Despite the long hours he spent with John B. McLemore while making the “S-Town” podcast, host Brian Reed says he wouldn’t call their relationship a “friendship” — because he and McLemore were bound by the dynamic between reporters and subjects.
McLemore first traveled to Woodstock, Alabama, the town at the center of “S-Town,” three years ago, after McLemore reached out to him in his capacity as a “This American Life” producer. He told Reed he thought someone in town had gotten away with murder, which led to a complex, empathetic portrait of Woodstock and McLemore that veers from Southern Gothic to a metaphysical exploration of how we should spend our time on Earth.
“We got to know each other. I cared about him,” Reed said in an interview released Wednesday on the “Longform” podcast.
He added: “Very little was asked about my life, so it’s not a friendship. Because a friendship would be two ways, or if it wasn’t two ways, I would have a right to be like, ‘hey dude, you’re being pretty self-centered.’ But it’s my job to just listen and ask questions. And it’s an interesting relationship.”
Reed said he had the sense that McLemore enjoyed having a reporter around to collect his thoughts, which included long, impassioned monologues about clock repair, global warming, and child molesters. Sometimes they feel like digressions, and other times like the real subject at hand, regardless of whatever subject they set out to discuss.
(Warning: A major, major spoiler is ahead, and you should stop if you haven’t listened to the second episode of “S-Town.”)
Reed’s deepest regret about “S-Town” is an obvious one: He wishes McLemore had not committed suicide. He had trouble listening to his recordings with McLemore for a long time after his subject’s death.
But he also said he had gotten some sense of peace by talking to friends who said McLemore had planned to kill himself for years. Some of those friends believed McLemore had found peace after years of suffering from depression.
While Reed certainly doesn’t support suicide, he explained, “I’m willing to allow for there to exist in the world people who believe that they should be able to do that.”