The cover shot for a jazz album Leigh Ann wanted to make.
-- Liber AL, II:9
Leigh Ann Hussey died in a motorcycle crash westbound on Interstate 580 in Livermore, California about 7:20 pm on Tuesday, 16 May 2006. We have copies of newspaper articles describing that accident, one here and the other here. Caution: graphic detail! We also have an obituary.
We have an FAQ about the accident and memorials.
You can contribute photos to the gallery! Give us a photo to upload.
These are links to other sites about Leigh Ann, submitted by her friends.
This was found on the skeptic tank (http://www.skeptictank.org/what.htm). The page shows a way to transcribe music and chants in regular ASCII text (the stuff you type in your email) rather than needing a music font or fancy composition software. Its introduction says:
Each line of the music consists of 4 lines of music. The time signature(s), the lines between bars, and each note take up one column, with modifiers such as sharps, flats, and dots extending a note up to three columns. The time signature is written at the beginning in the obvious way. Three vertical bars (lines 2 to 4) mark the divisions between measures.
Writing about Leigh Ann's life is a challenge, since it almost becomes necessary to talk about everything all at once. To the extent that these notes seem disjoint, jumping back and forth, I apologize. Some writer somewhere doubtless has the facility to put all this into a coherent whole. I am not that writer. Kindly bear with me while I do what I'm able.
Born in Berkeley, Leigh Ann was a fifth-generation Californian who never left the state except for brief visits. Except for a few married years, she lived in the house her great-great grandfather bought for gold coin in 1920 . (She couldn't remember its exact purchase price, $400 or $600.) That house was previously owned by the area's first female dentist. Leigh Ann's computer room was in the dentist's operating office, which still has the windows frosted to prevent gawkers from seeing in.
Her family's history was quite important to her. She spent a couple years tracking them down, and had an incomplete genealogy all the way back to their arrival at Plymouth Plantation in the 1660s. She has quite a lot of family in the SF Bay Area — in fact, when we went to Walnut Creek to see a production of "A Christmas Carol" in which her brother Colin played Jacob Marley, we were startled to find our [purchased through Bass, assigned seating tickets] seats bearing plaques dedicated to her grandmother, placed by her aunt and uncle.
Leigh Ann never could decide what she wanted to be when she grew up. She was interested in almost everything, but her goals extended approximately into the middle of next month; and when the next thing caught her attention, the previous thing would be abandoned. This was likely the product of a near-genius level intellect and a copious memory coupled with an attention deficit.
Those factors plus a natural competitiveness produced a person everyone tended to remember, no matter how long ago or how often they met her. (Even people she only ever talked to online felt as though they had "met her.") In these days following her death, the overwhelming sentiment I get from everyone I've spoken to or corresponded with is that she inspired them, awed them, dazzled them, or similar superlatives — that she would come into a situation and tend to take it over, attracting people in a way that caused them to accrete to her and follow her lead.
Competitiveness did have its problems, though. She needed to be better than you, faster, more educated. Musicians with whom she played in session have described her as "a very competitive player." The difficulty she faced was that she didn't need to be better than herself: her intellect gave her a natural facility for most things, but while intensely passionate about everything she did, she lacked the drive that would let her attain to a master craftsmanship of the things she tried. Whatever natural facility she had — which was often formidable — was good enough; she never found within herself the discipline to do the boring work of diligent practice, preferring instead to move on to the next hobby that caught her attention.
(But let me not suggest that this means she never delved deeply into anything! Anything that caught her attention caught it completely, and knowing things was one of her prime passions. With every new hobby she would gain a new education, learning as much as she could discover about that thing.)
The intellect and memory did give her a gift for languages and for mimicry. Her second language was French, which she began learning in grade school; she was extremely proud of a French dictionary she was awarded as a prize in school, but despaired of her accent, which she picked up from her Belgian teacher and could not subsequently lose. After French, she learned a smattering of Japanese, and enough Swedish that she was hired by Lucas Arts to play-test a Swedish language Star Wars video game. She knew at least some of all seven of the Gaelic languages, and at one point could converse in both Welsh and Irish Gaelic. She knew some Persian and could write in Arabic; ditto Hebrew. She had spent the last few years teaching herself classical Latin and Greek. She was considering learning Vietnamese, had begun learning Spanish, and wanted to tackle something truly outre such as Urdu.
None of her many and varied talents and accomplishments, though, gave her any true sense of self worth. She hid it well, but was desperately afraid that someone might not like her. All the praise that all her friends could lavish one her might disappear in a moment after someone criticized her or her work. I suspect that many, perhaps most, of us have a touch of that, but Leigh Ann had it in triplicate, an unfathomable willingness to believe bad things about herself. Where it came from I can't know, but I have one possible culprit.
All through public school in Berkeley, she was the unathletic little fat kid, teased and tormented by her schoolmates. She used to hide from them by climbing her "bee tree", a tree that always had a swarm of bees surrounding it, and sit in its branches: the other kids were afraid of the bees, and wouldn't attack her there. This, I suspect, was one part of her lack of self confidence, and may well also have been one of the things that gave her her lifelong rage against those who she felt had wronged her.
On the other hand, it was also in grade school that she became a musician, studying the viola with a private teacher. This was the thing that informed much of the rest of her life: no matter what else fell by the wayside as she abandoned interests, music stayed with her. I think it's safe to say that insofar as we can categorize what Leigh Ann "was", she was music.
She attended college at UC Berkeley, graduating in 1984 as a music major with a minor in Celtic Studies. She was an early member of a Gaelic Studies group led by Dr Jim Duran and others. While at University, she met piper Sean Folsom and began busking with him on campus. That was her introduction to Celtic music; previously she had been a classical violist playing in youth orchestras.
In that, Sean probably rescued her sanity. The politics in those orchestras was bad enough that she nearly gave up music, since it just wasn't any fun. Suddenly, again it was fun. This helped her move on into the rest of her musical career, composing her own songs. Those songs sparked her interest in electronic music: the computer could do things she couldn't, so suddenly her creativity was no longer limited by her instrumental ability. Thus freed, she went on to create four albums before ever she started her first real band. --About which, more later; but, backing up:
At UCB she became engaged to her first serious boyfriend, Greg Poole. He died of cancer shortly before her graduation, leaving her devastated. As a condolence, her grandmother gave her plane fare to England and a 30-day BritRail pass, so she spent a month post graduation on a walking tour around England and Wales. While there, she slept a night on Taliesin's grave, an act that is supposed to give the gift either of second sight or of madness. I won't claim to know which she got.
That combination of college experiences was also her introduction to Neopaganism. She joined NROOGD's FireStar coven in Berkeley, and spent some while there until she became disenchanted with what she thought of as their too-unserious approach to their religion. (One complaint she lodged against the Neopagans she knew was that somewhere in the backs of their minds, its members knew that their religion was invented and were vaguely embarrassed by that, which prevented them from doing it with their whole will — she felt that a part of them was always tittering at themselves from behind their hand.) From there, she founded her own coven, Black Oak, with the goal of making it the coven that Did Serious Magic. Although that coven did gain a reputation as the coven that sang, it too never got to the level of intensity that she craved, so eventually she left it too. When she left, she did it in a blaze-of-glory ritual: we wired Wildcat Canyon for sound, covering a valley in more than a quarter mile of speaker wire, and she led her coven on a partly-blindfolded journey up the Tarot's major arcana from The World out through The Fool. This ritual, unlike any I have seen before or since, was one in which it was possible to fail the initiation: at The Wheel of Fortune, participants had to choose between three paths, of which only one — uphill toward me, The Hermit — allowed one to continue the ritual. Only two chose correctly. And of those two, it was only George Hersh who eventually even understood what the ritual had been doing, when he saw Leigh Ann pick up her bindle and walk away through a garland of flowers, whereupon he backtracked through what he had seen and connected the dots.
Side note: during her time in Neopaganism, she wrote a pamphlet explaining Neopaganism to outsiders, more or less tailoring it (perhaps unconsciously) to try to make Christians more accepting of it. That pamphlet became one of pagandom's standard handouts, finding itself translated into several other languages. She had copies of it in Japanese, given to her by a friend. For all I know, that pamphlet may still be in common use.
Here I branch briefly into another of her fandoms, the medieval recreationist Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA). This confusion of interests is necessary because their timelines are concurrent, both stemming from college and from playing with Sean Folsom.
I'm not clear what brought her near her first SCA event, an indoor midwinter feast. However, being the basically lonely and pessimistic person she was, she didn't go in. Instead, she sat outside, playing her pennywhistle and feeling sorry for herself. The feeling sorry part didn't last long: the local Prince heard the music, came outside, and asked her to come in and play for the assembled populace. She did, and that broke her internal ice: she suddenly had a hundred new friends, plus a brand new abiding passion that lasted many years and introduced her to some of the people who in all the world she considered herself closest to.
I'll say more about SCA later; but for now, back to religion:
Spiritually, she wasn't sure what to do next. What actually happened was nearly an accident ... and I swear I am not making this up. A couple years previously, she had rented a room to Tim Maroney ("Famous Net Asshole[tm]"). While they were not lovers, they were bed buddies; and, though they parted on good terms there was a rivalry of sorts between them — they were both extremely competitive and combative, and so naturally competed against each other. Tim had complained to her that he had spent years trying to join the OTO but couldn't find anyone who would initiate him. So Leigh Ann decided to show him up. She called a friend and asked, "How can I be initiated into OTO?" The friend said, "Ask me." So she did, and they did, and that was how Leigh Ann came to join the OTO.
That joining opened new vistas for her. It showed her a Qabalistic streak that she hadn't realized she had, and helped reawaken her passion for High Church ritual, which she had never lost but which she had suppressed during most of her association with NROOGD. It also introduced her to Caitlin, who became first her gardener and then her wife.
Sidebar. I turn this over to Caitlin, to describe what happened. Caitlin:
It was a Rite of Jupiter in Glenn Turner's garden. I was cast as Agave (the head Maenad) and armed with a wineskin. I heard the most beautiful music from the back of the garden, so I went over to give the musician a drink. I still remember her smile...and I think I fell in love with her right then.
Having found Thelema, she proceeded to read everything she could find about it. Much of it was already familiar to her from her neopagan days, but much wasn't; and the result was a very odd syncretism, melding the thing she was learning from this with the things she already learned from Goddess worship and a nature-centered practice. She also found, or rediscovered, the mystic Sufi and Christian poets, and began weaving them into her metaphysics.
She had created quite a few rituals during her time in NROOGD; she collected some of those on her own web site. When she turned her attention to Thelema, she began doing the same for it. One area was Crowley's Rites of Eleusis: someone convinced her to produce (she later described it as having been "suckered into" producing) the Rite of Luna one year, but she detested the original script and so rewrote it to better suit her taste. That reworking didn't represent her best work, and in fact likely missed much of the point of the original Rite; but from there she went on to produce the rest of the Rites, one per year, and in the course of so doing produced at least two works that I personally think are among the most outstanding pieces of ritual theater: her 2000 Rite of Mars and her 2005 Rite of Luna.
(She would hold up her Rite of Saturn as an exemplar, but I disagree. It stands out primarily for having come closest to giving her the transcendental experience she craved. She loved producing rituals but at the same time hated doing so, because it meant she had to be in charge. What she really wanted to do was to abandon herself to the experience, let it carry her away. In her Vodoun Saturn, finally, she achieved that — to the extent, in fact, that after it was over she spent a couple of hours alternating between unconsciousness and being violently ill.)
[... There is more to come here. As I expand this text, I'll put up notes with editing history; but this is proceeding piecemeal, and I want to get to this thought:]
Motorcycles ... in some philosophical or spiritual sense, one can claim that I killed Leigh Ann, since she became a motorcyclist through — and perhaps because of — me. In the early 1990s, we were both working for the same company, and one of her coworkers was selling his Honda CB360. She was both fascinated and terrified by the idea of riding. We talked about it, and she decided that yes she really wanted that bike, so I bought it for her. It was her only bike for about a year, until she bought a Virago 1100 from a friend of a friend, whereupon the CB360 languished in the back yard, abandoned. As it happens, it rusts there still.
Motorcycling was another thing she fell into with wild abandon. Her bike quickly became her only means of transport, and — typically — she also read voraciously about motorcycles, memorizing (as far as I could tell) everything there was to know about manufacturers, makes, models, years of manufacture ... on and on and on. Leigh Ann enjoyed knowing things about the subjects that interested her (stop me if this sounds familiar), and bikes were a major interest.
[ More to come after this point, obviously. ]
And, one last thing in closing: I love you, Leigh Ann. I have since I met you. I always will.
Many thanks to Pat McGregor for suggesting this FAQ, and for doing the initial work on it from questions she was asked.
About the photos on this page: The background picture is Leigh Ann at San Francisco Pride day 1997, photo by Caitlin. The "LA" album cover shot is also by Caitlin, taken at home in Leigh Ann's temple. And this screen shot from a Google search comes to us courtesy of Michael Butler: