It turns out there’s more to Bob Dylan than protest songs and plugging-in. Robert Dean Lurie tells the story of how, “after leading the revolution for a time, [he] recused himself from the movement and became something of a traditionalist—albeit an idiosyncratic one”:
On a personal level this involved getting married, moving to the country, and having a lot of kids. For a time he gave up smoking, drinking, and the various other substances that had fueled his manic outpourings over the previous years and had almost led to his demise. Journalists and commentators at the time attributed this transformation to his convalescence following an alleged motorcycle accident in July 1966. Whether or not the accident actually happened (and there are no hospital records to corroborate it), the young songwriter used the story as a pretext to pull himself off the fast track.
Inevitably, with the downtime came introspection. “When I [moved to] Woodstock,” Dylan wrote years later in his memoir, Chronicles, Volume One, “it became very clear to me that the whole counterculture was one big scarecrow wearing dead leaves. It had no purpose in my life.” This revelation brought with it some pretty serious implications for Dylan’s songwriting. If the “spokesman of his generation” repudiated said generation, would he have anything left to write about?
The answer turned out to be a decisive “yes”: He wrote enough to fill the albums “John Wesley Harding,” “Nashville Skyline,” “New Morning,” and “Planet Waves”—what would be a career’s worth for anyone else. Writing from a position of stability for the first time in his life, Dylan imbued his new material with warmth and melody.
(Video: Bob Dylan sings “I Threw It All Away,” from the album Nashville Skyline, on the Johnny Cash show in 1969)