We say "Netflix treatment," but S-Town executive producer Julie Snyder told Wired that the spinoff actually used novels as a model in the same way Serial used TV. "In a novel, you're entering into a hermetic world," she said. "That's what we were trying to do, that we hadn't yet done with a podcast: where you can enter their specific world, and you don't know really know what it's about or where it's going, but hopefully you're compelled to stay in it the whole time." Just don't expect to be listening to the podcast equivalent of a crime novel, because what you'll get is a Southern Gothic tale wrapped in layers of small-town mystery.
Woodstock man at the center of "S-Town" podcast
This story contains spoilers about the "S-Town" podcast by "This American Life" producers that was released Tuesday.
Two years after his death, a Woodstock man takes the spotlight of a podcast released online Tuesday.
John McLemore committed suicide on June 22, 2015, at his home not long after being interviewed for a story that Brian Reed, a producer on the radio show "This American Life," was working on. The story resulted in a podcast called "S-Town" that chronicles an alleged murder in Bibb County, but changes direction to place McLemore at the center.
Reed said that throughout work on "S-Town," he was drawn to how different McLemore was from other people.
"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," he said. "I admire people who, by the force of their personality, force you to kind of exist in the world a little differently."
McLemore grew up in Woodstock and graduated from Cahawba Christian Academy in 1983. He spent a couple of years at Birmingham-Southern College, where he studied chemistry, but did not complete his studies. McLemore restored and repaired antique clocks, a career that took him across the country.
Nonetheless, McLemore spent his adult life in Woodstock, a place he spoke at length about on "S-Town" before he died. Reed said that through McLemore, he was able to learn about how a community ultimately shaped who he was.
"That informed who he was so much and it mattered to him so much that he never left, and he was so tortured about that," he said. "I think a lot of people have that experience and it's an important experience to document."
Another aspect of "S-Town" is the relationship between McLemore and Tyler Goodson, a friend who worked for him.
"We got pretty close," Goodson said. "He was like a daddy to me."
Goodson spent time with McLemore just hours before he died. Goodson recalls that McLemore was not in good spirits that day.
"He was depressed all day because he was about to turn 50 years old and he acted like his life was over with and all the people that he grew up with were dead and gone," he said. "It was just one thing after another."
Goodson said that McLemore had talked about killing himself for years and that the night he died, McLemore tried to get Goodson to come to his house.
"He always talked about suicide and I just called his bluff and wasn't going to keep listening to him because I felt like I would drive myself crazy running over there every time he hollered he was going to kill himself," he said. "The one time I didn't go over there, he really did it."
Goodson said McLemore's death really affected him.
"I miss the hell out of him, but if I could bring him back to life, I'd probably beat the hell out of him for all the hell he's put me through for killing himself like that," he said.
Allen Bearden, a clock repairman based in Pell City, knew McLemore for years.
"John was probably was one of the most bright and intuitive people I have ever met," Bearden said.
Like many people interviewed for "S-Town," Bearden agreed that McLemore lived an eccentric life.
"John was a little strange," he said. "He didn't conform to societal ways and he was a little rebellious, for that matter."
Examples of McLemore's habits included such not abiding by daylight saving time, his problem with authority and his concerns about global issues.
"He would email me three or four times per week and it would always be stories about global warming, the energy crisis or something along that line," he said.
Nonetheless, Bearden spoke highly of his friend, referring to him as a genius.
Bearden said that toward the end of McLemore's life, he started having more frequent outbursts and began reverting to childhood memories.
"We would have an hour long conversation about toys he used to have," he said. "I had come to his house and he'd build a huge mansion in one of his rooms out of these blocks. He had all these toys in his room."
Bearden said that to this day, he does not know why his friend wanted to kill himself.
"I don't even know if would want to crawl inside John's head because I would probably be lost in the threshold," he said.
Jeff Dodson, mayor of Woodstock, has a different view of McLemore.
"A lot of people would take John to be a brilliant guy, but I don't think that's the case," Dodson said. "I just think that he had a lot of time on his hands to read."
Dodson, who has lived in Woodstock for 14 years, said he and McLemore partnered to open the Woodstock Garden Center, but the nursery lasted only a year.
"John was a different kind of individual, but I feel like he had a lot of issues as well," he said.
Ultimately, Dodson disavowed McLemore's negative view of Woodstock.
"John McLemore does not represent Woodstock," he said.
Bearden said he is glad McLemore's story is being told.
"I'm curious what interest this is going to spark," he said.
For Reed, McLemore's death took a hard toll on him, but he hopes the podcast shares some light on what he believed in.
"John had such a traumatic, persistent and clear vision of what his home was so that was part of the idea of this story was that places are the people in them and what those people make of them and they're built by those people," he said.