He was crippled for 18 months after crashing his Triumph 500. The Band entered him at the rental home (dubbed the "Big Pink") a few months later and started filming. After being bootlegged by so many fans, many of the recordings there were eventually released eight years later as The Basement Tapes. The alleged crash site is one mile south of Highway 212, near a rustic barn known as the Old Zena Mill, where Zena Road abruptly curves.
Dylan's life had moved rapidly after his arrival in New York in 1961. The level only accelerated in 1965 and 1966. Dylan wasn't just lighting his candle at both sides, as one observer put it; he was even using a blowtorch. Dylan's prolific output—his three greatest records, Bringing It All Back Home, Highway 61 Revisited, and the double album Blonde on Blonde, were all released in a 14-month period—was almost certainly fuelled by methamphetamine; bone-thin in 1966, Dylan had started to imitate little so much as a speed freak.
He returned from a nine-month world tour in June 1966, made all the more difficult by the unwavering animosity with which crowds greeted his new sound (he'd plugged in his guitar and added an electrified backup band). Albert Grossman, his hostile promoter, had booked him into a 64-date American tour, which was set to begin in August, despite the fact that he was tired, enraged, and completely road-weary. In Down the Highway: The Life of Bob Dylan, biographer Howard Sounes writes that if Grossman had gotten his way, Dylan would have been "on the road interminably before the single ticket dollar had been swallowed up."Some responsibilities loomed as well. Tarantula, Dylan's stream-of-consciousness "novel," was set to be released. He had reservations about the whole novel after reading the galleys in July and told his editor, Macmillan, that he needed to rewrite it. He was given two weeks to complete his sentence. Around the same time, ABC-TV needed an hour-long retrospective of the just-completed world tour; as of July, all that remained was miles of uncut video.
Dylan's escape from an unendurably fast-paced, pressured life was a tragedy. “When I had the motorcycle crash... I woke up and caught my senses, I knew that I was only working with all these leeches,” he said in a 1984 interview. And that was something I just didn't want to do.” During his recuperation, he discovered that he desired a far more peaceful, family-centered life. (In 1965, he married Sara Lownds in secret, and the two would have five children together.)From the white-hot rage of Highway 61 Revisited and Blonde on Blonde to the sparser, quieter sound of 1968's John Wesley Harding and 1969's Nashville Skyline, his music evolved as well. He didn't go on the road again until 1974 when he reunited with the same musicians who had accompanied him on the 1965-66 tour; they were now known as The Band.
But enough of the consequences of the crackdown; what about the crackdown itself? According to Sounes, who provides the most complete and unbiased report, Dylan and his wife rode from Woodstock to Albert Grossman's house in nearby Bearsville on July 29. Dylan had to drive his motorcycle to a repair shop, which was in Grossman's barn. He took off on his bike from Grossman's, followed by Sara in their sedan.
Sounds were told by an unnamed source, a personal friend of Dylan's, that when Dylan began his journey, he lost his balance and fell off the bike, which then fell on top of him. He admitted to hitting an oil slick to his biographer Robert Shelton. He told a new, longer version of the story to playwright Sam Shepard, who turned it into a one-act play and published it in Esquire. He told Shepard, "It was really early in the morning on top of a hill near Woodstock." “I have no recollection of how it happened. For a brief moment, the sun blinded me... I so happened to stare up directly at the sun with both eyes and, sure enough, I went blind for a split second and panicked. I stomped on the brake, and the back wheel locked up on me, and I took off.”It's hard to choose from any of these different accounts. Or other words, we're unable to actually know what happened.
According to the initial news of the crash, Dylan narrowly made it out alive. If he'd been badly hurt, though, an ambulance may have been sent. None of them were, and Sara did not accompany her husband to the hospital. Instead, she took him 50 miles to his doctor's practice, Ed Thaler's, in Middletown, New York. “This was a grueling one-hour trip along country roads, not a ride for a man in desperate need of medical help,” Sounes writes.
Dylan's injuries are difficult to trace. He fractured multiple vertebrae, according to several sources, including his own. He later told Shelton, "The wet weather still affects the wound." He was sporting a neck brace when filmmaker D. H. Pennebaker met him several days after the crash, despite the fact that, according to Pennebaker, "he didn't look quite knocked out by the accident."
Dylan spent six weeks at Dr. Thalers. Why, if he wasn't seriously hurt, would he take such a long time to recover, particularly because he had a wife and a baby at home? While Thaler has refuted it, rumors have long circulated that he was suffering from heroin addiction. He didn't come here for any detoxification issues,” the doctor explained to Sounes. Yet Dylan wanted to be using drugs at some point—if not opium, then amphetamines—and now seems like a good time. Dylan is more fleshed out in post-accident photos than he was in 1965-66.
The accident itself was minor, but it provided him with the opportunity to pause, recover, and reflect on his extraordinary journey since 1961. As he returned to work after the crash, he did so at a much slower speed than before. When he later told an interviewer, "I was pretty worked up before that crash happened," he may not have been exaggerating. If I had continued down my current route, I would have most likely died.”