When I rolled into town twenty-some odd years ago as a teenager with nothing but a busted-up old saxophone and a blown gasket in my hatchback “apartment,” I was as alone as I’d ever been in my short life. After spending my first week or so in New Orleans hungry, getting lost in the Quarter and pushing my dead car/home around corners to avoid getting towed, I met “Washboard Lissa” Driscoll, a.k.a. “Ragtime Annie,” and my fortune changed in an instant. She fed me until I was full and introduced me to my peers and musical elders within the community. She got me up to speed on the history of music in America and showed me how to feed myself by playing to a crowd. She called me out on any and all bullshit (constantly), I mean just walk right up and punch me in the arm to give me the what-for in front of whomever, but she also let me know when I made her proud. Hell, she even bailed me out of jail one time. I showed up here a complete stranger, green as grass, and she not only took the time to get me started, but she bent over backwards to make me feel like a welcome member of her family. And that’s just it: My story is anything but unique. I could introduce you to at least a hundred members of that family right now with stories similar to mine, and that would only be scratching the surface. She touched a lot of people over the years. Real, honest and lasting friendships with people all over. They loved her like they loved the town. Her music was of course amazing and she was a natural born performer, but her humanity was always the thing that stood out for me. She left home at the age of 13, you see, and in surviving this, she ended up an expert in the art of survival with a deeply developed sense of compassion for lost and wayward souls, for the broken and imperfect. As much as she surely suffered in her life, Lissa just brought that much more joy to everyone else. She embodied this whole damn city with her salty attitude, her nurturing spirit, and her ability to throw down. New Orleans won’t be the same without her! She will be sorely missed and my heart goes out to everyone whose life was made better with Lissa in it. Let’s all honor her spirit by living every day to the fullest, speaking our damn minds and taking good care of each other come what may.
“Let us beware of saying that death is the opposite of life. The living is only a type of what is dead—and a very rare type.”
—Friedrich Nietzsche, The Gay Science