By Justin Cole
Bob Dylan has won the Nobel Prize in Literature “for having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition.” Dylan has always been an enigmatic figure in music. His words paint a vivid picture for the listener, but retain a cryptic nature so that a definite meaning of the song is always just out of grasp. This, tied in with his extensive catalog of music and lyrics spanning more than 50 years, has made him a figurehead of the songwriting medium. All of these facts make the troubadour a justified choice for the prize.
Perhaps what has been overlooked is the role that the Hudson Valley has played in his legacy and subsequently his Nobel Prize.
In 1966, Bob Dylan was 25 years old and had been on a rapid incline from obscure Greenwich Village singer-songwriter to folk-rock superstardom. Hit albums such as “The Freewheeling Bob Dylan,” “Bringing It All Back Home” and “Blonde on Blonde” revealed the innovative nature of his songwriting. They showed that Dylan was more than just another voice in the crowd, he was becoming the enigmatic voice of a generation.
Still, all of that came to a halt on July 29, 1966, when Dylan crashed his Triumph Tiger 100 motorcycle near his home in Woodstock, NY.
In similar fashion to the rest of Bob Dylan’s personality, much mystery enshrouded the accident as no ambulance was called and he was not hospitalized for his injuries. Even details as to what caused the accident have been shaky and varied in the years since. Instead of the hospital, he was driven to a doctor that he knew: Dr. Ed Thaler of Middletown, NY. For the next month, Dylan stayed with Dr. Thaler and his wife Selma in their home, learning to live a “regular” life again.
After this strange accident, the Hudson Valley forever became a part of Dylan’s musical influence and changed the trajectory of his musical career.
Up until the time of the accident, Dylan was touring and recording at an unprecedented rate. He was becoming tired, burnt out and was rumored to have been taking large amounts of amphetamines to keep working on his music and touring. He was further and further being pushed into the same stratosphere as contemporaries like Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix. But unlike these two, Dylan was forced to stop in his tracks. After the crash, Dylan put off tour dates and retreated to his home in Woodstock, NY. Some historians have said that the motorcycle wreck may have been the single event that saved his life at the peak of his celebrity.
This time of retreat proved critical to his success and evolution as a songwriter.
During this time of recovery, Dylan began reading and writing on his own terms. He started writing songs for the sake of writing songs; he wasn’t writing as a means to record a new album or fill a tour. In fact, he was able to truly find his voice by injecting equal parts poignant poetry with catchy melodies. During this time, he began playing music with The Band in West Saugerties, NY in a house called “The Big Pink.” It was here that Dylan and The Band would record “The Basement Tapes,” an expansive archive of songs, demos and lyrics. Some of these songs never saw the light of day, others like “I Shall Be Released” and “Tears of Rage” exemplified the new direction of Dylan’s work. He wanted to control his career instead of having fans and agents direct his every move.
Essentially, Bob Dylan was able to reinvent his path, fix his focus and proceed to make music on his own terms.
That was 50 years ago, a dog-eared page in a long book of life. Since then Dylan has released 30 albums and has toured across the globe. However, if it wasn’t for that fateful crash in Woodstock and the time he spent in the Hudson Valley, the world may have lost the influential work of Bob Dylan.
Though his time in Woodstock may not be as expansive as the time he has spent touring the globe since then, the Hudson Valley will always serve as a symbol of the pivotal change in his career.