Dave Gorman

The author of America Unchained comes to Belfast with gimble in hand

Dave Gorman is new to the book reading scene. So, in the run up to his appearance at the 10th Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival, he did some research, bought a gimble and got to grips with the nature of the beast. ‘I’ve learned one very important thing,’ he states. ‘Always read out loud.’

Gorman is here in the Waterfront Studio to read from his bestselling book, America Unchained: A Freewheeling Road Trip in Search of Non-Corporate USA. But his was never going to be a conventional book reading.

He begins by saying that yes, he’s proud of his book; proud of every word, in fact.

To prove his point he asks a member of the audience to pick a number between one and 378 - a page number. He then asks another to choose a paragraph number, and another to choose a word. The woman chooses word number nine. ’Carpet,’ Gorman recites. He smiles knowingly. ‘I’m very proud of that word.’

Gorman spends the requisite amount of time going back over the genesis of America Unchained - how a tour of small theatres led him to lose sight of the America that he loved; how, with the intention of writing a book, he determined to drive from coast to coast alone in search of the America of old; and how More 4 muscled their way in on the project and convinced him that a documentary would be worth while.

His first director developed a bad back and forced Gorman to veer from his chosen path - toward the interstates and the big cities. It wasn’t her fault, Gorman insists, but the detours got to him. ‘If I could go back and do it all again,’ he admits later during the Q&A session, ‘I would do it without the film.’

As he leads up to his one and only reading from the book - an hilarious account of escaping icy weather fronts, gun-wielding Eminem look-a-likes and ignorant cops who actually do run him out of town -, with mic in one hand and book in the other (held open with his wonderfully simple gimble contraption), Gorman does his level to do America justice.

He hates the fact that some Americans encourage their fellow citizens to boycott WalMart not because they sell semiautomatic weapons but because they sell Broke Back Mountain. As an aetheist, he berates Christian fundamentalists not for their belief in God but for their lack of tolerance. But he refuses to lump all Americans together. ‘The vast majority of Americans are decent, hardworking, family and community orientated, welcoming, friendly individuals,’ he concludes.

True, there were highs and lows on his long, unsuccessful journey into the heart of non-corporate America, but the highs will forever outweigh the lows. He encourages us to venture outside of the tourist Mecca’s of New York and Los Angeles and discover middle America. 'The people there are worth the trip in themselves,' he declares.

And in the end, whilst recalling the final straight of his journey, Gorman actually sheds a tear. It’s clear that his sense of achievement, his life affirming discovery that America remains a country built around strong community values, has not yet worn off.

‘Did you meet any Americans who claimed Irish ancestry?’ hollers one audience member, to a chorus of belly laughs led by Gorman himself.

Gorman’s response perhaps sums him up best - it’s not your average observation. ‘It’s funny,’ he says. ‘You’ll find Irish Americans, Scottish Americans, Welsh Americans, but you’ll never meet an English American. For some reason, which I can’t quite understand, the English tend to dissolve when they move abroad.’

Lee Henry

Did you se the show? What did you think? E-mail your comments to info@culturenorthernireland.org