Mary Lyn Maiscott

"Unity and Change" with Rosanne Cash

Rosanne Cash at the Church of Saint Luke in the Fields.

“I think someone’s in there.” As I turned toward the person speaking those words, I thanked her for letting me know that the restroom, in a small hall just off the altar of the Church of Saint Luke in the Fields, in Greenwich Village, was occupied. The woman, wearing a red top and white blazer, was seated nearby, her hair an interesting, complementary shade of red. She was singer-songwriter Rosanne Cash. 

I’d come to last evening’s church event partly to hear Cash sing, but this was more than a concert: it was also, as billed, a night of “unity and change,” specifically, “a call to action for gun control.” So after the Young People’s Chorus of New York City sang a spirited, heart-melting rendition of “Bridge over Troubled Water” and a song called—appropriately enough—“Give Us Hope,” John Rosenthal, founder of Stop Handgun Violence, and Kurt Andersen, host of NPR’s Studio 360 and author of Fantasyland, spelled out the devastating gun-death statistics (Rosenthal) and the irrational ideas that can cause people to place the right to gun ownership, with no regulation, above all else (Andersen). Singer-songwriter Mark Erelli, who met Cash after tweeting her his song “By Degrees,” performed two original, moving songs dealing with social issues, "Abraham" and "Rose-Colored Rearview." Later, Cash, with John Leventhal, her husband, on guitar, sang her song  “Western Wall” and, to chilling effect, Bob Dylan’s “License to Kill.” At the end of the event, Erelli joined them for a rendition of “By Degrees,” which has been recorded by a group that includes Erelli, Cash, and Sheryl Crow; it will be released October 19, with all proceeds going to Gabby Giffords’s eponymous gun-control organization.

Members of the Young People’s Chorus of New York City at St. Luke's.

I used to live on Hudson Street right across from the lovely, 19th-century St. Luke's church and have wandered through its charming, serene little garden many times over the years—and bought a few things at its adjoining thrift shop. This Episcopal church has brought a lot to the community, including the series that the event was part of, “Conversations That Matter.” How very sad that it is necessary to have this particular conversation. The many gun-related facts Rosenthal informed us of—the one that stayed in my mind was that, on average, a child is shot every 30 minutes in America—were horrifying to hear, and the main message from all of the participants was that we are not doing enough to end these continuing atrocities. With the help of such organizations as Stop Handgun Violence, perhaps we can each find a way to do more. And it will be easy enough to purchase “By Degrees” and keep these lyrics from happening in our own lives: “You can learn to live with anything/When it happens by degrees.”

At the reception that followed—in a separate, rather dark space; we all took a winding path through the church grounds to get there—I thanked Rosanne Cash again, lightly referring to our pre-show meeting in the church hall. But I am more profoundly thankful that she and others are working in my community and outside of it for this literally life-and-death cause.