BTRIPP (btripp) wrote,

Celebrity reading ...

OK, so I have to admit, the main reason that I picked up Craig Ferguson's American on Purpose: The Improbable Adventures of an Unlikely Patriot, was to read up about his old band-mate (and new 12th incarnation of the Doctor) Peter Capaldi. Who would have thought, back when they were in the Glasgow punk outfit The Dreamboys, that one would be an American late-night TV fixture, and the other would be in the most iconic of UK television characters?

As regular readers of this space will sense, while I'm open to reading biographies/autobiographies, they aren't a major segment of my library … although they can be a welcome break from the “same old same old” if I've been in a bit of a rut (and those Social Media/Marketing books just keep on coming), and this was a delight to read. While the book is hardly self-congratulatory (frankly Ferguson beats himself up quite a bit here, with what seems to be reasonably unfiltered looks at his past), judging by it Ferguson has got to be either one of the luckiest guys on the planet, or simply smashing brilliant.

While I watch him fairly regularly (his talk show is right about in that overly-late hour that I think about getting something to eat for dinner, so am kicking around in the kitchen with the TV on), I've hardly followed his career. I knew him initially from the old Drew Carey show, and am familiar with his on-line @CraigyFerg persona, but I had no idea of all the stuff he's been involved with. He has written and starred in a number of movies (most notably, Saving Grace, but has had roles in vehicles as disparate as the classic English sci-fi romp Red Dwarf to the voice Owl in Winnie the Pooh), he's penned a well-thought-of novel, and has built up a solid stand-up comedy side-line. Very little of this is actually detailed in the book … just the major projects (well, some minor TV things – that I'd never heard of – are in there too for their “narrative advancing” properties), which gives the impression that he sort of “stumbled” into success … when he was actually working quite a bit more than one would get from just this.

At least half of American on Purpose is Ferguson dealing with his inner demons, from his pudgy “outsider” youth, into his punk band years (there's a pic of him in this which totally channels Sid Vicious at his most drugged out), and into his forays in various aspects of show business. Ferguson was a hard-drinking, hard-drugging knock-about, but evidently with enough talent to keep getting acting, comedy, and related gigs. Much of the first two thirds of the book are the arc of him from birth to sobriety (he quit drinking in February 1992), including his break-through into a certain level of fame following his “Big Hitler” comic success in the 1986 Edinburgh Festival Fringe. As a recovering alcoholic myself, I was able to intimately relate to Ferguson's struggles with chemical dependence, and that is a key element of the story being told here.

The over-all arc of the story, as one might infer from the title/sub-title combination, is a bit of a love letter to America. In his youth, Ferguson had a chance to visit the U.S. with his father, who he told (while up in the old observation area in the crown of the Statue of Liberty) that he'd live in America one day. While I can be as jingoistic as any Constitutionalist looking out at the insanity of other parts of the world (or even Washington D.C.), it's refreshing to see Ferguson's take on the U.S. and our culture. He gives a very touching illustration of what he sees in America in a baseball analogy … in that you can totally fail seven out of ten times, but if you keep getting back up to bat, and succeed just three out of ten times – you'll be in the Hall of Fame (i.e. with a .300 batting average) … that plus not having the long-festering sectarian divisions that so mess up older cultures.

One thing I found a bit odd in American on Purpose, and this is, I suspect, a bit of his “telling tales on himself”, is that he goes into a lot of detail about his various personal relationships – including several failed marriages. Now, I have no way of knowing just how representative the ladies he discusses are (they might be just the tip of the iceberg, if they follow like his acting credits here), but he deals with each in detail, and makes a point of having a photo of each in the picture section. I don't know why this struck me as odd, but I was wondering what purpose that served … was it just a way to do a more significant “shout-out” to his exes, or was this some sort of back-hand bragging (all of them are quite attractive)?

Again, I really didn't know what to expect when I ordered this (I picked up a used copy of the hardcover over on Amazon for 1¢ plus shipping), but it is a nicely balanced, funny, touching, and eye-opening book (some of the stories of his working with Johnny Carson's old producer are fascinating). Its main arc is that love-letter thing, but with clear sub-arcs of his substance problems, his love life, and his career. The book ends with him heading back to Scotland at Christmas 2008, as his mother was dying … and did so soon after he was able to visit her in the hospital. He has a chance to frame the rest of the book with a wander around his old haunts and a coming to grips with his being Scottish and American … a very emotionally satisfying note to end on.

American on Purpose is still in print in paperback and ebook editions, so is likely available in the humor sections of the larger brick-and-mortar book vendors (as wells as via download), but, as noted, “like new” copies of the hardcover are out there in the new/used channels for as little as penny – so you don't have any excuse for not snagging yourself a copy if this sounds like something you'd like to spend a few hours experiencing. It's hard not to be impressed with Craig Ferguson after reading this, because his story sure can't be all about luck.

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Tags: book review
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