Hey 3.5 readers.
So, I’ve had the chance to listen to the entire S-Town podcast. This post will have spoilers, so if you don’t want to have it spoiled for you, don’t read on.
- It’s hard not to feel a little bit jerked around. After all, it starts out as the wacky and eccentric John B, a prolific hater of his hometown (he calls it “Shit Town,” calls upon a reporter, Brian Reed, to investigate a murder.
- There’s no murder and as a listener, this is disappointing. I mean, obviously I’m glad that there was no murder, but once you learn that early on, you end up wondering what the point of the podcast was.
- Reed, like many good reporters, takes a big nugget of nothing and turns into a pile of something. Often, a reporter will put a lot of time and effort into a lead (i.e. a rumor of a murder) only to have that lead go nowhere. Many reporters, at that point, will throw their hands up in the air and write the time they spent as lost. Reed, on the other hand, kept in touch with John B and the residents of Shit Town for years and after awhile, found a story.
- The podcast tragically shifts gears when we learn that John B has killed himself. John B is a clock restorer, and so time becomes a big theme – how quickly it passes, how John B, while clearly having a screw loose, could still be relatable to the average forty something year old. John B is smart, has an aptitude for science, has skills with chemistry and clock repair – he laments that he didn’t run from Shit Town in his 20s. He can’t vocalize an explanation as to why he didn’t other than no one would have taken care of his elderly mother or his family property. In short, at some point, and maybe we never really know when, but we always think we’re going to break out of our ruts and “become somebody” and depression comes when we get old enough to realize that it’s unlikely we’ll catch some great big break. We then end up beating ourselves up, being able to see our lives in hindsight and knowing what we should have done, though we didn’t know or realize it at the time.
- People on both sides of a dispute can be understandable. John B’s longtime friend Tyler gets in a legal battle with Rita and Charlie, John B’s cousins from Florida that he rarely saw in life. For part of the podcast, you cheer Tyler on, that he’s a quasi-adopted member of John B’s family and that John would have wanted the young man to inherit something from him. But then you also get to know Rita, and you realize that John B hadn’t done the best job of taking care of his mother. Though he did his best, his mother now flourishes with the cousins as they take her places and tend to all her needs. And as distant cousins, they could have easily put the old gal in a home and washed their hands of the whole thing, but they’re taking care of her, and the old lady needs money for her expenses and that would come from her estate and that money won’t be there if Tyler keeps taking things from the property.
- In short, you’re able to see both sides. No one wants to go through the exercise of writing a will. It’s too much of an admission that we will all croak one day, a fact that is part of the human experience and yet we try our best to push it out of our minds because if we didn’t we’d never do anything in life. Still, if you have stuff, and people who would fight over the stuff, best to suck it up and leave behind a legal document that explains what you want to happen.
- It’s a good podcast and Reed is to be commended for sticking with this for so long when most other reporters would have given up and decided there was no story here. He ultimately turned nothing into something.