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American on Purpose by Craig Ferguson

By Sara | Books | April 14, 2010 |

By Sara | Books | April 14, 2010 |

After regularly watching “The Late Late Show,” following Craig Ferguson on Twitter, and reading American on Purpose all at the same time, I started to feel a bit stalker-y. It’s both strange and wonderful how easy it is to connect with the people we enjoy, and while there’s the argument to be made about too much access ruining the mystery, it’s not all bad. In fact, all this compulsive openness can make it easier to see through layers of professional shite. There’s no middleman, no publicist, just one person unloading their brain in whatever way they see fit.

Much like his monologue, and much like his tweets, Craig Ferguson’s memoir is self-deprecating, funny and honest. And unlike the majority of celebrity memoirs out there, I fully believe he wrote it himself; I’ve read his novel, Between the Bridge and the River, and it’s fantastic. With American on Purpose, I sped through the pages so entertained and consumed, I forgot to make any notes as I went along, instead resorting to my usual method of reading funny things — reciting whole paragraphs to my husband while he was trying to read something else. Or sleep. He’s remarkably indulgent, that marvelous man.

Craig begins with his childhood in Cumbernauld, located on the outskirts of Glasgow, Scotland, filled with rows of housing schemes that might generously be called dismal and hardscrabble. Time has not improved the area:

Fairly recently Cumbernauld was named the second-worst town in the United Kingdom, losing worst-of-all honors to the city of Hull, a dowdy seaport on the east coast of England. I dispute the result; I have been to Hull, and while it is undoubtedly a shitheap, it is no match for Cumbernauld.

One of four children, he grew up in a fairly typical Scottish-Protestant household, got into trouble with other kids and had his first drink as a teenager. At 13, he had the opportunity to visit New York City with his father, a trip that would forever change his life.

Now that… that was love at first sight. I loved it then and I love it still. Even now, overloaded with sanitized bullshit Trump glass towers and condo-yuppie pseudoculture, it is still a complete mindfuck. As a Scottish schoolboy that first time, New York City was the Big Rock Candy Mountain. It was smoggy, bright-hot, filthy and wonderful. It was Disneyland, Oz, and fucking Jupiter. It was noise and smell and lights and people looking like they were in a movie.

From then on, Craig knew he would someday live in America. The path to getting there, and getting to where he is now, of course was not so smooth. He’s been very open about being a recovering alcoholic, and he spends a lot of time in the book describing his descent. However, it never comes across as melodramatic, and he does not focus only on the bad times either.

For awhile, he was a drummer in a few different bands, most notably the Dreamboys, who opened for Altered Images during one of their tours. Even in the beginning, it seems like he had a tendency to run into important or about-to-be figures in the UK:

On that same tour we ran into a band at Aylesbury Friars, a biggish venue in Oxfordshire, England. They were a four-piece from Ireland called U2. They seemed like nice fellows and they sounded pretty good, but we didn’t keep in touch. They’re probably taxi drivers and accountants by now.


Telling the story of one’s own life in a clear and concise way is difficult, and trying to summarize and review that story without going on is even more so. The book is filled with so many touching, interesting and funny passages, how does one highlight the best? (Especially when ‘one’ didn’t take notes?)

Without giving everything away, I can say that some of the best moments come when he talks about the people who influenced his life — from his family, to roommates and longtime friends, and especially the women. He reveres them all, speaks glowingly of their skills and their patience with him, even when he did not deserve it. He gives credit to all the people and places that brought him to where he is today, and it’s a fascinating journey to sobriety and success.

I learned that failure is only failure, and that it can be useful, spun into a story that will make people laugh, and maybe every once in a while give a message of hope to others who might need some.

I’m a big believer in the idea that you have to screw up a few times to get it right — be it with jobs, relationships, anything. No one expects a person to pick up a vocation or hobby with perfection the first time out, so why should our lives be any different? Sometimes the more spectacular the failure, the more you learn. That doesn’t make it hurt any less or make life any easier, but a life without adventure will never bring happiness.

This review is part of the Cannonball Read series. For more of Sara’s reviews, check out her blog, Glorified Love Letters.

Dustin is the founder and co-owner of Pajiba. You may email him here, follow him on Twitter, or listen to his weekly TV podcast, Podjiba.

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