Quotes from "Bicycle Diaries" by David Byrne


I really enjoy David Byrne as a commentator, artist, pretty much anything, except as a singer and except as the icon of the Talking Heads. I just am not really into their music besides the obligatory “Psycho Killer.” That said, the Heads were an influential musical act and I can hear their reach far and wide into today (No Talking Heads, no Lady Gaga).

But I have always liked Byrne’s commentary and interviews, he seems like a really interesting cat and is a standard bearer for what my friend Alfredo calls “The White Guys who Make World Music (Sting, Peter Gabriel, Paul Simon, et al.).” Here are some of the quotes wrote down while reading this.

In these quotes Byrne muses on censorship, the South Bay, the psychology of coffee shops, and beyond.

A cognitive scientist need only look at what we have made – the hives we have created – to know what we think and what we believe to be important, , as well as how we structure those thoughts and beliefs. It’s all there, in plain view, right out in the open…They say, in their unique visual language, “This is what we think matters, this is how we live and how we play.” 2

There once existed natural geographic reasons for most towns to come into being:…Eventually what was originally a geographical justification for choosing one place over another to settle got cemented down as rail lines reached across the open spaces…In many cases the rivers or lakes eventually became irrelevant, and shipping mode…As a result the rivers and waterfronts soon became derelict… 10

The faint cacophony of many distant cell phone rings. In the train car – snippets of Mozart and hip-hop, old-school ring tones, and pop-song fragments…These ring tones are “signs” for “real” music. This is music not meant to be actually listened to as music, but to remind you of and refer to other, real music. These are audio road signs that proclaim “I am a Mozart person”…symphony of music that is not music but asks that you remember music. 22

Europe is manicured, a millennial custodial project.

The best surveillance is the one where everyone suspects they’re being watched all the time.

What’s the time limit on reparations? How long can you legitimately claim that it should be handed back to you? Can Jews in Leipzig demand their old houses back?

The two biggest self deceptions of all are that life has a meaning and that each of us is unique

She mentions Israel’s dominance over the Palestinians, and the aggressive behavior of the Israelis, as if this were a well-known fact….I am surprised to hear it voiced so openly. In America, and especially in New York, there is a hidden level of not-so-subtle censorship of such statements. They are just never heard, or if they are the speaker is often given a nasty look or accused of anti-Semitism…At that point, it seems to you that there is no censorship at all; it appears to you that your thoughts are actually unfettered and free. (188-9)

When the TV-saturated public begins to act as if the TV reality is real [Fox News, America’s dumbest criminals] and behaves accordingly – reacting fearfully and suspiciously to a world perceived as being primarily populated with drug dealers and con men, according to Gerbner’s scenarios– then eventually the real world begins to adjust itself to match the fiction. …. Existence can be confirmed, just not in the proportion seen in TV land. ….any marketing …person will tell you, perception is all. (Referring to George Gerbner, professor of communication)

Re: Rodochenko. Here is a layout featuring “illuminations” added to a tractor factory for the enjoyment and excitement of the workers — sort of workplace as pleasure palace / theme park. Google, the current hip place to work, where the workplace is hyped as a cool campus, has some catching up to do.

Abercrombie and Fitch…has remade itself as a kind of homoerotic Fascist-chic outpost. Talk about a makeover! Do the straight kids who shop there, many of whom would never knowingly be associated with anything gay, think Oh, they’re just cute guys?

In Venezuela there are chains of coffee shops where the clientele, almost exclusively male, is waited on by attractive women in tight outfits. ….The twist…is that the interior architecture allows the female wait-staff to tower over the men. They women are positioned behind the counter on a slightly elevated platform. This means the typical Latin macho man is either being put in his place and enjoying it our that he is being transported back to childhood, where his primary view is of this mother’s breasts looming conveniently above him.

From what I can tell, there’s really not much to do around this part of the bay (Cupertino). I ride my bike fairly aimlessly down clean, spotless arteries and see on one around – not walking or biking anyway. All roads lead to places that are versions of what I just left. I ask if folks her go up to San Francisco to catch shows, exhibits, or to sample the wildly innovative cuisine in the SF restaurants. Nope, these folks just love their work, so they stay put her in the beautiful suburbs, working late, or they take their work home.