Skip to comments.The Bob Dylan Motorcycle-Crash Mystery
Posted on 07/29/2006 8:18:50 AM PDT by Rocko
On July 29, 1966, something happened to Bob Dylan while he was riding his motorcycle near his Woodstock, New York, home. Forty years and a small library of biographies later, its still hard to be much more precise or detailed than that. What really befell Dylan on that day remains, like so much in this pop-culture icons closely guarded life, cloaked in mystery.
Ill-defined or not, the accident has been treated as a major event in Dylans life; at least one biographer divides the founder of folk-rocks career into pre- and post-accident. What made the event so significant?
Since 1961, when he had arrived in New York, Dylans life had moved quickly. In 1965 and 66 the pace only increased. As one observer put it, Dylan wasnt merely burning his candle at both ends; he was using a blowtorch. His incredible productivityperhaps his three best albums, Bringing It All Back Home, Highway 61 Revisited, and the double album Blonde on Blonde, were recorded within a 14-month spanwas very likely fueled by methamphetamine; bone-thin in 66, Dylan had the giveaway look of a speed freak.
In June 1966 he returned from a nine-month world tour, made especially grueling by the relentless hostility with which audiences met his new sound (hed plugged his guitar in and added an electrified backup band). Though he was exhausted, embittered, and thoroughly road-weary, his aggressive manager, Albert Grossman, had booked him into a 64-date American tour, due to start in August. If Grossman had gotten his way, writes the biographer Howard Sounes, Dylan would have been on the road interminably until every last ticket dollar had been sucked up. Other commitments loomed as well. Dylans stream-of-consciousness novel, Tarantula, was scheduled for publication. Reading the galleys in July, he had misgivings about the entire book and told Macmillan, his publisher, that he wanted to revise it. He was given two weeks. At the same time, ABC-TV wanted an hour-long documentary of the just-completed world tour; all that existed as of July was miles of unedited footage.
The accident was Dylans means of escape from an unendurably fast-paced, pressurized life. As he said in a 1984 interview, When I had that motorcycle accident . . . I woke up and caught my senses, I realized that I was just workin for all these leeches. And I really didnt want to do that. At some point during his convalescence he realized that he wanted a much more tranquil, family-centered life. (He had secretly married Sara Lownds in 1965, and he and she would raise five children together). His music changed, too, from the white-hot fury of Highway 61 Revisited and Blonde on Blonde to the sparer, quieter sound of 1968s John Wesley Harding and 1969s Nashville Skyline. He stayed off the road until 1974, when he toured with the same players who had backed him on the 1965-66 tour; they had since become famous as the Band.
But enough about the crackups aftermath; what about the crackup itself? According to Sounes, who gives the fullest, most judicious account, on the morning of July 29 Dylan and his wife drove from Woodstock to Albert Grossmans house in nearby Bearsville. Dylans motorcycle was in Grossmans garage, and Dylan wanted to take it to a repair shop. He set off on the bike from Grossmans with Sara following him in their car.
An anonymous source, a close friend of Dylans, told Sounes that as Dylan started on his way, he lost his balance and fell off the bike, and it fell on top of him. He himself told his biographer Robert Shelton that he hit an oil slick. He gave a different, longer account to the playwright Sam Shepard, who published it in Esquire as part of a one-act play. It was real early in the morning on top of a hill near Woodstock, he told Shepard. I cant even remember how it happened. I was blinded by the sun for a second. . . . I just happened to look up right smack into the sun with both eyes and, sure enough, I went blind for a second and I kind of panicked or something. I stomped down on the brake and the rear wheel locked up on me and I went flyin. Its impossible to choose between these varying accounts. In other words, were not likely ever to know what really occurred.
The first reports of the accident had Dylan barely escaping with his life. But if he had been seriously injured, an ambulance would have been called. None was, nor did Sara take her husband to the hospital. Instead, she drove him to the home office of his doctor, Ed Thaler, 50 miles away in Middletown, New York. As Sounes writes, This was a grueling one-hour drive by country roads, not a journey for a man in dire need of medical help.
Its impossible to pinpoint Dylans injuries. By most accounts, including his own, he broke several vertebrae. The damp weather still affects the wound, he told Shelton some time later. When the filmmaker D. H. Pennebaker visited him several days after the accident, he was wearing a neck brace, although, says Pennebaker, he didnt appear very knocked out by the accident.
Dylan stayed at Dr. Thalers for six weeks. If he wasnt extensively injured, why the long convalescence, especially when he had a wife and baby waiting at home? Rumors have long circulated that he was recovering from a heroin addiction, although Thaler has denied this. He did not come here regarding any situation involving detoxification, the doctor told Sounes. But Dylan had to stop using drugsif not heroin, then amphetaminesat some point, and this was a logical time. Post-accident photographs of Dylan show him fleshed out, not the wraith of 1965-66.
The accident itself was not a major event, but it gave him a much-needed chance to stop, rest, and take stock of his incredible journey since 1961. When he returned to work, it was at a much less frenetic pace than before the accident. He may not have been exaggerating when he later told an interviewer, I was pretty wound up before that accident happened. I probably would have died if I had kept on going the way I had been.
Tony Scherman is a writer who lives in Nyack, New York.
...Sgt. Pepper taught the band to play .
>>The accident was Dylans means of escape from an unendurably fast-paced, pressurized life. As he said in a 1984 interview,<<\
While that could be, it was also true that his music was never that same...
The folkie "purist" crowd despised it, but Dylan picked up a new audience audience in the process. .....a rock and roll audience.
"Blood On The Tracks" and "Desire" stack up.
I've liked both Dylan's acoustic and electric work, and of course, The Band became phenomenal in their own right.
And thankfully so. Dylan never liked to stand still musicially. Some of his best material appeared in the "post-accident" era -- New Morning, Blood on the Tracks, Street Legal, Infidels, Oh Mercy, Time Out of Mind. .....to name but a few.
They sure burned brightly, but unfortunately for a (relatively) short period of time. Their 2nd release - The Band ("The Brown Album") (1969) - could be my favorite album of all time.
Now he's back to touring, touring, touring.... uh oh... maybe another accident is around the corner... this time another bizare gardening accident.
Dylan's been touring virtually non-stop - "The Never Ending Tour" - since 1988.
The more recent "Trying to Get to Heaven" from Time Out of Mind is one of my all-time favorite Dylan songs.
>>And thankfully so. Dylan never liked to stand still musicially. Some of his best material appeared in the "post-accident" era -- New Morning, Blood on the Tracks, Street Legal, Infidels, Oh Mercy, Time Out of Mind. .....to name but a few.<<
that's a good point. I love Blood on the tracks, for example.
And he had already had to put up with the cries of "betrayal" from the folk singers from going electric - people don't like to see the music change. The Beatles are perhaps the great exception as they changed just as the public was changing and ready.
The libs were trying out new tactics.
He's been p******g them off since 1964. Especially during his Christian period.
Yep, Pete Seeger was really upset when he realized that Dylan wasn't a fellow Commie.
They've been going in and out of style...
To me its a toss up between that and "Big Pink".
I always liked "Big Pink".
I was at Newport the first time he came on stage with an
electric guitar, the audience couldn't believe it, he got
a pretty hostile reception but like a trooper he just kept on.
His early work was certainly edgeier, critical and cryptic.
It's all right Ma, I'm only whining!
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