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  • Writer's picturePaul Burston

“All is transient” - or why I bother

Updated: Mar 4

“All is transient. Does it matter? Do I bother?” - David Bowie


Three years ago this month, I received a grant from Arts Council England for a Polari national tour. It would be our biggest tour to date – 22 live events all across the country. Then the country went into lockdown. Festivals were cancelled. Venues closed, some never to open again.


Like many, I familiarised myself with Zoom and moved some events online. Over the next two years, between lockdowns and often with social distancing measures in place, I was able to host physical events, too. The tour grew, amounting to 25 events instead of the planned 22, and employing more authors, poets and spoken word performers than ever before. I also found the time to write a memoir.


Hospitality and live arts were two of the industries hit hardest by the pandemic. There was a time, not so long ago, when we wondered if we’d ever enjoy them again. It’s one reason why, lately, I’ve been making more of an effort to go to the theatre and support my local LGBTQ+ venues in London and Hastings. Community venues were already under threat before the pandemic. Many are still struggling. “Use it or lose it,” as they say.


In many ways, We Can Be Heroes is a memoir about loss – loss of loved ones, loss of innocence, the passage of time. Yesterday I heard about the death of Steve Mackey. I knew Steve a long time ago, before he became famous with Pulp. He appears in the book. He was 56 when he died, which is older than many of the friends I lost back in the ’90s, but still far too young.


Reading the obituaries, it’s clear that Steve was a fighter. I still remember him as the young lad with long flowing locks who worked at the same market research company and harboured dreams of pop stardom. The last time I saw him he’d fulfilled his dream and was sporting a sharp wedge. Otherwise, he was exactly as I’d remembered – just as handsome, just as friendly, just a great guy. What a sad loss.

With Christopher Fowler and Joelle Taylor at Polari


Today I heard that another great guy has died of cancer. I knew Christopher Fowler for many years and admired him for even longer. I read his celebrated novel Spanky long before meeting its author, who was a kind, warm, witty man and a wonderful writer. He read at Polari many times and was always a pleasure to work with. Chris was an incredibly prolific writer. Books, blogs, words just seemed to flow out of him. I loved his work and was in awe of his output. My thoughts are with his husband, Pete, and those who’ll feel his loss the most.


As much as my book is about loss, it’s also about clinging on, acting up and fighting back. It’s about learning to live better. Sometimes it feels as if every day brings another stark reminder that life is short. As David Bowie says in the film Moonage Daydream, “I’m dying. You’re dying. All is transient. Does it matter? Do I bother?”


Some days I ask myself the same question. And on days like today, I think of people like Steve and Chris and I answer emphatically, “Yes, I do!”


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