WOODSTOCK, Ala. — At the foot of his Bibb County grave, curiosity seekers can find examples of things that were close to John B. McLemore’s heart.
Over the last year, the Green Pond Presbyterian Church cemetery has become a site of interest to those outside of Woodstock, a place where many have come to pay their respects to a man whose voice still lives on in “S-Town,” a podcast that has been downloaded nearly 77 million times since it was first released last March.
Adorning the ground are different kinds of flowers, a baseball, Wild Turkey 101 bourbon mini-bottles, an LP of “Eugene” by Crazy Joe and the Variable Speed Band and spare change. On the back of the headstone is a rendering of a sundial with a phrase McLemore once said on the podcast: “Life is tedious and brief.”
The popularity of “S-Town” has been anything but brief.
Since its release a year ago, “S-Town” has become one of the mojst popular podcasts in history. The podcast, produced by the team behind “This American Life” and “Serial,” ”S-Town” delves into the life of McLemore, who committed suicide in 2015, as well as the people close to him in his home of Woodstock.
Wednesday will mark the one-year anniversary of the show’s debut.
A year after its release, it still remains of the most popular podcasts in the world and topped the iTunes’ Top Podcast charts for months. As of Friday, “S-Town” ranked in the top 30 most popular podcasts on the chart for that week.
No one is more surprised about the show’s success or its widespread appeal than its creator, Brian Reed.
“I wasn’t thinking about that when I was making the show,” Reed said. “It was something that meant a lot to me and my co-workers that I liked and hoped some people would listen to, but I didn’t have any kind of notion of the scope of the listenership.”
Ultimately, Reed has a theory for why “S-Town” has remained relevant a year later: the power of good storytelling.
“I think a good story sucks you in and makes you re-evaluate your own life, your own attitudes and your own preconceptions,” he said. “It’s funny, it’s emotional, it makes you feel things. That’s what a good story does and I think that’s what people are going for because those are things we actively do when we tell a story.”
Although McLemore never lived to see the success of the show, others have been changed because of it. Cheryl Dodson, wife of Woodstock Mayor Jeff Dodson and a friend of McLemore’s, said the show changed her perspective and motivated her to do something about the issue of suicide.
It took a week for Dodson to listen to the show the first time.
“It was very painful to hear his voice again,” Dodson said. “I think I grieved him more the second time than the first.”
After the show was released, Dodson started a blog to document her feelings on the show, her relationship with McLemore and how the show opened her eyes to the struggle McLemore was going through.
“I wanted to tell more to it,” she said. “I think it has ended up being a really healing thing for me.”
Since starting the blog, Dodson has received letters from across the globe thanking her for telling more about McLemore’s life and what made him special.
“They would all talk about how they connected to the story and how many of them had lost people to suicide,” she said.
Dodson said that through the show, she has learned about how fragile life can be and how important it is to use one’s life for good.
“I’m 45 and before, I was just thinking I want to slow down and live a simpler life,” she said. “I felt like I was going through the motions, but now I have purpose.”
Some people in the Woodstock area have conflicted feelings about “S-Town,” whose popularity caused an influx of journalists and tourists to the area over the course of several months.
Tyler Goodson has mixed feelings about the show, which was ultimately used against him in court. Back in October, Goodson pleaded guilty to taking some things from McLemore’s property after he passed away. Before, Goodson had claimed that he had only taken what was his, but prosecutors argued he went onto the property after being told not to by law enforcement.
In the case, prosecutors used Goodson’s comments in the podcast to add more charges against him.
Attempts to reach Goodson for comment were unsuccessful, but part of an interview he gave to local NBC affiliate WVTIM-13 after the show’s debut gives some insight into his feelings about the show.
“It’s caused a lot of stress in my life, and my life’s been pretty stressful as it is and it hadn’t really helped much,” Goodson said in the interview. “Sometimes, I regret ever speaking into that microphone because I was probably upset or wasn’t thinking clearly.”
Chris Price, a mechanic at Woodstock Motors, said he has only listened to a little bit, but likes what he has heard.
“It’s still on my to-do list,” Price said as he was cleaning his car at the West Blocton Quick Wash Friday.
Despite having not listened to a lot of the show, Price said he is aware of the reaction to it, especially in the media, where different reporters and TV crews would come into town for months to learn more about McLemore and the town.
“It was kind of weird because nothing like that happens in a little town like this,” he said.
Information from: The Tuscaloosa News, http://www.tuscaloosanews.com