Bob Dylan’s Brush With Death

by
Share This:
Bob Dylan outside his Woodstock home in 1968 © Landy Vision. Used with permission.

Bob Dylan outside his Woodstock home in 1968, two years after the accident. Photo © Elliott Landy, Landy Vision. Used with permission.

In 2016 we celebrated the 50th anniversary of several of classic rock’s most epic moments—the Beatles’ final public concert, the release of the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds, the debut of TV’s Monkees and so much more. But there’s one date that one rock legend would rather forget: July 29, 1966. On that day, Bob Dylan nearly died.

He was living in bucolic Woodstock, NY, having sought sanctuary from the noise, chaos—and drugs—that had consumed his life during the past year, ever since he’d “gone electric” at the Newport Folk Festival in July of ’65. He’d broken through commercially in that heady summer with the #2 smash hit “Like a Rolling Stone”—still considered by many today to be the greatest rock song of all time—and had released two seminal Top 10 albums, Bringing It All Back Home and Highway 61 Revisited. Already many were calling Dylan the “voice of his generation,” a tag he would later say was wholly unwelcomed by him.

Related: Dylan goes electric at Newport

Dylan’s latest release, the double-LP Blonde on Blonde, which many considered his most important work to date, had just charted in Billboard on July 23, 1966, when six days later Dylan set out for a ride through the hilly upstate New York environs on his Triumph 500cc motorcycle, the latest in a series of bikes he’d owned since acquiring his first Harley in his teens.

With his wife Sara Lowndes following him in a station wagon, Dylan, according to Barney Hoskyns’ recently published book, Small Town Talk, a history of the town’s music scene, left his manager Albert Grossman’s house, drove north on Striebel Road, then turned right on Glasco Turnpike. The sun was in his eyes, Dylan later recalled (although at first he said he’d hit an oil slick), and he was temporarily blinded. Dylan slammed on the brake, the rear wheel locked up and, as he later confirmed, he “went flyin’.”

Related: Review of Small Town Talk about Woodstock, the town

Although he was in pain, Dylan at first did not feel he needed medical help, but it was soon determined that he indeed did, and the rock star was taken by his wife to a doctor an hour away—his condition was deemed serious enough that he stayed at the doctor’s residence for some 10 days while beginning his recuperation from a cracked vertebra and other injuries. In the wake of the accident, Dylan canceled all upcoming concert dates and, according to Small Town Talk, simply “lay in bed and stared out the window” for some time, “feeling relief that he could simply stop.”

Related: Photos like the one above by Elliott Landy are available for purchase here

As Dylan suddenly withdrew from public life without explanation (Grossman liked to shroud his client in mystery), rumors began to swell. The accident itself remained merely a rumor for some time, but speculation on the seriousness of his condition quickly took on a life of its own. Was Dylan dead? Disfigured or brain-damaged? Would he ever make music again? In his own memoir, Chronicles, Dylan wrote, “I had been in a motorcycle accident and I’d been hurt, but I recovered. Truth was that I wanted to get out of the rat race. Having children changed my life and segregated me from just about everybody and everything that was going on. Outside of my family, nothing held any real interest for me and I was seeing everything through different glasses.”

What his fans didn’t know at the time was that, as he recovered in Woodstock, Dylan, in 1967—the year of Sgt. Pepper, Hendrix, Monterey Pop and the like—was entering a prolific songwriting stage, turning out dozens of songs (among them “The Mighty Quinn” and “I Shall be Released”) and recording them informally in a house known as Big Pink. Those sessions, later dubbed the “Basement Tapes,” with accompaniment from the musicians who would become known as The Band, remained officially unreleased for years, although they leaked fairly early on bootlegs.

Although his live appearances were few in the years following the crash—the most notable taking place at the 1969 Isle of Wight festival in England and at George Harrison’s Concert for Bangla Desh in ’71, Dylan eventually made his way back to the stage with a momentous 1974 tour with The Band. He’s rarely stopped playing or recording since.

If you’re a new Best Classic Bands reader, we’d be grateful if you would Like our Facebook page and/or bookmark our Home page.

Jeff Tamarkin

Jeff Tamarkin

Best Classic Bands Editor Jeff Tamarkin has been one of the most respected and prolific music journalists in the country for some four decades. He was editor of Goldmine for 15 years, the first editor of CMJ and Grateful Dead Comix, and an editor of Relix magazine. He has written for dozens of publications including Billboard, Newsweek, Playbill, Creem, Mojo, Newsday, New York Daily News JazzTimes and others, and has contributed to the Guinness Encyclopedia of Popular Music and All-Music Guide. He has written the liner notes for more than 80 CDs, including most of the Jefferson Airplane catalog as well as the Beach Boys, Merle Haggard, Tom Jones, Chubby Checker, Al Kooper and the J. Geils Band.

Jeff has also served on the Nominating Committee of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and as a consultant to the Grammys. As a consultant to the Music Club CD label, he assisted in releasing over 180 reissues and compilations, in styles ranging from jazz to country to pop. His first book was Got a Revolution! The Turbulent Flight of Jefferson Airplane (published in June 2003) – the first biography of this legendary San Francisco band written with the cooperation of all of the band members. He is also the co-author of Shell Shocked: My Life with the Turtles, Flo and Eddie, and Frank Zappa, etc, with Howard Kaylan. From 2002 to 2006 Jeff was the editor of Global Rhythm, the leading magazine for world music and global culture. He was the Associate Editor of JazzTimes from 2008-16. He lives in Hoboken, NJ, with his wife, the novelist and Boston Globe book columnist Caroline Leavitt. Their son, Max, is a theater major at Pace University in New York.
Jeff Tamarkin
Share This:

No Comments so far

Jump into a conversation

No Comments Yet!

You can be the one to start a conversation.

Your data will be safe!Your e-mail address will not be published. Also other data will not be shared with third person.