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TDA October book review

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David Byrne is better known for his American New Wave and avant-garde band, Talking Heads, formed in 1975. Who can forget his punchy song Psycho Killer and the peculiar genius of the Sledgehammer music video?

A lesser-known fact is that he is a keen follower of what he calls, ‘The Fantastic Voyage’: the exploration of the heartbeat and inner workings of urban landscapes from the seat of his beloved bike. Since the early 80’s Byrne used a bicycle as his main form of transportation in New York City. He soon discovered folding bikes and… voilla, he was in love. He took his bike with him on concerts and for thirty years he kept cycling around cities such as London, Berlin, Buenos Aires, Istanbul, Manila and many more.

Over the years he slowly pedaled through ever-changing urban landscapes and carefully recorded each journey. His writings are poignant and clever and at times sad as he describes the neglect, greed and eventual decay all around him. It is also very funny when he cleverly weaves in anecdotes of the band’s wild days and explorations of the different cultures Byrne is like a sponge. Everywhere he cycles, he absorbs and allows himself to be fully mesmerized and enchanted by the people and the cities.  His open mind is wondrous, like that of a child, but his writing is that of an old soul. This is a real gem.

Byrne says it best when he describes his point of view from a bicycle, “Faster than a walk, slower than a train, often slightly higher than a person: this became my panoramic window on much of the world over the last thirty years. Through this window I catch glimpses of the mind of my fellow man, as expressed in the cities he lives in. Cities, it occurred to me are physical manifestations of our deepest beliefs and our often unconscious thoughts. Riding a bike through all this is like navigating the collective neuron pathway of some vas global mind. It really is a trip inside the collective psyche of a compacted group of people. A Fantastic Voyage but without the cheesy special effects.

Eloquently written, insightful, rambling, funny, and sometimes delightfully rude. A must-read.

Astrid Stark


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