NOTE: This is an updated version of an article originally posted on July 31, 2010.
ERIC WEIL: I’d like to know about the cover of your, of your forthcoming, or your, uh, uh, album – the one with “Subterranean Homesick Blues” (sic) in it. I’d like to know about the, the meaning of the photograph with you and the wearing of the “Triumph” t-shirt.
BOB DYLAN: What did you want to know about it?
WEIL: Well, that, you know, that, that’s an equivalent photograph, it means something, it’s got a philosophy in it – (audience laughs; Dylan is amused) – and I’d like to know visually what it represents to you, because you’re a part of that.
DYLAN: (searching for an answer) I haven’t really looked at it that much, I don’t really –
WEIL: (emphatically) I’ve thought about it a great deal.
DYLAN: All right, it was just taken one day when I was sitting on the steps, you know. I don’t, uh, I don’t really remember, really, uh, too much about it.
WEIL: What about the motorcycle as an image in your, in your songwriting? You seem to like that.
DYLAN: Oh, well, we all like motorcycles, to some degree.
WEIL: (quietly) I do.
San Francisco press conference, December 3, 1965.
On July 29, 1966, Bob Dylan was in some sort of motorcycle accident. Other than that, we do not know exactly happened that day.
There are many who have speculated. There are even people who claim to know what happened. But since this incident occured in the days before the internet and TMZ, the actual events have remained shrouded in mystery for decades. Dylan has always maintained that he had several broken vertebrae, and was seen wearing a neck brace after the accident.
What we do know is that Dylan’s health seemed to be deteriorating at the time, and his work load was getting more and more intense. What the “accident” allowed was an excuse for Dylan to put a stop to everything. No television special, no book, no tour. Time to think, regroup, and spend time with his family.
Ever since, many have wondered about the true extent of the accident, and the possible reasons for making it seem worse that it was. While there have been many wild theories, Howard Sounes, in his book Down The Highway (Grove Press), did his best to research all the possibilities. He wrote that Dylan had visited his manager, Albert Grossman, in Bearsville, New York, on July, 1966 . Dylan left on his motorcycle, followed in a car by his wife, Sara. Dylan was to take his motorcycle to a repair shop. Most people at the scene agree that there was an accident. He was not rushed to a nearby hospital, but driven to his doctor, Ed Thaler, 50 miles away, in Middleton. He convalesced at Thaler’s home for six weeks, although it is unclear when this stay actually began. Thaler, and Dylan, insist that it was not for any detoxification. When Dylan’s film-making partner, D.A. Pennebaker, came to visit Dylan in August, “he didn’t appear very knocked out by the accident.”
Here are some of Dylan’s thoughts on the subject:
JANN WENNER (Rolling Stone magazine, 1969) : What change did the motorcycle accident make?
DYLAN: What change? Well, it… it limited me. It’s hard to speak about the change, you know? It’s not the type of change that one can put into words… besides the physical change. I had a busted vertebrae; neck vertebrae. And there’s really not much to talk about. I don’t want to talk about it. . . So eventually, I had my motorcycle accident and that just got me out of the whole thing, ‘cause I didn’t care anymore.
PLAYBOY 1978: Did the motorcycle accident you had in 1966 have anything to do with cooling you off, getting you to relax?
DYLAN: Well, now you’re jumping way ahead to another period of time…. What was I doing? I don’t know. It came time. Was it when I had the motorcycle accident? Well, I was straining pretty hard and couldn’t have gone on living that way much longer. The fact that I made it through what I did is pretty miraculous. But, you know, sometimes you get too close to something and you got to get away from it to be able to see it. And something like that happened to me at the time.
DYLAN, 1984: 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 didn’t want to do that. Plus, I had a family and I just wanted to see my kids.
DYLAN, Spin magazine, December 1985: In 1966 I had a motorcycle accident and ended up with several broken vertebrae and a concussion. That put me down for a while. I couldn’t go on doing what I had been. I was pretty wound up before that accident happened. It set me down so I could see things in a better perspective. I wasn’t seeing anything in any kind of perspective. I probably would have died if I had kept on going the way I had been.
Esquire interview with Sam Shepard: It was real early in the morning on top of a hill near Woodstock. I can’t 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’.
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