S-Town

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S-Town
An elaborate set of gears surrounded by flowers
Artwork by Valero Doval
Presentation
Hosted by Brian Reed
Genre
  • Investigative journalism
  • Serialized audio narrative
Language English
Production
Production
  • Brian Reed
  • Julie Snyder
Theme music composed by Daniel Hart
Ending theme "A Rose for Emily" (The Zombies)
Audio format Podcast (via streaming or downloadable MP3)
No. of seasons 1
No. of episodes 7
Publication
Website stownpodcast.org

S-Town is an investigative journalism podcast hosted by Brian Reed and created by the producers of Serial and This American Life.[1] All seven chapters were released on March 28, 2017. The podcast was downloaded a record-breaking 10 million times in four days,[2] and it had been downloaded over 40 million times by May.

Synopsis[edit]

In 2012, antiquarian horologist John B. McLemore[3] sent an email to the staff of the show This American Life asking them to investigate an alleged murder in his hometown of Woodstock, Alabama, a place McLemore claimed to despise. After a year of exchanging emails, and several months of conversation with McLemore, producer Brian Reed traveled to Woodstock to investigate.[4]

Reed investigated the crime, and eventually found that no such murder took place, though he struck up a friendship with the depressed but colorful character of McLemore. He recorded conversations with McLemore and other people in Woodstock, which are played on the podcast.

McLemore killed himself by drinking potassium cyanide on June 22, 2015,[5] while the podcast was still in production. In the narrative of the podcast, this occurs at the end of the second episode; subsequent episodes deal with the fallout from McLemore's death while exploring more of McLemore's life and character.

People involved[edit]

Brian Reed (middle) and Julie Snyder (right) interviewed for an S-Town session at Vulture Festival in Manhattan.
  • Brian Reed – host and executive producer
  • John B. McLemore – horologist
  • Mary Grace McLemore – John's elderly mother
  • Tyler Goodson – John's younger friend and employee[6]
  • Jake Goodson – John's employee and Tyler's brother
  • Kabrahm Burt – rumored to have murdered Dylon Nicols[7]
  • Dylon Nicols – purported to have been murdered by Kabrahm
  • Allan "Bubba" Cresswell – co-owned a tattoo parlor with Tyler[8]
  • Skyler Goodson – Jake's wife
  • Allen Bearden – John's friend and a horologist based in Pell City, Alabama
  • Reta Lawrence – John's cousin
  • Charlie Lawrence – Reta's husband
  • Jeff Dodson – mayor of Woodstock and briefly John's business partner
  • Faye Gamble – Woodstock town clerk to whom John spoke on the phone while he committed suicide

Title[edit]

Though the podcast was promoted under the name S-Town, Reed reveals in the first episode that this is a euphemism for "Shit Town," John B. McLemore's derogatory term for his hometown of Woodstock, Alabama.[1] Reed generally refers to the podcast by the non-euphemized name in the episodes themselves.

Episodes[edit]

All episodes were released simultaneously on March 28, 2017. The podcast is available to stream or download for free on the official website, iTunes,[9] Stitcher,[10] Radiopublic,[11] or through the RSS feed.[12]

# Title Length (minutes:seconds) Original release date
I"If you keep your mouth shut, you'll be surprised what you can learn."51:57March 28, 2017 (2017-03-28)
After more than a year of correspondence, investigative journalist Brian Reed visits John B. McLemore’s small hometown Woodstock, Alabama after John’s request that he investigate the murder and cover up of a young man named Dylan Nichols. John informs Brian that Kabrahm Burt bragged to an acquaintance named Jake Goodson that he had killed Dylan. After many failed attempts to speak to Jake Goodson, Brian begins to suspect that John is hiding something. After days of searching for evidence with no results, Jake’s wife Skylar drops by John’s on whim and finally confirms that she was there when Kabrahm admitted to killing Jake.[13]
II"Has anybody called you?"41:11March 28, 2017 (2017-03-28)
Brian begins to question the validity of the murder, he goes around probing for more answers from the people of S-town only to find that they are fixed to the idea. Uncertain about directly confronting Kabrahm, he speaks with Tyler, Bubba and other locals to learn a bit more about John. Finally, Brian seeks out Kabrahm to hear from the suspected murderer firsthand, however, he discovers that the murder was completely fabricated. John explains his discontent with the indifference of the people in S-town. A couple weeks after this discussion, Brian hears of John's death.[14]
III"Tedious and brief."53:04March 28, 2017 (2017-03-28)
IV"If anybody could find it, it would be me."61:34March 28, 2017 (2017-03-28)
V"Nobody'll ever change my mind about it."61:25March 28, 2017 (2017-03-28)
VI"Since everyone around here thinks I'm a queer anyway."46:02March 28, 2017 (2017-03-28)
VII"You're beginning to figure it out now, aren't you?"62:27March 28, 2017 (2017-03-28)

Music[edit]

S-Town incorporates various specially composed pieces of music throughout the episodes from composers Daniel Hart, Helado Negro, Trey Pollard, and Matt McGinley, including an S-Town theme produced by Hart.[15] The show's closing music, used at the end of each episode, is "A Rose for Emily" by The Zombies.[15]

Further developments[edit]

Shortly after the release of the podcast, John's online obituary was flooded with support and shared reflections from around the world.[16] In an April 2017 interview, Tyler Goodson said that he sometimes regrets "ever speaking into that microphone because [he] was probably upset, or wasn't thinking clearly" since he faced trial for the criminal actions that were described in the podcast.[17] In October 2017, Goodson pleaded guilty to the burglaries that were described in the podcast, and he will serve five years on probation with a ten-year suspended sentence.[18]

Reception[edit]

S-Town was culturally popular and received mixed[disputed ] critical reviews. The Boston Globe's Ty Burr thought the show was complex and voyeuristic. He asked the question "is S-Town a freak show for the NPR crowd?" and described the series as "seven chapters of provocative red herrings that almost but never quite add up to a place, a people, or a man".[19] Jessica Goudeau from The Atlantic questioned the ethics of the series, asking "is it okay to confess another person's pain for the sake of a good story?".[20] Goudeau also wondered how Flannery O'Connor, Robert Lowell, or Elizabeth Bishop would have reacted to the podcast and the exploration of poor, white, rural America.[20] Slate's Katy Waldman wrote that S-Town feels more like a new genre, "something more like aural literature".[21] Vox's Aja Romano called the podcast "stunning", but suggested the podcast was too invasive and should not have been made.[22]

The podcast's critics claimed that the studio took advantage of John's death in order to gain publicity. Crixeo, an online arts monthly, argues that Reed did not have the right to publicly out John as queer.[23] At the same time, other views contend that S-Town was a way for them to take the story of John's death and shed light on mental health in the U.S.[24] The Atlantic's Spencer Kornhaber praised the series for its journalism, and humanism, as the series "hints at the possibility of cultural reconciliation" within the community.[25] Rebecca Nicholson from The Guardian called the series "a noble attempt at understanding life", as the series showed "the great hope that resides within", by showing a person trying to survive within their surroundings.[26]

The Guardian gave S-Town a critical review. The opinion piece called S-town “a good story, but an indefensible one.” The article states that the podcast is supposed to leave you feeling positive, however instead it feels forced. The author feels that the podcast doesn’t fully addressed the main quandary at the center of S-town.[27]

By May 2017, the podcast series was downloaded over 40 million times.[28] It retained a high ranking in the iTunes chart and continued to be analysed in the press well into 2017.[29] Since then, the podcast remained popular and had been downloaded 77 million times by the anniversary of its release.[30]

Awards[edit]

S-Town podcast received the Peabody Award for 2017 in the category Radio/Podcast.[31]

George Foster Peabody Award

  • 2017 WBEZ/Chicago, IL, S-Town, “S-Town” breaks new ground for the medium by creating the first audio novel, a non-fiction biography constructed in the style and form of a 7-chapter novel.[31]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b Locke, Charley. "The Creators of 'Serial' Are Back With 'S-Town,' a Binge-Ready New Podcast". WIRED. 
  2. ^ Moran, Rob, "New podcast from Serial makers, S-Town, breaks download records", The Sydney Morning Herald, April 3, 2017
  3. ^ Taylor, Drew. "Woodstock man at the center of "S-Town" podcast". tuscaloosanews.com. Retrieved 29 March 2017. 
  4. ^ Dibdin, Emma. "How The Serial Team's New Podcast S-Town Evolved From True Crime Into Human Tragedy". Esquire. Retrieved 29 March 2017. 
  5. ^ "John B. McLemore Obituary - Bessemer, Al". The Birmingham News. Internet Archive: Legacy.com. 26 June 2015. Archived from the original on 26 December 2017. Retrieved 9 December 2017. 
  6. ^ Dwilson, Stephanie Dube. "Tyler Goodson of S-Town: 5 Fast Facts You Need to Know". heavy.com. Retrieved 29 March 2017. 
  7. ^ Larson, Sarah. ""S-TOWN" INVESTIGATES THE HUMAN MYSTERY". newyorker.com. Retrieved 1 April 2017. 
  8. ^ O'Neill, Connor Towne. "Residents of So-called 'Shit Town' Are Conflicted Over S-Town". Vulture. Retrieved 27 April 2017. 
  9. ^ "S-Town by WBEZ on Apple Podcasts". Apple Podcasts. Retrieved 2017-06-21. 
  10. ^ "S-Town". www.stitcher.com. Retrieved 2017-06-21. 
  11. ^ "S-Town". Retrieved 2017-06-21. 
  12. ^ "S-Town". feeds.stownpodcast.org. Retrieved 2017-06-21. 
  13. ^ https://stownpodcast.org/chapter/1
  14. ^ https://stownpodcast.org/chapter/2
  15. ^ a b "S-Town: Music Credits". stownpodcast.org. Retrieved 3 April 2017. 
  16. ^ admin (2015-06-26). "John McLemore Obituary – Bessemer, Alabama". Legacy.com. Retrieved 2017-06-16. 
  17. ^ Fortin, Jacey; Salam, Maya (2017-06-16). "Tyler Goodson of 'S-Town' Accused of Killing Brother's Dog". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2017-06-21. 
  18. ^ "S-Town's Tyler Goodson pleads guilty to charges tied to events in podcast". The Guardian. Retrieved 13 November 2017. 
  19. ^ Burr, Ty (2017-04-18). "Is 'S-Town' art or exploitation? It's complicated". The Boston Globe. Retrieved 2017-06-12. 
  20. ^ a b Goudeau, Jessica (2017-04-09). "Was the Art of S-Town Worth the Pain?". The Atlantic. Retrieved 2017-06-12. 
  21. ^ Waldman, Katy (2017-03-31). "The Gorgeous New True Crime Podcast S-Town Is Like Serial but Satisfying". Slate. Retrieved 2017-06-12. 
  22. ^ "S-Town is a stunning podcast. It probably shouldn't have been made". Vox. Retrieved 2018-04-10. 
  23. ^ "'S-Town' and the Ethics of Storytelling – Crixeo". Crixeo. 2017-05-29. Retrieved 2017-06-16. 
  24. ^ "7 Ways 'S-Town' Showed How Devastating Mental Illness Can Be". Health.com. Retrieved 2017-06-16. 
  25. ^ Kornhaber, Spencer. "'S-Town' Is a Monument to Human Empathy". The Atlantic. Retrieved 2018-04-10. 
  26. ^ Nicholson, Rebecca (2017-04-03). "S-Town review – it's hard to recall a more touching, devastating podcast". the Guardian. Retrieved 2018-04-10. 
  27. ^ Alcorn, Gay (2017-04-22). "S-Town never justifies its voyeurism, and that makes it morally indefensible". The Guardian. 
  28. ^ Quah, v (2017-05-04). "S-Town Has Exceeded 40M Downloads, Which Is Truly a Ton of Downloads". Retrieved 2017-07-24. 
  29. ^ SALAM, MAYA (11 August 2017). "Can't Let Go of 'S-Town'? Here's What to Read Next". New York Times. Retrieved 12 August 2017. 
  30. ^ "'S-Town' podcast impact still felt in Woodstock, 1 year later". The Montgomery Advertiser. Retrieved 2018-04-10. 
  31. ^ a b "News, Radio/Podcast, & Public Service Winners Named". www.peabodyawards.com. Retrieved 2018-04-25.