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 Texas : Features : Columns : "Letters from Central Texas"

The Legendary Stardust Cowboy

by Clay Coppedge

Some of us, especially those of us who grew up in a small town, might have developed an inferiority complex in regards to that town. My hometown, Lubbock, was and is a fair-sized city but it had that small town image and feel when I was growing up there.

Being out there on the wide-open plains as it is, Lubbock made what seemed to me unfair fodder for comedians. One funny guy went on the “Tonight Show” and said, “Played a date in Lubbock the other night. Lub-bock. Lub-bock. Sounds like a frog in heat on a wet rock.”

When Johnny Carson performed in Lubbock, Life magazine showed up to report that area was flat, the town was conservative (no booze in the city limits) and down-to-earth but not necessarily in a good way.

Aside from being the hometown of Buddy Holly, performers even cooler than Carson, including a young Elvis Presley played in Lubbock. The story we always heard was that a bunch of jealous rednecks beat up Elvis and set fire to his Cadillac after seeing how their girlfriends reacted to his performance at the Cotton Club. It’s a great story and I hope it really happened because I have told it many times to many groups of people and swore it was the truth.

**

Perhaps the most embarrassing moment from a hometown perspective was when Lubbock’s very own Legendary Stardust Cowboy played on “Laugh-In” in 1968. The Legendary Stardust Cowboy (real name Norman Carl Odam) showed up for his TV debut wearing a buckskin jacket, cowboy boots with spurs, audacious yellow chaps and a 10-gallon cowboy hat. He looked like Hoss Cartwright on acid and was identified right there on national TV with his hapless hometown.

Since then, I have learned that the song he “sang” has a title (“Paralyzed”) and even some lyrics that have to do with that universal experience of opening your refrigerator and finding “my baby staring right back at me.” Mostly, it was Ledge banging out one chord over and over while screaming, yelping and whooping incoherently into the microphone for several excruciating minutes. Spin magazine has listed it as one the greatest moments ever in rock and roll TV but a lot of us didn’t see it that way.
In the wake of his TV debut, those of us who did not know he lurked in our Lubbock midst were told how ol’ Stardust had always been contrary to ordinary, he was known to hang out on the steps at Monterey High School and bang out the same chord over and over again, sort of like he did on “Laugh-In.” Then he might hop in his blue Chevy Biscayne with “NASA Presents The Stardust Cowboy” painted on the side and take a spin through the Hi-D-Ho.

Ah, youth.

Like Buddy Holly before him, Ledge had to leave Lubbock to get his shot at the big time. He headed for New York because he wanted to be on “The Tonight Show” but he went by way of Fort Worth where, through a peculiar set of events, he ended up recording “Paralyzed” with the legendary T-Bone Burnett, who was about 20 years old at the time.
We got a peek inside Mr. Stardust’s personality when his second record, “I Took A Trip,” was accompanied by a short autobiography that sort of explained the whole Stardust Cowboy thing by relating twin fascinations with outer space and with cowboys.

After relating that the first song he ever wrote was a rewrite of “Cotton Fields” which he called “Peach Orchards he wrote, “Later on, I was sitting in my backyard thinking about cowboys and stardust in outer space. I put them together and came up with Stardust Cowboy. After that I added ‘legendary’ which means that I am a legend in my own time.” Oh, and he claimed to have written more space songs than anybody.

One of those songs attracted attention from another unconventional sort, David Bowie, who recorded Ledge’s “I Took A Gemini Trip” and took the name of his Ziggy Stardust character partly from our very own Legendary Stardust Cowboy.

Ah, fame.

Ledge enjoyed an unlikely resurgence in the 1980s. He toured Australia, appeared on TV in that country and worked as a security guard in California, where he also recorded a couple of more albums. Today you can still hear “Paralyzed” on several compilations by Dr. Demento, which translates to something like lasting fame for the Legendary Stardust Cowboy.

© Clay Coppedge

"Letters from Central Texas" June 3, 2009 Column

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