I want to be a cowboy, just like the Ledge -- all wild eyes and savage animal cries, safety-orange shirts, bolero hats, hell-spawned bugles, and those silver spurs that go jingle-jangle -- a danger and boon to any stage or station brave enough to offer itself. Of course, I'm not the only one. The first time David Bowie saw the Legendary Stardust Cowboy
he changed his name and went looking for the Spiders From Mars (further tribute was paid to Ziggy's namesake when Bowie covered the Ledge's "I Took a Trip on a Gemini Spaceship" on his recent album Heathen
). But such accolades were late in coming. Born in 1947 in Lubbock, Texas -- home to more lily-bellied traditionalists like Terry Allen and Jimmie Dale Gilmore -- the Legendary Stardust Cowboy began developing his distinctive performance style at an early age, drawing attention to himself by playing in public spaces where he was not always welcome (on the steps of high schools, outside parties to which he had not been invited, on the roof of his car at local drive-ins). In the late '60s, inspired by the success of Tiny Tim, the Ledge loaded up his car and headed for the Tonight Show
parking lot, only to be waylaid in Fort Worth by two vacuum cleaner salesmen who took him to a studio to record "Paralyzed," the first and only single by the Legendary Stardust Cowboy to make it to the Billboard
charts (and a number of year-end worst records lists). The peculiar success of "Paralyzed" landed the Ledge on Laugh-In
and might have been the beginning of a fruitful volley of variety show slots if not for a musicians' union strike that lasted just long enough to cool the trailblazer's jets. Despite a coterie of rabid fans and a debut album that was finally recorded in 1984, the Ledge never did make it to The Tonight Show
. He did, however, come out west, where he eventually settled down in San Jose to become a security guard for Lockheed Martin, whose industry (including those little jaunts to Mars) had always been of particular interest to the Legendary Stardust Cowboy. Over the years, bolstered by the admiration and devotion of local musicians such as Frank Novicki, Klaus Fluoride, and Mike Burns, the Ledge has kept his spurs sharpened and his wit whittled, recording two more records and putting on some of the best shows I have seen in San Francisco. Often compared to fellow rock 'n' howl psychobilly shaman Hasil Adkins, the Legendary Stardust Cowboy remains similarly enchanted by supersonic space travel and mundane foodstuffs. But, unlike Adkins, the Ledge is not so encumbered as a one-man roadhouse band, and thus he is more free to howl, whirl, whoop, warble, jump, thrust, and jingle-jangle his way through your psyche. So take out some health insurance, because the Legendary Stardust Cowboy rides again on Friday, Jan. 2, at Cafe Du Nord, with Chrome Johnson, the Royal Deuces, and Howie Statland opening at 9 p.m. Tickets are $8; call 861-5016 or go to www.cafedunord.com
I thought I liked Master and Commander because it had ropes, big water, and barefooted lads scampering through the rigging, but after talking to a friend who sat by my side at the edge of endurance while I giggled, I realize I liked the movie because I had learned enough about the Golden Age of Sail at the "Chantey Sing" last year to add texture to the Hollywood gloss (something akin to reading Luc Sante's Low Life before watching Gangs of New York). However, my primary complaint remains that Master and Commander was not a musical when, by a very rare right, it could have been, since song was the chief means by which sailing men passed the time and timed the work aboard ships. Thankfully, my thirst for sea chanteys and hot mulled cider might be slaked while nestled in the belly of a historic seafaring vessel surrounded by real men, and real women, in wool caps and white beards (granted, some of them fake), and I needn't suffer Russell Crowe singing "The Black Ball Line." This month's "Chantey Sing" marks the passing of Lloyd Jones Jr., a stalwart singer of sea songs. While many of his Bay Area compatriots will be participating in "Camp Harmony" put on by the San Francisco Folk Music Club this Saturday, others will be filling the hull of the Balclutha with doleful laments the likes of which Hollywood could not fathom. A more official dedication will be held at the February sing. The first "Chantey Sing" of the new year will take place on Jan. 3 aboard the Balclutha berthed at Hyde Street Pier (Hyde & Jefferson). Admission is free, but reservations are taken; call 556-6435.