Musician Byrne maintains balance in ‘Bicycle Diaries’

Via USA Today

By Todd Plitt

By Bob Minzesheimer

For nearly three decades, Byrne, 57, best known as co-founder of Talking Heads, the '80s New Wave band, has used a bicycle as his main means of transportation when he's on tour or at home in New York, which, he says, is finally becoming "bike-friendly."

His passion inspired his latest book, Bicycle Diaries, which prompts an interview conducted, in part, on two wheels.

On his 25-minute ride home, Byrne warns: "Everyone thinks potholes or cab doors will get you. But it's the pedestrians, especially New Yorkers. They walk anywhere."

His book describes how he once swerved to avoid Paris Hilton, "holding her little doggie crossing the street against the light and looking around as if to say, 'I'm Paris Hilton, don't you recognize me?' "

Did Hilton, the pedestrian, recognize Byrne, the cyclist?

"I doubt it," he says and laughs.

Byrne continues to perform and compose music, has his own Internet radio show and is a photographer, producer and designer of chairs and bicycle racks.

In a converted factory downtown, he runs his own company with three employees: one for music, one for art, and an office manager.

He's chagrined at being associated only with the Talking Heads, who disbanded in 1991 after hits including Burning Down the House and a 1984 concert movie Stop Making Sense.

In Bicycle Diaries (Viking, $25.95), he describes being asked in a London art gallery "what I'm up to in a way that says, 'Have you done anything since Talking Heads?' "

It's weird, he adds, "when people obviously think you haven't done much since the hit records they remember from their childhood."

How does he answer?

"I bite my tongue and talk about whatever I'm doing."

These days, that includes a recent European tour with Brian Eno, his former Talking Heads partner, writing the soundtrack to HBO's Big Love, and collaborating with Fatboy Slim on a musical about Imelda Marcos, the former first lady of the Philippines.

Byrne, a Rhode Island School of Design dropout, has written six other books, including Arboretum (2006), drawings and diagrams of his "mental landscape."

He says the title of Bicycle Diaries "may be misleading if you want a lot about bicycles and where to ride."

It's a political and philosophical travelogue tied together by Byrne's bike rides in cities, from Niagara Falls to San Francisco, London to Manila.

It's not a memoir. It doesn't mention his 2004 divorce from costume designer Adelle Lutz ("not part of the story I was telling"). It identifies his girlfriend, photographer Cindy Sherman, only as "my friend C."

When he travels, he takes along an extra folding bike if a band member or friend wants to join him.

He doesn't race. "I've never been into competitive sports." But he enjoys the cyclist's perspective, "faster than a walk, slower than a train, often slightly higher than a person," as well as "the physical sensation of self-powered transport coupled with the feeling of self-control."

Byrne doesn't wear a helmet when he's riding on marked bike lanes, but he obeys red lights and traffic signs. It's not in his book, but he confesses he once fell off a bike "on wet cobblestones, after a bit too much to drink."

Riding home, with the Hudson River on his left and the West Side Highway on his right, the designer in him suggests, "They should bury the highway and build a park."

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