David Byrne is into bicycling. Rock's renaissance man has written a book about biking in cities around the world (2009"s "Bicycle Diaries"), he has designed bike racks for New York City and he will speak at a symposium on urban bicycling Thursday in Minneapolis with Mayor R.T. Rybak and others. It's the next-to-last stop in a 15-city series he's conducted since last fall. So we talked to the chief of the Talking Heads and Luaka Bop Records about bicycling.
Q You've been to Minneapolis for many projects and performances, but you give us only part of one sentence in "Bicycle Diaries." Tell us about your bicycling experiences in the Twin Cities.
A The last time I performed there, about two years ago, I recommended to some of the band and dancers the ride around the connected lakes. Some of them slept late and only went as far as the Walker [Art Center], but Mauro [Refosco, percussionist] and I rode on and followed the park path along the stream that connected to the Mississippi [River] and from there we returned to downtown and sound check. In the past, I've gone to the east side but have yet to explore St. Paul. It's a gorgeous town for biking for pleasure or getting around, though in the winter I'd give it a pass.
Q What have you accomplished at these urban bicycling speaking engagements?
A I personally don't accomplish much, though I do sign a slew of books which I presume get sold. What does seem to often happen is that the event serves as a kind of excuse, focus or catalyst for what seems to be a growing movement. It brings together a lot of urban bikers, but also it draws people who simply wonder how their city can be made a more humane place to live. Most of the questions tend to be directed towards the city representatives and not me. This, to me, shows that people are there because they're engaged, and not because they want to see a "name."
Q What goes through your mind when you're bicycling around cities?
A Sometimes, it's pure pleasure. So, nothing much. Sometimes it's sad or frustrating. And often the issues I will have to deal with later get unconsciously mulled over, and they get sorted out just a little bit. Naturally enough, one often looks around and wonders why things got to be the way they are: Why is there no access to a river in some towns? Why do some towns have old and new buildings mixed while others have huge zones of monotony? How can downtown parking lots be as lucrative as regular businesses in some towns?
Q Do you write songs while bicycling?
A I sometimes come up with a melodic snippet or a missing lyric. If I'm carrying a microrecorder, I can save those ideas with one hand. It's really hard to hold a guitar though, so real composing is difficult.
Q One of the admission requirements for the Rhode Island School of Design [where Byrne formed Talking Heads before dropping out] is that your art portfolio include a drawing of a bicycle. What would your concept be?
A As an assignment, I'd wonder if I would be expected to show how clever and imaginative I can be or whether I am simply a decent draftsman. They're not incompatible, though one usually takes preference. I just read a great book by film director Alexander Mackendrick, who says every director should be able to draw, at least enough to explain things to the director of photography and crew. He says drawing can be learned, like handwriting, and good enough is good enough.
Q Your prolific journal on your website suggests that you're a fountain of creativity. How do you deal with writer's block?
A I don't admit to having writer's block, though I will admit that sometimes my output isn't up to par. My sense is that there are creative muscles and you have to keep them active so that when the really good idea appears, you can respond to it. Keeping them active removes the fear and trepidation from trying something. You know you can fail, but it's OK. You simply move on. Failure is undervalued.
Jon Bream • 612-673-1719