In one of his many diatribes, John B. McLemore, our “S-Town” equivalent to a Greek Chorus, describes his hometown as a site of “proleptic decay and decrepitude.” Woodstock, Alabama. A Shit Town just forty minutes away from Birmingham, and one of the central characters in Brian Reed’s new podcast.
As an avid podcast listener, and a quick trend-hopper, I knew I had to give “S-Town” a try. With Sarah Koenig producing, the mastermind behind break-out hit “Serial,” I geared myself up for another twisty, true crime-centered mystery. Having wrapped up the seventh episode this morning, I feel, a tad bit, like I’m in mourning. At least, the form of mourning that follows one week of obsessive listening and a very sudden attachment to faceless voices. “S-Town” is an exploration into a town, a culture, but mainly, into a life: the life of John B. McLemore.
McLemore is a curmudgeon, a grump. He is a shirtless, red-haired, horologist with a penchant for cussing and a strong fixation on climate change. He is also, as evidenced in Reed’s final product, a deeply complex, layered human being with fears, hopes and loves. At many points during my listening, I felt like I was invading. (There’s more to say about that, but I haven’t quite put my finger on the implications of this ethical quandary. In fact, I fear that delving too deeply into this issue will give away pivotal plot points. Maybe another time.) Sometimes, I even felt like crying.
“S-Town” is an unbelievable success– over 10 million downloads! I can almost hear Ira Glass shouting from NPR’s Headquarters. It is a journalistic feat of unparalleled access, and I admire Reed’s tenacity, as well as McLemore’s openness. Give it a listen.