I’ve never been a massive podcast person. I’m not one of those people who turns up at work singing the praises of US comedian Marc Maron’s last awkward celebrity encounter on WTF. My Dad Wrote A Porno didn’t get me all hot and bothered. Hell, I only ever thought true crime sensation Serial was alright. I adore radio to an almost worrying extent, but the thought of nerdily downloading episodes and listening to them like an audiobook always seemed to take away from the spontaneous nature of tuning in to Radio 4, NTS or NPR and simply getting stuck into whatever happened to be on.
The closest I’ve ever got to geeking out over a podcast was with Karina Longworth’s extended Charles Manson investigation on the old Hollywood series You Must Remember This. But that’s because I have an unhealthy interest in all things weird and spooky from the ’60s. However, the past few days have seen me utterly gripped by S-Town, the latest, well-worth-the-hype creation from the producers of This American Life. A seven-part spectacular, it was released last week, Netflix-style, with all episodes available at once, perfect for greedy bouts of binge-listening.
I finished the last episode about an hour ago, and I don’t think I’ve been this emotionally moved by a piece of storytelling since that bit when they try and take Dumbo away from his mum at the circus. Set in Woodstock, Alabama – unaffectionately known as ‘S**t Town’ by its complex, fascinating protagonist John B McLemore – the show is a modern, real-life take on the classic Southern Gothic tale: a steamy small town where relationships are fractured, people are strange and nothing is what it seems.
It’s hard to write too much about the show without giving away important aspects of the multi-stranded plot, suffice to say, if you’ve listened to S-Town already you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about. But if you haven’t, then please go and immediately download this vital seven hours’ worth of broadcasting, cancel all of your evening plans for the next few days, ignore calls from family members and get stuck in. The strands are multifarious, from time and tattoos to mazes and memory, sexuality, race and religion. Oh and clocks, lots and lots of clocks. John B McLemore proves himself to be one of the single most interesting characters I’ve ever read about, seen, or heard of. If he didn’t exist, years from now a great author would have invented him. Sometimes though, the truth really is stranger than fiction.