"I will tell you of the laughter and of troubles, / Be them somebody else's or my own. / With my hands in my pockets and my coat collar high, / I will travel unnoticed and unknown." Although Bob Dylan wrote about every wandering poet in this song, it captures the individual essence of one of his biggest fans, local folk musician Travelin' Travis. Travis has always lived in the space between, and like Dylan's hopeful drifter, he has found peace and inspiration in sharing his adventures on the open road.
Born Robert Linck to a small family in Weiser, Idaho in 1946, Travis was heavily influenced by his father Eddie Linck, a man who went from being a farmer to a conservation officer to the first blind Justice of the Peace in Idaho.
"He was a strong, macho man. He was also a good man and a good father, but he wasn't around much," Travis said. Eddie had a particularly vicious form of cancer, and primitive cobalt treatments took his sight and did little to prevent his death when Travis was only 16. Perhaps that is at the heart of his wandering, that a man whom he idolized but could never get close to disappeared when he was only a boy.
In school, Travis was a self-proclaimed "nerd" who excelled at science and chemistry. He has a picture of himself with a winning science fair exhibit in 1962--an ion-exchange fuel cell--and his horn-rimmed glasses, crew cut and collared shirt are a far cry from his current wardrobe of jeans, pierced ears and a bandanna.
"It was shortly after that that I realized I could sing," he said. "Suddenly I wasn't Bobby Linck the science nerd, I was Bobby Linck the guitar player/singer. Everybody liked me a lot more."
After high school, Travis attended Idaho State University to pursue a degree in drama. He also got more and more into music, and the two destinies did not mesh--at least not then.
"I started playing folk music and got totally caught up in Bob Dylan, Peter Paul and Mary and the Beatles. Then there were beat writers like Jack Karouac, William S. Burroughs and Allen Ginsburg. They all talked about traveling across country and experiencing life to the fullest, and the more I heard, the more my life in the confines of academia was doomed," Travis said.
Much to his mother's chagrin, Travis dropped out of school and headed for San Francisco in an old Rambler station wagon. He had heard accounts of the revolutionary music, politics and drugs in the Haight Ashbury district, and he wanted to be part of it.
"It was a happening--a sub culture of students experimenting with psychedelics and new ways to look at life," he said. But for Travis, it was not about drugs; it was about freedom. He played his guitar in bars and on street corners and hung out with all manner of "long haired hippies," including Charles Manson. "I met this girl, and she invited me back to her commune," he said. "There was this short, wiry, weird guy named Charlie doing mystical stuff with beads on the kitchen floor, and I found out later that it was Manson."
When he tired of free love and street life, Travis hitchhiked all the way to New York. He started out in a Hare Krishna temple but found that when it came time to shave his head and give up sex and drinking, he was not monk material. So he got a job at CBS working as a mail boy on the executive floor, but the lifestyle didn't suit his need to drift. With the money his mother sent to pay for the first semester of theater school, Travis bought a beautiful Martin guitar and headed back to California, then Canada, then Colorado, then Florida, all the while singing for his supper and developing into an authentic wandering minstrel in the tradition of Gordon Lightfoot and Harry Chapin.
Over the course of a few decades, Travis made his way working as a security guard by day and playing music in bars and clubs and small roles in local theaters by night. This led to some extra roles in major movies like The Survivors with Robin Williams and Walter Matthau and Heaven's Gate with Beau and Jeff Bridges, Kris Kristofferson and John Hurt. He also worked on the Universal Studios lot where he met his idol, Bob Dylan, and he still considers the autographed biography Dylan gave him his most prized possession.
Over the years, Travis' music has woven idealism, self-acceptance, depression, disenchantment, joy and protest, a topic that has become increasingly relevant in this election year. And though he has rubbed shoulders with bums and movie stars, Travis has always lived a relatively simply, low-key life--that of a musician who sings just to sing, and maybe for the thrill of being heard.
"It's hard to make a living in the arts, but I'm getting there. I've seen myself grow," he said. "A person should follow the path of heart even if it doesn't make him a lot of money. I still do."
Travelin' Travis performs with Dan Costello on Saturday, November 13 from 8 to 11 p.m. at the Kulture Klatsch, 409 S. 8th St., 345-0452. His CDs are available at the Record Exchange or at www.cdbaby.com under the name Travis Shane Brandon.