‘S-Town’ offers welcome break from news

Published 1:49 am Saturday, April 8, 2017

Before the Alabama Ethics Commission agreed there is sufficient evidence to bring charges against Gov. Bentley for using his office for personal gain.

Before President Trump changed his view and ordered missile strikes on Syria.

And before a dizzying day of legal jockeying ended with the release of the investigative report prepared as part of the impeachment process against Bentley that made even his defenders acknowledge, “this is not the grandfatherly gentleman we elected.”

Yes, before all of that, it seemed as if everyone was talking about “S-Town.”

“OK, I need you to listen to the new S-Town podcast,” said a friend via text. “It’s seven hours … I’m sure you have spare time, right? It’s right up your alley – small town characters, a little mystery; so well-written and well done.”

I recognized the writer’s sentiment immediately: It was like when I read a book that I like so much I beg someone else to read it so I’ll have someone to discuss it with.

If you missed the hoopla last week, “S-Town” is a podcast hosted by This American Life producer Brian Reed and produced by the creative team that brought Serial to NPR.

The series focuses on an Alabama man, John B. McLemore of Woodstock, who reaches out to Reed about an alleged murder he believes was covered up in Bibb County. As Reed almost half-heartedly begins asking questions about the alleged murder, he gets drawn into the life of John B. and the characters who surround him.

As it opens, listeners hear the first phone conversation Reed and John B. had, a dialogue that followed several messages and emails. John B. sounded like some of the people I hear from at the newspaper late at night – the story might be plausible, but then again, the caller might be not quite right, my mother would say.

“Being with him really felt like really being off the grid in a way that the normal rules of society don’t totally matter, and he created that feeling,” Reed told The Tuscaloosa News last week. “I admire people who, by the force of their personality, force you to kind of exist in the world a little differently.”

As the story unfolds, listeners learn that John B. was a brilliant man, slightly mysterious man, who indeed eccentric. But he and his circle of friends proved fascinating.

When one of his friends described how much she loved the community’s high school homecoming, and most especially the annual turnip green dinner that goes along with it, I might have snorted. But even as I laughed at the description, I could imagine that I might have described any one of the annual covered dish events we attend in a similar way.

If you cannot tolerate strong language, don’t pursue this podcast.

But if you can enjoy Southern characters and would like an escape from missile attacks, Russian intrigue and impeachments, download the episodes and tune in.

And call me. Like my friend, I really need someone to talk with about this.


Michele Gerlach is publisher of The Star-News.