The new Podcast ‘S-Town’ paints a vivid portrait of a cynical small-town gay intellectual
“I’ve about had enough of Shittown and the things that goes on,” is how listeners are introduced to John B. McLemore, who identifies himself as living in “Shittown, Alabama,” though most of the residents prefer to call it by its real name, Woodstock. Woodstock is a sleepy little burg that, to McLemore’s mind at least, more closely resembles Lumberton in David Lynch’s Blue Velvet than the Mayberry of The Andy Griffith Show. This 1,000-person town straddling Bibb and Tuscaloosa counties near the center of the state is, by McLemore’s statistics, the sex-offender capital of the free world, where tattoos, meth and infidelity have joined hands with racism and ignorance to form a cauldron of lazy, slow decay — the death of the American dream. That is, Shittown.
And he’s got a point.
That’s the premise of S-Town, the most compelling new Podcast snaking its way across the interwebs. Whereas the aptly-named Serial drew us in to an actual criminal justice case, week after week surprising us with its real-life mystery, the real mystery of S-Town isn’t the murder McLemore alleges took place but went unpunished, but McLemore himself. And we don’t have to wait to learn anything, except for the amount of time it takes to binge all seven roughly one-hour episodes of this series. The entire Podcast went live barely a week ago, and if it took you more than 48 hours to finish it, that was probably just so you could catch your breath.
“Why did you not tell me Shittown was gonna be an emotional apocalypse?!” my friend Valentine emailed me after I recommended he download the podcast. “Is there a word for simultaneous extreme anticipation/apprehension?” That’ll probably be your reaction, too.
Because S-Town does not proceed like you expect it to. McLemore — who we learn (though it should be obvious early on) is a semi-closeted gay liberal intellectual antique clock-repairer suffering through Klan country with cynical observations and a Southern Gothic flair for drama — initially invites radio producer Brian Reed to investigate suspicious goings-on, but Reed quickly discovers no mystery is more compelling than McLemore himself. To say more would be to undermine the tremendous release that comes with exploring the podcast itself.
But what needs to be said is how profoundly the personage of John. B. McLemore digs into you, not because he is unique, but because you can recognize so much of what troubles him in other people you probably know. The collective effect is haunting.
Download the podcast on multiple platforms, or stream it from Stownpodcast.org.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition April 07, 2017.