The “golden oldies” age of music may have ended decades ago, but the impact of this often drug-fueled music will live on forever. While it wouldn’t surprise many to learn that famous musicians from the ’60s had drug habits, the story of Bob Dylan is a bit more complicated.
Once thought to be the most protesting voice of the hippie era, during his 1966 tour Bob Dylan ditched the acoustic folk music in lieu of an electric guitar. While many of his fans sought to look past the change in musical stylings, many exploded with rage, referring to Dylan as the “Judas of folk music.” The impact he had on the music industry certainly can’t be denied, most notably inspiring The Beatles’ songwriting. According to Ringo Starr, Dylan even introduced them to cannabis.
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Did Bob Dylan Do Drugs?
Many famous musicians from decades past did drugs — Ozzy Osbourne, Jim Morrison, Jimi Hendrix — but it’s rare to hear of a musician lying about drug use. In an interview with Dylan circa 1966, the then-young star claimed he was once addicted to heroin. According to those tapes, as reported by the BBC, he’s quoted as saying, “I kicked a heroin habit in New York City. I got very, very strung out for a while, I mean really, very strung out. And I kicked the habit. I had about a $25-a-day habit and I kicked it.”
This admission of addiction was brought into public view sometime after 1986 when Dylan’s friend and music promoter Robert Shelton released Dylan’s biography No Direction Home. However, this contradicts statements Dylan made during a 1984 interview with Rolling Stone, saying, “I never got hooked on any drug. Not like you’d say, uh, ‘Eric Clapton: his drug period.’ ”
During a 1969 interview in Rolling Stone, Dylan told co-founder Jann Wenner, “I was on the road for almost five years. It wore me down. I was on drugs, a lot of things. A lot of things just to keep going, you know? And I don’t want to live that way anymore.” When he was asked if drugs influenced his song creation process, Dylan replied, “No, not the writing of them. But it did keep me up there to pump ’em out.”
The long-circulating rumor was that during the 1966 electric tour, he was heavily abusing amphetamines, alcohol, marijuana and hallucinogens. While the truth may never be fully known, there’s a rare video of Bob Dylan and John Lennon sharing a stoned taxi ride together that may shed a bit of truth on the totality of Bob Dylan’s drug use.
The Price of Fame
With his level of fame and the expectations placed on him, it’s almost understandable that Dylan would turn to drug use as a way to promote his career and keep his music “enlightened” and fresh. Psychedelics have been reported as a source of artistic inspiration from many musical acts of that era, especially since many of them believed LSD could “unlock the mind” and free it from normal constraints. This is true of The Beatles, Carlos Santana and others. Stimulants or uppers such as amphetamine or cocaine can keep users stimulated and awake to help perform at an adequate level to maintain their musical performances. Even in more modern times, the arts and entertainment industry’s drug addiction statistics state that illicit drug use hovers around 13.7%.
Once someone is attached to a particular lifestyle, especially one that brings in large amounts of money and fame, it’s easy to imagine what a person may do to preserve that. Many artists, from renowned musicians to tabloid-lacing actors, frequently abused drugs. One of the most concerning factors of any celebrity drug abuser is where their sphere of influence will end. Cultural icons of today are frequently plastered to the top of the Billboard charts with songs celebrating drug use, such as “lean” or Xanax.
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Lies of the Trade
Addicts in general will tell lies regarding their behaviors, their usage and the consequences of their consumption. Usually, the lie is spoken out of shame or denial, or a way to preserve their way of life and maintain their addiction. A study from 2010 provided by Wayne State University researchers found that teens and parents would both underreport drug usage despite being subjected to hair follicle drug analysis. In their research, they discovered that testing hair samples would provide more than a 52% gain in discovered drug use — in this case, cocaine. Dr. Delaney-Black stated, “Concern about the potential risks of drug use admission, perceived social acceptability of reporting drug use or anxiety that parents may find out about their drug use may account for teens’ preference to say ‘I don’t.'”
An anonymous user interviewed for this post who is a recovered amphetamine abuser shed a bit of light on the reasoning behind their frequent lying to family members and general mishandling of honesty. “It’s like there’s this monster that’s chasing you, and the only way to keep that monster away is to get more drugs. The monster is real — I’ll lie, cheat and steal to get it off my back. Sometimes people get hurt emotionally, and I hate that. But I hate that monster more than their feelings. I also don’t want people to know that I’m on drugs. Nobody wants to be the doped-up guy.”
Bob Dylan Today
Continuing to generate headlines nearly 60 years after first being discovered, in March 2020, Dylan debuted a previously unreleased song called “Murder Most Foul” revolving around the assassination of President Kennedy. He later released a new album on June 19 of that year. In December of 2020, Dylan sold his entire song catalog, releasing control of both income and copyright. On February 26, 2021, a 3-disc collection of previously unreleased studio sessions was released titled “Bob Dylan – 1970.”
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The truth about his drug use, outside of the aforementioned evidence, is still pretty hard to come by. While there’s nothing definitive, the only logical conclusion that can be drawn is that Bob Dylan was a victim of his own success in many ways. According to some tapes, he was a self-admitted heroin addict. According to his own statements on various other dates, he wasn’t. That era of music saw many musicians succumb to the pressures of fame and performance woes, and many reports state with varying degrees of accuracy that he was on drugs.
So, did Bob Dylan do drugs? We’d have to say, probably.