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!
I love both folk and rock.The first half dozen albums he released are all classics.I,for one,think he pretty much ran out of ideas after Nashville Skyline,but that's my attitude about talented singers and groups in general...their earliest work is almost always their best.
Get the newest remastered and spin it a few times.
"The Weight", "Chest Fever", "I Shall Be Released", "We Can Talk About It" and "Long Black Veil" would be good enough to place it on anybody's Disc2Die4 list, but Levon making drums actually moan (!) on the opening Masterpiece, "Tears Of Rage", moves it to the top.
"His early work was certainly edgeier, critical and cryptic.
It's all right Ma, I'm only whining!"
About 1993 not knowing the 94 election revolution was coming, I was in a distraught state about our nation, and one night while house sitting at a friends house, I listened to those old Dylan albums, curious if I would find solace in them or if my modern ears would hear liberal nonsense.
Well , Dylan sounded as revolutionary to me as he had in the sixties, his music wasn't about liberalism, it was about freedom and independent thought, and as a now mature man, I marveled at his intelligence and wisdom for such a young guy.
They certainly do. "Time Out of Mind" and "Love and Theft" are equally great.
Nice choice. I'm equally impressed with "Not Dark Yet" and all of "Love and Theft."
That's just the way liberals are (those in the audience).
And John Lennon's been on ice a while.
This rendition is hilarious and contradicts 40 years of information.
So now it wasn't such a bad head injury after all and Dylan actually did it to himself so he could catch some zzz's.
This goes right along with the rewrite that says Dylan wasn't a revolutionary making some discomforting waves for the power structure; he was just a wandering, barefoot minstrel boy.
We've become a nation who thinks historical perspective is going back all the way to February.
So let me introduce to you...
Did you read the Sounes biography?
On his greatest hits volume two, there are a gaggle of tunes not from earlier albums that were made post accident. When I Paint my Masterpeice is one of those. As sublime a song as ever recorded.
What kind of bike was it?
It was easy to see he was definitely on something since he had the same look, characteristics and mannerisms as myself who at the time had a massive heroin habit. In those days speed, & meth while available was rarely used & my guess at the time was he was a heroin dope fiend. I worked in a recording studio in those days and would guess that more than half the studio musicians & artists I worked with were hooked on smack.
morning! YOu will like this thread
PBS featured him on their American Masters series.
At one concert, you can hear Dylan directing the band to " play it loud " as they came on stage for the electric set.
The clips of the press confrences are something else. The press was asking incredibly stupid questions. Some things never change.
Probably a Triumph..
I think that might have been the program (yes, I watch PBS from time to time). I remember people in the crowd screaming "Judas! Judas!" while he was playing. After the show some in the audience seemed inconsolable and on the verge of tears.
I guess it might be the equivalent if the five members of Metallica put away their instruments and formed a choreographed Boy-Band.
Well, the neighborhood bully, he's just one man, His enemies say he's on their land. They got him outnumbered about a million to one, He got no place to escape to, no place to run. He's the neighborhood bully.
The neighborhood bully just lives to survive, He's criticized and condemned for being alive. He's not supposed to fight back, he's supposed to have thick skin, He's supposed to lay down and die when his door is kicked in. He's the neighborhood bully.
The neighborhood bully been driven out of every land, He's wandered the earth an exiled man. Seen his family scattered, his people hounded and torn, He's always on trial for just being born. He's the neighborhood bully.
Well, he knocked out a lynch mob, he was criticized, Old women condemned him, said he should apologize. Then he destroyed a bomb factory, nobody was glad. The bombs were meant for him. He was supposed to feel bad. He's the neighborhood bully.
Well, the chances are against it and the odds are slim That he'll live by the rules that the world makes for him, 'Cause there's a noose at his neck and a gun at his back And a license to kill him is given out to every maniac. He's the neighborhood bully.
He got no allies to really speak of. What he gets he must pay for, he don't get it out of love. He buys obsolete weapons and he won't be denied But no one sends flesh and blood to fight by his side. He's the neighborhood bully.
Well, he's surrounded by pacifists who all want peace, They pray for it nightly that the bloodshed must cease. Now, they wouldn't hurt a fly. To hurt one they would weep. They lay and they wait for this bully to fall asleep. He's the neighborhood bully.
Every empire that's enslaved him is gone, Egypt and Rome, even the great Babylon. He's made a garden of paradise in the desert sand, In bed with nobody, under no one's command. He's the neighborhood bully.
Now his holiest books have been trampled upon, No contract he signed was worth what it was written on. He took the crumbs of the world and he turned it into wealth, Took sickness and disease and he turned it into health. He's the neighborhood bully.
What's anybody indebted to him for? Nothin', they say. He just likes to cause war. Pride and prejudice and superstition indeed, They wait for this bully like a dog waits to feed. He's the neighborhood bully.
What has he done to wear so many scars? Does he change the course of rivers? Does he pollute the moon and stars? Neighborhood bully, standing on the hill, Running out the clock, time standing still, Neighborhood bully. Copyright © 1983 Special Rider Music
I read an excerpt from his new autobiography. Dylan was never quite the hippie that his fans were. He wrote where he started purchasing firearms to protect him and his family when "fans" began to make pilgrimages to his home Many of these fans that showed up in his yard and on his doorstep were a little frightening.
Actually my least favorite Dylan period was the period that brought him most of his fame. My favorite Dylan starts with the Nashville Skyline album.
I saw Dylan after Time out of Mind came out (1997 or 1998), and it was a double bill with Van Morrison at the Columbia River Gorge theatre. (joni mitchell also played a set, but I spent that time in the beer garden). Best copncert I'd ever been too, and I've been to alot. The live version of Cold Irons Bound was worth the price of admission alone.
One of Dylan's best, no doubt. Two songs on that (GH II) album that also deserve mention (and that aren't on any of his earlier releases) are "Watching the River Flow" and "Down in the Flood." Leon Russell did the arrangements on all three of those tunes. .....best arranger in the biz, imo.
Bob, Van, and Joni? Man, that must've been some show.
Add: Tomorrow is such a Long Time, You ain't Goin Nowhere, and Tonight I'll be staying Here with You to the gems on that album.
It's the only time I've seen Van the man live, unfortunately, but damn what a show it was. Jonit and Van joined Bob for I Shall be Released at the end.
Highlands just cracks me up everytime I hear it. I guess the producer edited it down to 15 minutes from 20+. I'd like to hear the original take. LOL
lol....yeah, Bob's mid-song conversation with the waitress in "Bostontown" is an all-time classic:
I make a few lines, and I show it for her to see
She takes a napkin and throws it back
And says "that don't look a thing like me!"
I said, "Oh, kind miss, it most certainly does"
She says, "you must be jokin.'"
I say, "I wish I was!"
Man. Dylan AND Van Morrison?
I know that was good.
I think he wrote that song in about 10 minutes. LOL
Oh yeah. Van was finally returning to singing some of his older songs, like Domino. Amazing. And Bob is Bob. Took him about 3 songs in to get his voice into shape, then he snarled out the lyrics pretty well after that.
Seen Dylan only three times, which is even weirder. First was in '79 at the Santa Monica Civic during his "Saved" tour. I wanted him to play some of his old tunes, but no go. ....every song was from his recent "Born Again" period.
The next time I saw him it was quite by accident, in '87. I went to a Taj Mahal - one of my favorite bluesmen - show at the Palomino Club in N. Hollywood and saw Dylan and George Harrison hanging out at the bar about an hour before showtime. Then I knew we were in for a treat. John Fogerty showed up a little later and all three joined Taj during his second set and jammed classic rock and roll tunes for the next couple hours. Epic night.
Final time was in '91 (or '92) at the Palladium. .....the most "normal" of the Dylan shows I'd seen, and a great one.