Welcome to S-Town

“Something’s happened. Something has absolutely happened in this town. There’s just too much little crap for something not to have happened. And I’ve about had enough of shit town and the things that goes on.”

That’s John B. McLemore. He first contacted Brian Reed, a producer for a podcast called “This American Life” because he wanted to talk to him about the corruption he believes is happening in his small town of Woodstock, Ala.. He explained to Reed the situation about a murder he thinks happened in the town, a murder no one has seemed to do anything about. He asked Reed to come down and see for himself.

After Reed goes down to investigate, he ends up continuing to travel down to Alabama because of the strange occurrences in this little town.

To be clear, this isn’t a murder podcast, and it’s rather hard not to give away too much without spoiling the whole story because the podcast takes twists and winds around through the lives of several people in Shit Town (what McLemore calls Woodstock). Sometimes it is hard to know who is telling the truth and who is lying — because someone could lying. Probably quite a few people could be lying.

While listeners are pulled into this story because of the murder, they are quickly wrapped into McLemore’s eccentric and exorbitant personality. He is lively, enlightening and yet cynical and grim.

Take, for example, his view on the town he lives in. McLemore, his grandfather, and his mother all grew up in the town of Woodstock. Yet he quickly made note of the sex offender count of his county, the police corruption in his town and how bad the education is. At one point, McLemore drives through the town and described his high school as “Auschwitz.”

McLemore is raw and quick witted in a way that can be shocking at times. Especially because he speaks so openly about how much he hates the town he lives in and the depression he suffers.

“S-Town” is able to show McLemore’s depressive yet colorful personality. He quickly becomes someone you feel like you have once met and can’t stop listening to what they have to say.

Part of this is because of the circle of people he surrounds himself with. While McLemore despises people with tattoos, some of his closest friends own a tattoo parlor. He also talks about how much he hates where he lives, yet he is friends with the city clerk. It’s juxtapositions like this in “S-Town” that keep listeners asking questions and wanting more.

Throughout the series I found myself both intrigued and devastated by what was happening. I constantly was asking myself, “Did this really happen? Or is it just a really good story?”

And this is what really sets this podcast apart from others — its ability to be novelistic while still investigating and telling a real story. Each episode tells a different part of what happens, as if you are flipping through different chapters to a book.

I actually found myself thinking that this was a fictional podcast at the beginning because of all the twists and turns. Once I found out it was real, I couldn’t stop listening.

And thankfully all of the episodes were released at once, unlike other podcasts, so you can binge listen too.

Because of the depressive conversations that could and do ensue, I would like to warn that there may be triggers from listening to this podcast.

-Sidney Shea