Famous for his unorthodox style, Craig Ferguson is perhaps best known as the host of Late Late Night Show in America. However, his talents are not limited to hosting a talk show, but they extend to stand up comedy, acting and writing.
Both of his books have been on the New York Times best-selling list. While I still have to read his first novel, Between the Bridge and the River, I had the pleasure of reading American on Purpose: The Improbable Adventures of an unlikely Patriot and I can undoubtedly say that he surely deserved his best-selling achievement.
American on Purpose is Ferguson’s memoir; a compelling, funny and at times very emotional recounts of his life – from his struggles as a chubby Scottish boy to his wild days as an alcoholic drummer for several fairly popular bands and to his new life in America.
If I had only one sentence to describe Ferguson’s life I would pick his own words:
Between safety and adventure, I choose adventure.
As you flip through the pages and go down his memory lane you can clearly see why he achieved so much even though he struggled with drugs and alcohol for a whole decade. This book could be seen as a story about redemption, however, it is more than that. It’s a tale about faith, not the religious one, but on the conviction that if you work hard enough and find the strength to get up each time you fail and fall on your knees you can achieve your goals. It’s not a lonely journey toward success, but something to do together with your loved ones. Asking for help or even accepting it is difficult but it is what allows us to succeed. To him failure is something that you came across on your way to success, not just in the sense of career or wealth but as a person. In order to change you have to take that step into the darkness and overcome fear.
What I liked about this book is the fact that he doesn’t shy from the ugliness of his troubled past. In fact, he is very candid about his life in Scotland during the 70s and 80s, the era of rock bands and easy-to-find drugs. There isn’t any commiseration or attempt to justify his behaviour. And, while some of these episodes are described in a humorous way, you are still able to perceive his sadness in recollecting them. When asked about his past as an alcoholic he simply replies: Something was living inside me that was completely out of my control. What is more striking is his admission that even now he is still not able to explain alcoholism, which he considers a mental illness. There isn’t an answer to the overly asked question: Why?
There is another key topic within Ferguson’s memoir and that is his belief in the American Dream. While it might be an old and overly written about theme, there is something romantic and impressive in his handling of the concept. In his vision America is not just the “land of opportunities” but a country in which he, as a restless Scotsman, had the chance to be entirely himself. Everything that he was able to achieve so far is the result of him being a child of two countries. He is after all Scottish by birth but American on Purpose.
“I realized that I loved this place, that I always would, and that I would carry it with me wherever I went. I am the child of two parents and two countries. My mother put the blue in my eyes and my father gave me grit. Scotland made me what I am and America let me be it. America gave me everything I have today. It gave me a second chance at life. A life I had previously mishandled so catastrophically. Americans taught me failure was only something you went through on the way to success, not just in the sense of career or wealth but as a person. 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. For me, becoming an American was not a geographical or even political decision. It was a philosophical and emotional one, based on a belief in reason and fairness of opportunity.”