads, lead by front man David Byrne, was our favorite.

The Talking
Heads came together as students at the Rhode Island School of Design.  As an architecture
student myself, this appealed to me.  I felt some kinship to these
designer musicians, and in fact many of their songs are about cities and sense
of place – an important aspect of architecture.  Even so, I thought that the
Talking Heads and David Byrne in particular were basically just big time
musicians. 

As it turns out, David Byrne is also a big time urban thinker with an
amazingly deep appreciation for cities and how we experience them.  Over
the last week I have read several stories about Byrne’s thoughts on cities as
he promotes his new book entitled Bicycle Diaries. I have not yet read the book, but intend to soon. What I have read about it and his thoughts on urbanism is
extremely impressive.  

byrne racks.jpg

The book is
Byrne’s account of riding his bike through cities around the world.  As a
musician, Byrne has had the opportunity to visit a vast array of places.  He
says that as he traveled on tour, he realized he could get out and experience
the many places they stopped more easily and deeply on a bike, and subsequently
could keep his sanity while on the road.  He began packing a folding bike
with the band’s sound gear, and he used his free time to explore rather than hang
in hotel bars.  He notes how exploring a city by bike leads to unexpected
lines of thought and action.  As an example of this, the Chicago Tribune (as
part of a recent Byrne interview) notes how the book moves through diverse
subjects such as prehistoric Australian animals, a shrine surrounded by water
bottles in Buenos Aires, the gorges in downtown Rochester and a tour of Imelda
Marcos’ palace.

byrne jacket.png

Byrne has also
recently designed a series of art bike racks that have been installed in New
York City, his hometown.  They are fun and graphic and quite witty, once
you read the name given to each rack style.  For instance a car shaped
rack is called “The Jersey” and a reclining and xxx woman is called
“The Olde Times Square”. Check out more on the bike racks here
 and also here.

Look for the book locally at Talking Leaves.  

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