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I spent a good portion of last weekend listening to a podcast recommended to me by a close friend. 

“S-town” is a production of This American Life, and it’s characters and subject matter hit very close to home. Quite literally. 

Not a podcast enthusiast, I ventured somewhat trepidatiously into what is, or was, for me, an uncharted medium of experiencing a story.


James B. McLemore lived an uncommonly common life. He grew up in Woodstock, Alabama, and made a living restoring antique clocks.

Never at home in Woodstock, but rooted there, he developed a love/hate relationship with his town, and the people in it. He was, in many ways, “too much” for the people of “S-town”. Many people knew him, but didn’t really know him. And that is the beautiful tragedy that surrounds his story.

I’m sure it’s everywhere, but especially it seems so in the rural south, characters like John are everywhere. I identified with his struggles. To feel like you belong….yet don’t. 

To outsiders, that is, those who haven’t lived and grown up in a place like us, it can seem as though we spin our wheels by continuing to live in a place where life can seem anything but progressive. “Why do you stay there?”

I’ve been asked this question. I’ve asked myself this question. And it’s a hard thing to explain. 

For me, and I would speculate for John, the simple answer is, “It’s home.”

We live in a place that in many ways we’ve outgrown, yet stay. Maybe to try and leave a tiny splash of color on a landscape that can appear faded and outdated to those who don’t really know it. Or even to those who do.

My hometown is bigger than S-town, but the mindset is very similar. There are people in John’s story that appear to be mirror images of individuals I have known myself. 

S-town is a tragic story, beautifully crafted and narrarated, and given to the world. The lessons of time and how we spend it, are an underlying theme sprinkled throughout the words. It is an exceptional piece of storytelling, and one that continues to resonate with me. I suspect that it always will.

I’ve absorbed it. Ruminated on it. Dissected it. And allowed it to inspire me in many ways. That, to me, is what makes art valuable. Its inspirational and transformative abilities. 

I’ve included the link to the podcast. If you’re feeling brave, I’d encourage you to listen to it. Fair warning though: the subject matter is mature. The language profane, more than it isn’t at times. But if you’re able to deal with that, I highly recommend it. 

John’s life was tedious, and brief. So is mine. So is yours. And all of our stories are tragically beautiful. And whether you’ve experienced the same mentalities that exist in places like S-town or not, I suspect his story will touch you in some way. 

Good stories always do. Which is why I love them, and have made a commitment to tell them.