David Byrne's Two-Wheeled Exploration of Pittsburgh

Rick Sebak recalls the the local rides of the Talking Heads frontman.




Photo: Shutterstock

 

The great, unusual rock band Talking Heads first played Pittsburgh on Oct. 31, 1977, at — of all places — a pizza parlor. Although drummer Chris Frantz had lived in the city from 1958-70 and attended Shady Side Academy, that gig was likely lead singer and songwriter David Byrne’s first visit to Pittsburgh.
 
Two years later, in 1979, Talking Heads released the danceable song “Life During Wartime.” It included a shout out to the Steel City (“Heard about Houston? Heard about Detroit? Heard about Pittsburgh, Pa.?”) as well as the classic line, “This ain’t no party, this ain’t no disco, this ain’t no fooling around.”

The band would be back in 1978 and again in 1983, on those occasions playing venues which did not serve pizzas, but that was it for its local appearances. Talking Heads stopped touring in 1984, although they didn’t officially disband until 1991.

David Byrne has visited the area several times by himself, however. On Nov. 14, 1997, he played Metropol in the Strip. On Sept. 17, 2001, while on a promotional tour for his book “The New Sins,” he had a signing at Jay’s Bookstall in Oakland. On Nov. 7, 2008, he performed at the Carnegie Music Hall, and most recently, on June 30, 2013, he appeared with the singer St. Vincent at The Palace Theatre in Greensburg. 

But the Byrne visit that gets the most attention was in 2004, when he came to perform on May 13 at the Byham Theater, promoting his album “Grown Backwards.” Rosemary Welsch from WYEP radio interviewed Byrne, mentioning that the next day would be his 52nd birthday. That night, the crowd started the concert by singing “Happy Birthday.” John Young gave the show a rave review in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, calling it a “rare concert experience.” Byrne later wrote on his blog, “We met after the show at a bar in a Polish or Czech neighborhood called Gooski’s. It was packed.”

The next day, Byrne got on his trusty folding bicycle and went exploring. Following the advice of his friend John Chernoff, he went to the Mattress Factory on the North Side, pedaled past old mill sites (that he mistakenly identified on the blog as “Brownland” — Chernoff later told him the term was “brownfields”) and was impressed by revitalization.

Much of that blog entry about Pittsburgh became part of his 2009 book, “Bicycle Diaries,” and he noted: “Luckily some of the oligarchs — the Heinzes, the Mellons, and a few others — continue to live in the city and don’t want their town to go straight to hell, so they are working to reinvigorate the city center, block by block, inch by inch, and to figure out some means of obtaining funds from the wealthier property owners.” 

Byrne also headed to Millvale to check out the murals of Maxo Vanka in St. Nicholas Croatian Catholic Church. He dubbed Vanka “The Diego Rivera of Pittsburgh,” calling the paintings “Bold and brave stuff to confront the Sunday parishioners with.”   

He also described the state of Millvale at the time: “Lots of boarded-up stores line the streets, but a great French bakery ... has courageously made a stand. I buy a cake, as it’s my birthday.”

The owner and baker there, Jean-Marc Chatellier, remembers the day and the encounter. “Cool as hell,” Chatellier says. “I didn’t recognize him at first because of his white hair, but I had seen Talking Heads in France in ’77 or ’78, and I looked, and he smiled and said, ‘Yeah, I’m him.’” He bought a Breton cake, one of Chatellier’s specialties. Byrne said his Scottish grandmother often had made such buttery Celtic cakes for his boyhood birthdays, and one bite was all it took. His whole youth came back. 

​Chatellier says, “He’s the most famous person who’s ever been in the bakery.”  
 

Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module

Edit ModuleShow Tags

Hot Reads

Best of the 'Burgh 2017

Best of the 'Burgh 2017

Host an event in Pittsburgh’s urban sustainable homestead. Join a club for mushroom hunters. Tour a coal mine. Listen to some banjo music. We list our new favorite experiences, food, drink, personalities, stores, items and activities in the ’Burgh.
Daytripping: The ‘Eighth Wonder of the World’

Daytripping: The ‘Eighth Wonder of the World’

Fourteen years ago this month, the mighty Kinzua Viaduct met its match.
Restaurant Review: The Café Carnegie

Restaurant Review: The Café Carnegie

The restaurant, run by Dinette’s Sonja J. Finn, boosts the dining experience at the Carnegie museums in Oakland.
Thrive: Smooth Moves While Getting Lost in the Music

Thrive: Smooth Moves While Getting Lost in the Music

FASTER Pittsburghʼs Hip Hop Cardio promises to get your workout into a groove.
Edit ModuleShow Tags

The 412

Marc-André Fleury Pens Loving Farewell Letter to Pittsburgh

Marc-André Fleury Pens Loving Farewell Letter to Pittsburgh

In a letter for The Players' Tribune, Fleury recounts his 14-year career as a Pittsburgh Penguin and the bittersweet weeks leading up to his departure to Las Vegas.
Pittsburgh-Area Fireworks 2017: When & Where to Watch Them

Pittsburgh-Area Fireworks 2017: When & Where to Watch Them

You can get your fill of fireworks throughout the long holiday weekend, if you know where and when to look.
See The Tiny House with Room to Grow

See The Tiny House with Room to Grow

The housing company Module, a Pittsburgh start-up, creates an alternative housing model that grows in size as you grow in income.
Watch: Pittsburgh Penguins Video Tribute to Marc-André Fleury

Watch: Pittsburgh Penguins Video Tribute to Marc-André Fleury

With a tear in our eye, we bid the “Flower” Au Revoir.
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Hot Reads

Best of the 'Burgh 2017

Best of the 'Burgh 2017

Host an event in Pittsburgh’s urban sustainable homestead. Join a club for mushroom hunters. Tour a coal mine. Listen to some banjo music. We list our new favorite experiences, food, drink, personalities, stores, items and activities in the ’Burgh.
Daytripping: The ‘Eighth Wonder of the World’

Daytripping: The ‘Eighth Wonder of the World’

Fourteen years ago this month, the mighty Kinzua Viaduct met its match.
Restaurant Review: The Café Carnegie

Restaurant Review: The Café Carnegie

The restaurant, run by Dinette’s Sonja J. Finn, boosts the dining experience at the Carnegie museums in Oakland.
Thrive: Smooth Moves While Getting Lost in the Music

Thrive: Smooth Moves While Getting Lost in the Music

FASTER Pittsburghʼs Hip Hop Cardio promises to get your workout into a groove.
Curling in Pittsburgh: ‘It's Basically Golf and Chess on Ice’

Curling in Pittsburgh: ‘It's Basically Golf and Chess on Ice’

On the eve of its largest annual event, the Pittsburgh Curling Club has plans to increase Pittsburgh’s appreciation for its intricate sport.
Top Ten Things to Do in Pittsburgh in June

Top Ten Things to Do in Pittsburgh in June

This month's best bets in the ’Burgh.
Edit Module
Edit Module

Edit ModuleShow Tags

On the Blogs


Marc-André Fleury Pens Loving Farewell Letter to Pittsburgh

Marc-André Fleury Pens Loving Farewell Letter to Pittsburgh

In a letter for The Players' Tribune, Fleury recounts his 14-year career as a Pittsburgh Penguin and the bittersweet weeks leading up to his departure to Las Vegas.

Comments


All the foodie news that's fit to blog
Pusadee's Garden Will Close at End of Year (But Not Forever)

Pusadee's Garden Will Close at End of Year (But Not Forever)

Look for some big changes at the Upper Lawrenceville restaurant, which is expected to shutter for at least a year.

Comments


Not just good stuff. Great stuff.
Best Places for Kids on Rainy Days in Pittsburgh

Best Places for Kids on Rainy Days in Pittsburgh

Read on for some under-the-radar ideas on how you and the kids can survive a rainy day this summer.

Comments


High-Wire Acts at Carnegie Science Center

High-Wire Acts at Carnegie Science Center

The North Shore landmark's new ropes course is a draw for adults and youths alike.

Comments


Mike Prisuta's Sports Section

A weekly look at the games people are playing and the people who are playing them.
Pittsburgh Pirates Looking for Relief from Their Bullpen

Pittsburgh Pirates Looking for Relief from Their Bullpen

The just-completed, pivotal 10-game stretch began and ended the same way for the Pittsburgh Pirates –– with no one having an answer for the faltering bullpen.

Comments


Style. Design. Goods. Hide your credit card.
Make the Cut with Jonathan Moran Woodworks

Make the Cut with Jonathan Moran Woodworks

The Strip District-based woodworker's cutting boards can be custom made with the wood of your choice.

Comments


The movies that are playing in Pittsburgh –– and, more importantly, whether or not they're worth your time.
Buckle Up ... Again, as Cars 3 Hits Theaters

Buckle Up ... Again, as Cars 3 Hits Theaters

Reviews of "Cars 3" and "47 Meters Down," plus local movie news and notes.

Comments


Everything you need to know about getting married in Pittsburgh today.
Enchanting Summery Trends to Illuminate Your Wedding Palette

Enchanting Summery Trends to Illuminate Your Wedding Palette

You’ll definitely want to pin these new summer wedding trends to your Pinterest board.

Comments


Weekly inspiration for your home from the editors of Pittsburgh Magazine
Blooming: Pittsburgh Botanic Garden Hosts Town & Country Tour

Blooming: Pittsburgh Botanic Garden Hosts Town & Country Tour

From a forest of Japanese maples to a rocky urban sanctuary, the annual tour covers 14 very different gardens across the East End.

Comments


The hottest topics in higher education
Visit Thiel College for a Summer BBQ

Visit Thiel College for a Summer BBQ

On three days this summer, the college will host visit days for prospective students.

Comments

Edit Module