While we usually try to focus on currently-running or perhaps lesser known podcasts for the Spotlight, for this issue I asked if my Inside cohort, writer/editor Krystle Vermes, would be interested in summarizing her feelings on the full season of the wildly popular, somewhat controversial "S-Town" podcast. Since the show has run its course, and many post-series wrap-ups have been written, we're going to go into some spoilers regarding the show's ending. We feel this is fair play, as the show has been fully consumed by many podcast listeners already, and the nature of the show as it evolves and heads towards its finale is a fascinating reversal of sorts that naturally fosters discussion. Regardless, I offer you the first "Inside Podcasting" official SPOILER ALERT.
There is little to be said about a small rural town where virtually nothing happens until the tranquility of the community is punctured by death. This is precisely what S-Town from “This American Life” and “Serial” hones in on as it follows the life of John B. McLemore, a man who ran out of patience for his hometown.
Call it “Sh*ttown,” like John did, or call it by its real name: Woodstock, Alabama. In the end, it’s all the same place that drove one 49-year-old man to take his own life. The podcast, which consists of seven episodes, is hosted by Brian Reed, a producer of “The American Life.” He received an email one day from John, who told him a (fictitious) story about a local man who not only got away with murder but bragged about it around Sh*ttown. Upon heading down to Alabama to investigate further, Reed developed an unusual bond with John, who seemed interested in more than just the alleged murder.
A lot more. Global warming. Clocks. Gold. Fire gilding with toxic mercury. All to an obsessive extent.
The mercury is assumed to play a role in John eventually taking his own life. Reed spends the end of the series discussing the side effects of mercury poisoning and how they may have led to John’s depression and overall negative outlook of Sh*ttown. Whether or not his love of fire gilding was a direct cause of his suicidal thoughts is up for debate. However, one thing listeners can certainty take away from S-Town is that mental illness is alive and well, and it can have an overwhelming impact on other lives. Suicide knows no bounds.
Some of the people John left behind quickly moved on – so quickly that they tried to make a profit off of his belongings as soon as he was pronounced dead. Others were left scratching their heads, but they always knew deep down inside that it was only a matter of time before Sh*ttown got the best of John. In the end, it was host Brian Reed who seemed to be most affected by the John's death. He made the podcast, after all, and he never thought twice about taking the trip down to Alabama to solve the enigma that was John B. McLemore.
It isn’t unusual to have many questions while in mourning. Death always seems unusually cruel, but can be especially heart-wrenching when it feels like time was cut short for someone on the verge of greatness. Reed alludes to John as being a strange kind of genius at the end of the series, a genius who few people truly got to know as a person.
Thanks to Reed, we can still get to know John, too.
Episodes Available: 7
Episode Length: 45-60 mins
Where to Download: iTunes
Host: Brian Reed