Writes Amanda Hess (in the NYT) about the new podcast "S-Town." She avoids spoilers. You can listen to all 7 episodes here.
I highly recommend it. I listened to the whole thing in 3 days and immediately went back to Episode 1 to relisten (and am up to Episode 3). I consider it a work of art — perhaps a great work of art. The second go-round will tell. The first time through, you're pulled along by wanting to figure out who all these people are and what happened. There are layers of revelations. On re-listen, you see the first hints of what is to come. You see the repetitions of themes — such as time (McLemore is a restorer of clocks, sundials have sad inscriptions about time). You know as characters show up and start speaking in their own way from their own perspective what part they will play in the whole story. If it is a great work of art, it will be better the second time. That's my test.
I'm reading some other articles about "S-Town." Aja Romano has a piece in Vox with a headline that overstates the argument: "S-Town is a stunning podcast. It shouldn't have been made." The text says: "I’m not sure it should have been made." One might say that Reed invested so much of his time — speaking of time — gathering audio and got such great material that he just had to use it, and he processed it brilliantly. It may be so good because Reed, et al, were so desperate to justify using what they had. And McLemore's vivid raving is so wonderful, so fascinating, that it's hard to say it should be suppressed for the reason that you will know if you get to the end of episode 2.
Here are links to the Reddit threads discussing the show episode-by-episode. The top comment at the linked page is:
I wish I had a cousin like Tyler's uncle Jimmy to be my own personal hype man whenever I talk.Is there an ethical problem or are we free to enjoy Uncle Jimmy? Here's how Hess in the fit-to-print NYT referred to him: "Uncle Jimmy, who communicates exclusively through shouted affirmations." Jimmy is a man with a bullet lodged in his head.
"You goddamn right!"
Katy Waldman in Slate says that McLemore "embodies rightwing fantasies about the judgmental elitism of the left." Don't misread that. McLemore is obsessed with everything that's wrong with the world, especially global warming. He rants about it continually, enlarging talk on just about any subject into all the terrible things that are happening in the world. That is, he seems to be a lefty that popped out of rightwinger's fervid caricature. But "S-Town" isn't making a hero of him because he's into lefty issues. In fact, the show lets it become clear that his ravings on these subjects is symptomatic of his devastating personal problems.
Beyond clocks, McLemore also tended to his garden — lots of flowers and an elaborate circular hedge maze. People have found the maze on Google maps, and you can see photographs here.
Despite all the horror at the troubles of the world and the refuge in gardening, the show never mentions Voltaire's "cultivate your garden" resolution of "Candide." But the show does have literary references, notably the William Faulkner story "A Rose for Emily," which I was motivated to read yesterday. The story is mentioned early on, and every episode ends with the beautiful recording "A Rose for Emily" by The Zombies. Listen to that here. That's from the "Odessey and Oracle" album, which came out 50 years ago. Talk about time! (The Zombies are touring, playing the music from that album, and I hear they're great. They'll be in Madison on April 15th. Get your tickets here. I've got mine.)