By Scott Indrisek
This book — in all its shaggy, meandering messiness — will certainly appeal most to the Byrne faithful, those who already scent a whiff of gospel in his every utterance. (Full disclosure: This reviewer is a member of the Church of Byrne.) Still, you don’t have to be a worshiper to find Bicycle Diaries damn entertaining. Here, the white-haired pop icon emerges as a cyclist flaneur, describing his rides through cities both expected (Sydney, London) and not so much (Manila, Istanbul, Detroit). As he bikes, he pontificates — about architecture, art shows and his unwillingness to sing Talking Heads karaoke in the Philippines.
Each city puts Byrne in a different mindset. Buenos Aires conjures ruminations on the cross-pollinations of world music. Sydney occasions thoughts about the legacy of British colonialism and the terror of killer spiders and poisonous frogs. New York City inspires him to dwell on the botching of bike lanes and the intricacies of urban planning.
Occasionally, Byrne lapses into fuddy-duddiness: Witness his reliance on the adjective funky to mean just about everything cool or unexpected, ever. An editor with a heavier hand might have reigned in some of the author’s occasional stoner-philosopher ramblings, though the end result is more charming than grating. The book is uneven but rich, well-stocked with digressive nuggets that will inspire curious readers to google German firebrand Otto Muehl, or the genesis of PowerPoint, or San Francisco’s industrial-art collective Survival Research Laboratories. Byrne’s prose itself suits his oddball “How did I get here?” personality—he often writes like a shell-shocked alien recently landed on Earth and suffering from a mild case of Asperger’s, and I mean that as a compliment. Newcomers will enjoy these off-the-cuff sketches from an unpretentious cultural polymath; acolytes will cherish a closer look at Byrne’s weird, wonderful brain chemistry.