Bob Dylan's 1966 Motorcycle Accident: What Really Happened?

By | August 6, 2019

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On July 29th, 1966, the month after Blonde On Blonde was released, Bob Dylan crashed his motorcycle near Woodstock, New York. It was a mysterious event that put his career on hold for years and changed the course of rock history. But little is known of the actual event -- what happened on that winding road in upstate New York?

The demarcation is clear: From his second album, The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan (1963) through Blonde on Blonde in 1966, Bob Dylan was a national figure, hailed by some as a folk-music or rock messiah. It's pretty much a fact that Bob Dylan was the voice of a generation. Then -- he disappears. 

Bob Dylan Was Absent In The Late '60s

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The cover of 'Blonde On Blonde,' released in June 1966. Source: Amazon

His return to music was gradual, and consider all he missed. The 1967 Summer of Love? No Dylan. Monterey Pop in '68? No Dylan. Woodstock in '69? No Dylan. He returned to recording, but his records were smaller in scale. Compare the manic energy of his "rock" or "electric" period -- Bringing It All Back Home (1965), Highway 61 Revisited (1965), and Blonde On Blonde (1966) -- with the post-crash albums John Wesley Harding (1967) and Nashville Skyline (1969). All five of the albums are critically acclaimed and beloved by fans, but he was a changed artist.

In the five decades since the accident the reality of his injuries has never been revealed, leaving the hours after the crash in a miasma of speculation and rumor. Did Dylan purposefully crash his Triumph motorcycle in order to escape the mounting fervor around his work? Did he break his neck? Or was it his collarbone? Was he really left with permanent brain damage from the accident, or was the story just an excuse for the voice of a generation to take a vacation?