Today in History: July 29

Bob Dylan injured his back when he crashed his Triumph Tiger 100 motorcycle 50 years ago today on Striebel Rd. in Bearsville, New York. The road is a mostly straight connection between Tinker St. and the Glasco Turnpike, but something took him out. Only he and his then-wife, Sara, who was driving behind him in the family car, saw the accident.

Dylan gave different stories to different friends about the incident over the years. He told his friend Sam Shepard that the sun blinded him and the bike threw him. To Robert Shelton, who wrote the Dylan biography No Direction Home, Dylan said that he had hit an oil slick. To another, he said his brakes had stuck. (In the photo above, Dylan is on his bike in the center of Woodstock, New York.)

Dylan cracked a vertebrae in the crash, and he decided to have a slow healing process. In his 2004 memoir Chronicles, he writes about the crash: “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.” He performed live only four times over the next eight years.

In Chronicles, he writes about the “rat race” and the toll it was starting to take on him. Fans had started to show up on his property unannounced at all hours. “At first, it was merely the nomadic homeless making illegal entry—seemed harmless enough, but then rogue radicals looking for the Prince of Protest began to arrive—unaccountable-looking characters, gargoyle-looking gals, scarecrows, stragglers looking to party, raid the pantry. […] The authorities … told me that if anyone was shot accidentally or even shot as a warning, it would be me that would be going to the lockup. Not only that, but creeps thumping their boots across our roof could even take me to court if any of them fell off. This was so unsettling. I wanted to set fire to these people.”

The accident may have given him just enough space to live by creating a “Dylan drops out” narrative. He wrote, prolifically, and recorded with The Band, but he also discovered that the act of disappearing in plain sight takes “all your effort.” He recounts in his book that “at first, I was only able to do little things, local things. Tactics, really. Unexpected things like pouring a bottle of whiskey over my head and walking into a department store and act pie-eyed, knowing that everyone would be talking amongst themselves when I left. I was hoping the news would spread. What mattered to me most was getting breathing room for my family. The whole spectral world could go to hell.”

* * * *
Vincent van Gogh died on this date in 1890. Cass Elliot died on this date in 1974. Robert Moses died 35 years ago today.

* * * *
Alexis de Tocqueville was born on this date in 1805. Don Marquis was born on this date in 1878. Clara Bow was born in 1905 on this date.

Stanley Kunitz was born on this date in 1905. Kunitz had been writing and publishing for decades when readers and critics started to notice him in the 1970s. At age 95 he was named United States Poet Laureate. His last book was published when he turned 100 in 2005; he died the next year.

Peter Jennings would be 78 today.

* * * *
“Professor” Irwin Corey is 102 today. He is no longer a full-time performer, because he is 102, but he is not exactly retired, either, because he spends his days working on amusing anyone he encounters. Here is the “World’s Foremost Authority” entertaining a group at Occupy Wall Street in 2011:

Comedian and activist Randy Credico posted a photo in April of Irwin Corey supporting a candidate for President:

(I saw Irwin Corey as one of the gravediggers in a production of Hamlet directed by Zoe Caldwell. I remember him more clearly than anything else from the production.)

* * * *
Senator Nancy Kassebaum is 84. Elizabeth Dole is 80 today. David Warner is 75. Tony Sirico is 74. Leslie Easterbrook is 67. Geddy Lee is 63. Ken Burns is 62. Patti Scialfa is 60 today. Wil Wheaton is 44.

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  1. spreadincrazysmiles · July 29, 2016

    How interesting! I’ll definitely keep your blog on my daily reading list. History has always triggered my interest, and little tidbits such as this one are absolutely fascinating to me! Awesome post, and thanks for taking the time to write it!


  2. loisajay · July 29, 2016

    Mama Cass and that beautiful voice……


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