James Howard Kunstler on John B. McLemore of S-Town
The following addendum, by James Howard Kunstler, originally appeared on the Clusterfuck Nation blog titled “Wonderland,” on April 10, 2017 .
I was quite surprised to hear that a podcast called “S-Town,” about the dark doings in an Alabama backwater, had become a huge hit on the Web-waves. Back around 2012-2013, I had some email correspondence from John B. McLemore, the tragic figure at the center of the series. He was a real person, referred to by various people in the series as “brilliant,” “a genius,” “a real character,” and he was for sure.
Apparently, he was also a fan of my books. He got my phone number off my website and took to calling me on the phone. I probably had a dozen long phone conversations with him. Hours. It is well-known now that he called his home of Woodstock, Alabama, “Shit-town.” He regaled me with many a sordid tale of the home-folk, and even of himself. The place sounded like Hieronymus Bosch meets Dogpatch. Since John B seemed so unhappy under his mask of hilarity and mirth, I tried to encourage him to think about moving. He always had an excuse for not doing that, but clearly John B and the neighbors he disdained, fought with, looked for love with, had a synergistic thing going. They needed each other to play out their never-ending crazy scripts of cracker mischief, vengeance, and failure. After a while, John B went dark. I thought he’d just gotten tired of me telling him to move.
I was startled to hear in the second episode of the “S-Town” podcast that John B had made good on his constant intimations of suicide. Startled, but not especially surprised. He was more than a fish out of water. He was like a Martian suffocating in an atmosphere too heavy for him. I suspect the truth is there are thousands of places like “S-Town” all over America, places devastated by the poor choices of the last several generations — most particularly the way they threw away their livelihoods and surrendered to one vice after another in boredom, defeat, and self-loathing. It’s a very sad story and it’s not over yet by a long shot.
— James Howard Kunstler