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Unpicking the conspiracy behind Bob Dylan’s motorbike accident

There was a time when conspiracy theories were light and harmless little musings to fill the sort of hungover mornings when your brain needs to be simultaneously sedated and stimulated. Today, we’d like to get back to those simpler times, by examining the details behind what some people claim was the worst motorbike accident to never happen, featuring none other than Bob Dylan. 

The official story is one that represents a huge moment in Bob Dylan’s wavering artistic path. He went from being a young wayfaring lad from Minnesota who stole folk records from his friends to the voice of a generation in a few short years, at only 23 years old. Naturally, this took a hefty toll on Dylan. He had never intended to be anything other than a folk singer like his heroes Woody Guthrie, Odetta and others

While on the one hand, when you write a song like ‘Masters of War’ and extol a greater concentration of virtues than a children’s miniature bible, you can hardly be surprised that people exult you to spiritual and political heights. But he was saddled with enormous weights of expectation too. His house was apparently stormed by protestors asking him to join them in direct action, and, continually, he found his privacy invaded to a dramatic degree

Thus, he slowly withdrew from the industry. He took to riding his motorbike along winding roads to ease his mind and find out what was gnawing at him. One day, in 1966, he skidded off of his bike, incurring serious injuries, and, thereafter, he not only withdrew from the music industry but completely exiled himself from society at large. So why is it that certain sleuths say that series of events never actually happened?

Far from some retrospective fantasy by modern-day Dylanoligists with too much time on their hands, the rumour mill began pretty much as soon as the news broke. The first thing that reporters of the day questioned was why no ambulance was ever called and Dylan was never checked into a hospital in the days surrounding the incident. If he had indeed cracked vertebrae and injured his arm badly enough that he couldn’t play the guitar, then surely there would be a medical record? In truth, that is a very fair question and one that instantly elevates this particular instalment beyond the usual madness of musical conspiracies

What’s more, there was no police record of the incident either. They weren’t called to take care of his busted-up bike or deal with the repercussions of a collision. And The New York Times only ran a two-sentence story on the accident four days later under the headline Dylan Hurt in Cycle Mishap. The lack of details and reporting only furthered speculation and fans feared that they were being protected from a gruesome truth. 

In recent times, since the advent of the internet, that speculation has grown. The official account in Dylan’s memoir Chronicles One, inadvertently fuels the conspiracy fire. The only details he offers up are as follows: “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.”

At various other points in the memoir, he makes fleeting references to his injuries but nothing substantial is ever established. However, even if he had established further details, they would’ve done little to help, owing to the fact that the man is a notorious truth-bender. Over the years, he has seeded stories that he was raised in the circus, that he ran away from home as a boy, and there is even a tale in his book about being wowed by Joe Tex on The Johnny Carson Show in the late eighties even though Tex died in 1982. 

Thus, with all that in mind, the case for the conspiracy mounts towards a pretty convincing conclusion. After all, he did want to get away from the scene that he himself had created and he wanted to do so in a hurry. However, the issue for the theory is, that on this occasion, we’re not dealing with Dylan’s testimony alone.

The truth is, should you chose to believe it, he pulled out from the driveway of his manager, Albert Grossman’s, Woodstock home. With his wife trailing behind him in the car, he set off ahead on his motorbike. He soon skidded and fell off. She drove her injured husband back to Grossman’s. Sally Grossman looked him over and saw no visible signs of serious injury but he was “moaning and groaning” so they drove him to Middletown where a private doctor by the name of Ed Thaler looked him over. 

In an interview with The Associate Press, Ed’s widow Selma says: “He didn’t want to go to the hospital, so we said, ‘You can stay here.’” And it would seem that Dylan quite liked it at the good doctor’s house. No deranged fans or intrusive members of the press could find him, and a doctor was right on hand to help with his recovery. 

He stayed with the doctor’s family for about a month recovering, and he even struck up a neat deal that allowed him to have his pals from The Band over on a Friday evening. Though we’re not out the woods of the conspiracy theory just yet. Selma Thaler remarked that Dylan was sweet, quiet and an all-around pleasant house guest, but that he never really showed any signs of injury. 

This has led many to believe that while the crash may have happened and minor injuries may have been sustained, he milked it for all it was worth like a disgruntled employee with a doctor’s note. He had thought that “everything was wrong [and] the world was absurd” at that time, so why not kick back. Amphetamines had apparently become an increasing part of his life during the period leading to the crash as he dealt with strains of constant touring, Judas chants, and a spell so prolific that even the load-lifting balm of joyous creativity was surely proving a touch taxing.

If he had a chance to sit back, recover, kick the habit and indulge in a little spot of self-mythologising, would he have taken it?

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