I am Really Into Podcasts, and Sarah is too. I have a few favorites that I consistently listen to, This American Life being one of them. I also devoured both seasons of Serial, so when I heard about S-Town I couldn’t wait to listen.
Serial, the most downloaded podcast of all time, gave us a new way to listen to radio by giving us weekly episodes and each season is a new story. This is happening in television a lot as well, with Anthology seasons becoming a very popular form of telling a story (we can’t get enough of Feud and Big Little Lies). S-Town is giving this mini-series style podcast, but this time it is releasing all episodes at one time. Podcast Binge Listening???? I was able to get through all 7 in less than 24 hours. Below is the premise of the show according to the producers on the S-Town website.
“John despises his Alabama town and decided to do something about it. He asks a reporter to investigate the son of a wealthy family who’s allegedly been bragging that he got away with murder. But then someone else ends up dead, sparking a nasty feud, a hunt for hidden treasure, and an unearthing of the mysteries of one man’s life.”
When I read the description, I definitely had Serial in mind. A murder mystery that the podcasters need to solve, brought to them by someone who knows the case and feels that it needs some digging into. And I was happy about that because I love a good mystery, but otherwise I did not give much thought to the plot. It turned out to be so much more.
John B is a character. You can tell through that thick accent that he is brilliant and a little bit crazy. His mind clearly never slows down. He hates the Shit Town he lives in, Woodstock, Alabama, and thinks that the son of a wealthy family has gotten away with murder. He contacts a producer from This American Life to investigate the story, and Brian Reed obliged. After months of phone and email conversations, Brian finally goes to Alabama to meet John, and this is where the real story starts.
The podcast takes a left turn at the end of episode two and you realize its true meaning. S-Town is a story about a death, but not the one you think. It turns into a story about life – one person’s in particular – but everyone’s in general. I have long been preoccupied with the concept of time and how we count it ever since I read the book Einstein’s Dreams as a freshman in college (we will NOT talk about how long ago that was), and I liked the focus on the passage of time in the story. John B was a clock-maker and repairer, among numerous other things, and he spoke often about time. He also built, repaired and researched sun dials, many of which contain mottos concerning the passage of time. It makes you think about how you spend the precious little time you spend on this planet.
S-Town is also a story about unsung heroes and how often times we do not know how we affect others in life. We were so close to never knowing this tale, to never hearing anything about this Shit Town or the people in it. We may have never contemplated hedge mazes and mercury poisoning, or how much money someone who lives on an old estate on over 100 acres of land has. We may never had learned about the man John B McLemore, and that would have been a devastation we would have never realized.
Thank you to the producer Brian Reed, who deeply connected with John, Tyler and S-Town and made this the beautiful, deep story that it was. I don’t think there are many people who could have gone to Woodstock, Alabama and come out with this story, especially not as respectfully told. People who already listen to This American Life and Serial will need no convincing to download, but I encourage anyone who loves a good mystery, a good biography, or even just a human interest story to take a chance on Shit Town.