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Music

The Bob Dylan song influenced by his 1966 motorcycle accident

On July 29th 1966, just over a month after the release of Blonde on Blonde, Bob Dylan allegedly had a close brush with death. The incident occurred when Dylan was riding his 500cc Triumph Tiger 100 in the Woodstock region on the outskirts of New York and had a nasty crash that nobody but himself witnessed.

“I had been in a motorcycle accident, and I’d been hurt, but I recovered,” Dylan wrote in Chronicles. “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.”

Dylan claimed to have broken several vertebrae in his neck during the incident, yet he managed to get home without needing to call for an ambulance or check into the hospital. The fact that no official record of the incident exists has led to speculation over the level of truth behind the events. In the years that followed, some fans suggested that Dylan might have fabricated or exaggerated the story to get some much-needed time off. 

At the time of the alleged crash, Dylan had released seven albums in just over four years and had been touring on a near-constant basis. With an upcoming ABC television show, Macmillan demanding a manuscript for Tarantula, and his manager Albert Grossman scheduling a winter tour, it’s understandable that Dylan might have wanted a little respite. 

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Hoax or not, the incident on that July evening changed everything for Dylan. He successfully withdrew himself from touring commitments for the next eight years, and his recording output was dialled down to a less prolific and more relaxed rate. 

Despite being released in 1975 following the success of Blood on the Tracks, Dylan recorded most of the material for The Basement Tapes alongside The Band in 1967 while still recovering from his injuries. ‘You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere’ was written in the months following the crash when Dylan was still immobile. It seems the title of the classic song was targeted at himself. 

In 1968, The Byrds, always keen to churn out a few Dylan covers, included a rendition of ‘You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere’ on their album Sweetheart of the Rodeo. Guitarist and singer Roger McGuinn recalled to Uncut that their record label, Columbia Records, had sent their producer Gary Usher some demos from Dylan’s Woodstock Sessions. Among them were demos for ‘You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere’ and ‘Nothing Was Delivered’, which both caught the attention of The Byrds

“I thought they sounded really good,” McGuinn told Uncut. “You didn’t know what Bob was up to, and far as I knew, he was just laid up from a motorcycle accident. But I think it was probably a reaction to the psychedelic thing. It just got to be too much, and everybody wanted to back off.”

Dylan’s original Basement Tapes demo for ‘You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere’ featured the line “Pick up your money, pack up your tent”, which McGuinn mistakenly altered in the Byrds’ version to “Pack up your money, pick up your tent.”

In a lighthearted response to this mistranscription, Dylan sang: “Pack up your money, put up your tent McGuinn/You ain’t goin’ nowhere,” in his 1971 re-recording of the song.

When prompted to react, McGuinn told Uncut: “It was an honour to be in a Bob Dylan song! I got the words wrong, and he changed all the words for his version of it. He and I have always been kind of like that. He likes to poke fun at me.”