WARNING: This post contains spoilers about the S-Town series
Nothing in S-Town is simple. What was initially believed to be a podcast about an alleged murder in a small town turned out to be a multifaceted exploration of a man’s life that was as complicated as it was fascinating.
The same complexity can apply to the show’s use of music. As each hour unfolds in the seven-episode series by the creators of Serial and This American Life, the dark-and-twisty journey listeners are on is suddenly met with a sound so jarring, it’s impossible not to pay attention. What plays at the end of each Southern Gothic-esque chapter is “A Rose for Emily,” a melodic song from 1968 by the British rock band The Zombies. Though light in tone, the lyrics actually tell a heartbreaking tale of loneliness:
She watches her flowers grow
While lovers come and go
To give each other roses from her tree
But not a rose for Emily
And as the years go by
She will grow old and die
The roses in her garden fade away
Not one left for her grave
Not a rose for Emily
The bittersweet ballad stems from William Faulkner’s 1930 short story, which John B. McLemore, the main subject of S-Town, gave a copy of to host and producer Brian Reed during the first days of their initial meeting. Faulkner’s tale depicts a wealthy woman from a fictional town in Mississippi who died a “spinster.” During her life, she became a recluse and her peculiar behavior often caught the attention of the nearby townspeople. It’s hard to ignore the parallels between the story’s main character and McLemore, both misunderstood beings who lived lives of solitude and mystery.
As EW’s Joe McGovern notes in his review of the podcast, Faulkner’s sad tale could easily be subtitled “A Rose for John B. McLemore.” Listen to the full song by The Zombies below.