Oh Mercy: Bob Dylan, Chronicles, and the Mysterious Hand Injury

Fred Bals
15 min readSep 2, 2019

“I’ll take some of the stuff that people think is true and I’ll build a story around that.” ~ Bob Dylan to TIME magazine in 2001.

From Louie Kemp’s Dylan & Me — Undated photo of Dylan with Rabbi Moshe Ben Tov in Pacific Palisades, CA

“It was 1987 and my hand, which had been ungodly injured in a freak accident was in a state of regeneration. It had been ripped and mangled to the bone and was still in the acute stage — it didn’t even feel like it was mine…

With a hundred show dates scheduled for me starting in the spring it was uncertain that I would be able to perform. This was a sobering experience. It was now only January but my hand was going to need plenty of time to heal and be rehabilitated.” ~ Bob Dylan, Chronicles: Volume One

With any other celebrity, even one whose living depended on some use of his hands, a severe injury first disclosed in his memoir decades after the accident might evoke a “Huh” or even “I didn’t know that” from the average reader. Dylan fans, being who we are, freaked out in our own geeky way. “What hand injury?” How come no one has mentioned it before?” “How bad was it really?” “Did it even happen?” “It’s metaphorical!”

Unlike other Dylanesque stories in Chronicles, the hand injury appears to have actually happened, although exactly when it happened and the level of its severity is open to debate. There’s even a question about whether the injury happened to Bob Dylan or to someone else.

A photograph of Dylan with Rabbi Moshe Ben Tov, taken by Dylan’s friend Louie Kemp and published in Kemp’s memoir “Dylan & Me”, shows Dylan with what appears to be a bandage or cast on his left hand. Unfortunately, the photo isn’t dated and Kemp has nothing more to say about it. Given that Dylan is wearing a white t-shirt under his hoodie, it’s possible that all the photo shows is a stretched sleeve. But, as Mo Ostin notes in “The History of the Traveling Wilburys,” Dylan had missed a get-together at his home because “… Bob [had] just injured his hand… a year or so before ‘Handle With Care.”

“A year or so before “Handle with Care’s” release in 1988 could be either 1986 or 1987, fitting in with Dylan’s implication that the accident occurred in either late 1986 or January 1987.

While Dylan specifically opens with “It was 1987” and later says the month was…

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Fred Bals

Corporate Storyteller. Tech enthusiast. Mini Cooper fanboy. One-time chronicler of Bob Dylan’s Theme Time Radio Hour. Husband of Peggy. Human of Lily Rose.