Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Sound engineering by Mike Gentry
Last weekend there in Iowa City, a town dear to any of us Hawkeye alums, there was much hullabaloo as the ol' football coach Hayden Fry, an old-timey gentleman from Texas who had countless catchphrases on par with Yogi Berra and Gomer Pyle and enjoyed having maintenance paint the visiting team's locker room pink to establish some kind of psychological edge, was honored with the renaming of a stretch of highway to Hayden Fry Way. He is one man who is an institution in a city that has welcomed some of the world's greatest writers into its well-known Writer's Workshop as teachers - Kurt Vonnegut, Richard Yates, John Cheever, etc. - and then there's the quaint downtown restaurant that's world-renowned for its eggs and its flapjacks, the Hamburg Inn. So many of the faces just vanish from year-to-year, as tends to happen in every college town, but there's another institution in Iowa City that's not leaving and it almost seems as if he's not aging. Samuel Locke-Ward has been a mainstay in this place for decades, for centuries it seems, and yet, we're talking about a dude in his 30-somethings. He's a roving live soundman. He's a talent buyer for this club and that club and things change, but only slightly. He's played in too many different bands to name and he would be most naturally the first person any club owner would call, looking for an opening act, when The Frogs were booked for a gig at their establishment. He'd likely do it for a couple of beers, some smokes and the chance to do it all over again. Locke-Ward is to Iowa City, as Daniel Johnston is to Waller, Texas. He might be more stable, but you'd never really get that from his countless releases full of wild experimentations in sound, panning, noise, melodies that get rescued often out of chaotic tremors, prettiness, scariness and brooding exclamations of anxious neurosis. The dark speaks to him. He sings and plays so differently on every song he writes. He'll sound like Neil Young. He'll sound like Wesley Willis. He'll sound like a lunatic. He'll sound like a preacher. He'll sound like space invader. It's all coming from a man who suffers through inconsistencies and dementia and makes them friendly bears by the end. It's all part of the loveliness when he sounds as if he could devolve into hysterics, slobbering fits of tears, or a broken voice that will finally give up after poor general care and a lack of sleep. He sings on "Don't Think Poorly Of Me," "Eggs in my throat, oh they make me choke/Bugs in my hair, but I am not scared/Oh please don't think poorly of me/You can't go any longer, just reach for the sky/You can't go any further, don't curl up and die/Now that you see it's not such a bad place to be," and it's the crux of the existence that he promotes above all else in his music: that there is a lot of shit and piss out there, you're going to slip in it, you'll have it on your hands, face and the bottoms of your shoes, but it can wash off, you can spit and shower and it's all just what you want to make of it. It's as if all the scariness, even if it affects and stalks, can't really be all that frightening if you refuse to give it the satisfaction that it wants. He pairs the phrases of open wounds, open veins and open roads together on "Open Wound" from his latest, jittery album of pop kookiness, "Sacrilege, Treason, Treachery & Thyme," giving a taste of there being remedies for bloodbaths and things that won't heal or get better and that's just to keep moving, maybe zig-zagging in a crossing pattern to dodge those straight paths of the bullets and the bird's crapping from overhead.