Monday, 28 February 2011

Bicycle diaries

I think about my education sometimes. I went to the University of Chicago for a while
after the Second World War. I was a student in the Department of Anthropology. At that time, they were teaching that there was absolutely no difference between anybody. They may be teaching that still.

Another thing they taught was that nobody was ridiculous or bad or disgusting. Shortly
before my father died, he said to me, 'You know-you never wrote a story with a villain in it.' I told him that was one of the things I learned in college after the war.

Kurt Vonnegut - Slaughterhouse 5

David Byrne doesn't have a bad word to say about anybody either. Not really. Rudolph Hess and Imelda Marcos both get a sympathetic hearing. That's not to say he doesn't have a point to make, but it's all the stronger for being subtle.

As you might expect, this thing has something to do with cycling. I don't know how far I've cycled in my life, but it certainly amounts to thousands of miles. This book/audiobook is something of an incentive to me to get out there and ride.

But really the cycling is just a vehicle, if you'll excuse the pun. David Byrne had something to say about sustainability, about social justice, about Art, about History. And about music.

I've always been a reader, but lately I've developed a taste for audiobooks. I "read" while I'm driving, or while I'm surfing the internet. Occasionally, I will still read a chapter of a real book last thing at night to help me drop off to sleep, but that tends to keep my wife awake, so unless I've gone to bed before her this doesn't happen often.

The life of Pi, The Handmaid's Tale, Slaughterhouse 5. All these and more have been absorbed through my ears while I've been doing other things.

I found out about the Bicycle Diaries because I'm on David Byrne's mailing list. I actually downloaded it several months ago, but it just sat in a zipped up folder on my laptop for a while until I got round to listenng to it. There are 11 chapters including a short introduction, that cover 10 cities. Get rid of the introduction, and you have 702 megabytes of audio data - Just enough to fit on a CD.

Because it's an audiobook, and because he's an arty chap, it's more than just the spoken word. Ambient background noises add weight to the words. Darkly, as when the ominous drone of jet engines forms a backdrop to a bit about living through the Cuban missile crisis as a child. Or humerously, with disjointed and quirky music when discussing a particularly avant garde Berlin artist who's "actions" sparked outrage and eventual arrest.

I found the background stuff in the Buenos Aires chapter to be particularly interesting. There's a lot of actual music in this one, and it's turned me on to things that I'd never heard before.

Specifically, Juana Molina's music jumped out and bit me. I want to hear more.

Here's one of her songs.

For more information, or to get hold of either the book or the audiobook, visit David Byrne's site, HERE.

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