Playing the Field
Rosanne Cash transcends all styles of music with her latest release and donates proceeds to a special church
by Dann Dulin
Rosanne Cash spells her first name minus an “e,” which usually fits between the “s” and the “a.” My guess is that she has instead transferred that letter to the beginning of the word “Enlighten,” which she does for her fellow brethren through her charitable work. The luminous Grammy award-winning cuts-to-your-heart songstress has recently released her song, “Jim and George,” where 100 percent of the proceeds go toward outreach programs at The Church of St. Luke in the Fields, located in Greenwich Village, New York.
The inspiration for “Jim and George” came from friends of Rosanne’s who used to live several doors down from her in Chelsea. They were an elderly gay couple whom she became close to and admired. Though the song was written fifteen years ago, Rosanne, a New York Times bestselling author, singer, and songwriter, wanted to give back to The Church of St. Luke in the Fields, a community she’s been affiliated with for twenty years, and where three of her four daughters attended school.
The Church of St. Luke in the Fields became involved with the AIDS epidemic in the eighties, establishing The People Living with AIDS Project in 1987. One of its activities, from the inception of the program, has been the Saturday dinner and weekend teas. To date, they’ve served over 35,000 PWAs at these gatherings. “This is only a weekend nourishing dinner program, which makes us uniquely popular and important to those afflicted with HIV/AIDS,” offers The Rev. Caroline M. Stacey, Rector of St. Luke in the Fields. “For twenty-six years our outreach has served the HIV/AIDS community and now we serve LGBTQA (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer/Questioning Youth and their Allies) youth as well. We provide prevention and testing in an arts program that also includes a gourmet dinner for homeless kids. It’s a family atmosphere with discipline and love, with a very low barrier to entry. Today we have more than 1,200 youths registered in our program the kids call ‘The Church.’”
The sale of Rosanne’s song, “Jim and George,” benefits these programs and it can be downloaded on the Church’s Web site: www.stlukeinthefields.org/rosanne/.
In mid-February, Rosanne appeared at The Church of St. Luke in the Fields’ second annual Feed Your Soul Benefit Auction. The event was a Mardi Gras celebration with New Orleans cuisine, and the night brought in $10,000 for Outreach HIV/AIDS ministries.
Rosanne stops long enough during her heavy national and international concert tour—and while composing her next album about Southern people—to chat with A&U.
Dann Dulin: “Jim and George” has such lovely lyrics and an engaging melody. Rosanne, tell us about the real people.
Rosanne Cash: Thank you. “Jim and George” were my neighbors—and that’s not their real names. As it says in the song they really did live “three doors down, and two garden walls.” Jim was a bit coarse, a bit foul-mouthed and always joking. George was elegant, quiet, church-going and musical. They had been together forty years by the time I met them.
Why didn’t you use their real names?
Well, actually I wrote the song with their real names, and I told “George” about it, kind of proud and thinking he would be thrilled. He looked very alarmed and said, “Oh dear, no. You can’t use our real names. My family doesn’t know we’re a couple.” Now…they had been together forty years. I’m certain his family did know but he thought he still had to hide it. [When he told me this] it was so innocent and heartbreaking [at the same time]. “Jim” has since died. “George” is in a nursing home.
What motivated you to write the song?
I was inspired to write about them because of their constancy to each other, given their great differences in character, and their kindness and circumspect acceptance of everyone around them.
Tell me about your connection with The Church of St. Luke in the Fields.
The people are the sweetest and kindest in the world, and it is a truly ecumenical church. They accept anyone, people of all beliefs, including those with no beliefs. My daughter Carrie, who was there from Junior Kindergarten to eighth grade, felt so deeply connected there that she now works in the after-school program teaching cooking and art to the smallest children. My older daughter, Caitlin, was married in the church three years ago. It’s a safe and beautiful place.
Have you had any friends or family die from this disease?
I am fortunate that I have not. I have two friends now who are HIV-positive and both are doing fine. One has been on meds for twenty years and he seems strong and well. I feel compassion for the suffering, not just of those who have died, but of those who lost their dear
ones. The swath of emotional destruction is incomprehensible.
Have you participated in any other HIV/AIDS events?
Yes, I have. One in particular stands out to me, which was more than twenty years ago. It was an event in Memphis [where she was born and lived for a couple of years], where part of the Quilt was displayed.
Anything else you’d like to add?
I have a dear, dear friend who lost his partner many years ago, and much of the time the loss still sits on him like a cloak. There is nothing to say about it, no way to help him. He will always live with that. The pernicious nature of the loss of someone to AIDS compounds the normal mourning, I believe. Every sentient being feels the reverberation of that suffering. It has nothing to do with [being] gay or straight.
Dann Dulin is Senior Editor of A&U.