Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Closing The Door

On January 2nd of this year, the Double Door Inn held its final show. After visiting and photographing the building for 23 years, I was witnessing the last night of a place that had come to mean so much to me. My emotions that night were mixed. As others came to grips with the venue’s closing, I silently held out hope for the building to be moved. It was something that myself and others had been working on by this point for months, with occasional flickers of hope. 

I first stepped into the Double Door in January of 1994, on an excursion with a local video and TV group. I first attended a Sunday night blues jam. Twenty-three years later, almost to the day, I would photograph the final blues jam at the Double Door. Over time, my love of photography and music would drive me to document so many great shows at the Double Door. It also would lead me to help put together the first edition of Home Of The Blues in 2008 with the late Debby Wallace, a local music fan and aspiring writer. 

When we did the original book, Debby had never written a book before, and was at times unsure about putting it together. By the time that she turned in a draft, it was unfinished, and four months overdue. Up against a deadline for publication with out original publisher, I put together that first version in a weekend, adding interviews, sorting out the structure, and finding the ending buried within the texts. I learned a lot in putting that book together. I cannot tell you how much fun it was the first night we sold copies at the Double Door, during Happy Hour. I’m so glad that Debby got to experience that. When she passed away suddenly a month later, I became the shepherd of the book. Ordering copies, taking care of questions, and working towards a second edition of the book in 2013. By this time, I had formed my own publishing imprint, Fort Canoga Press, to make sure that books like this one were published the way I wanted to see them released. My original plan was to do a third edition of the book for its 50th anniversary, but life and other plans got in the way.

When many of us heard that the Double Door was closing, and that CPCC was buying the building, we were heartbroken. We know how this going to turn out. Over the next few months, a few of us in Charlotte quietly began an attempt to save the building. It quickly emerged that moving the building, and getting the building away from CPCC was the only viable option. 

This back and forth with CPCC continued via email for months. After the Double Door closed in January, a larger group of Charlotteans got involved. By mid-January, our plan was in place, and was presented to CPCC. While I cannot go into who was involved, I can tell you that it was a remarkable coalition, and one that I wish would use its brainpower for more proejcts in the Charlotte area. 

Once again, CPCC rebuffed our offer, which would have cost them nothing, and continued plans for demolishing the building. Let’s be clear about this. CPCC had every chance to save the building, or allow it to be moved to another location. And they didn’t want that. Multiple excuses by multiple presidents, and their minders. In retrospect, our plans were largely based on faith and hope. One hand hoping for the best in ten other hands, and so on. Would it have worked? What would have happened from there? And what point would it have not been the Double Door Inn? I don’t know. Sometimes, the closer you get to the sun, the more you can’t see beyond the sun. And in turn, the harder you fall.

If you have recently driven by the former site of the Double Door Inn, you may have noticed that part of the exterior has been preserved. This is not a total surprise, to me. Former CPCC president Tony Zeiss offered to appease his friends by turning part of the new building into a music venue, and honor the Double Door’s history. When CPCC came calling about photos of the Double Door, the venue put them in touch with me, the man involved trying to save the building. All of this does beg more questions. Did CPCC demolish the Double Door Inn, so that they could own its memory? And why didn’t they state their intention, in the first place? You can build all of the statues you want, until they fill the greenway, ten times over. But when you destroy history, it is gone. Forever. When there is no building for the next generations to see what all the fuss was about, no marble and tile can ever do those places justice. Statues are only a reminder of lives once lived, and replacing life with more statues does ourselves and our stories a cold, infinite injustice.

When everyone had through their greiving about the loss of the Double Door, mine was just beginning. When others had moved on, the month of February found me in quiet mourning. But the book, in its third and final edition, began calling to me. The book became my catharsis, and my step into the next chapter.

Over the last few years, I have evolved into being more of a binge writer. Some of it is due of my lack of a regular writing schedule, and some of it is my work frame of mind. In short, I have become a writer with a photographer’s tempermment. I’m absolutely focused on writing when I do so, but give me other projects to tend to, or photograph work to do, I walk away from what I’m working on, and it takes me forever to get the wind behind my writing that I had some time before. It works fine for essays, but larger writing projects feel like start and stop affairs. It can be frustrating, even for me. Why am I working on this project again? Didn’t I finish it, already? But walking away from a peoject like the Double Door can sometimes be a good thing. It allowed me to step back, think about how the book could do, and how best to structure the new book.

In early March, I had a large project to write for. I wrote ten short pieces for the project. Eight in one night, and two the next morning. As soon as I sent out the pieces, I began work on the Double Door book, that same morning. For the next two days, I wrote non-stop. Some sections, I re-wrote along the lines of what Debby had originally written, and others I completely re-wrote from scratch. A format also emerged for the book, to help set it apart from the other two editions. Begin the book on the last night, and then go into the history of the venue. The book then meets up in the final pages with the last night of the Double Door, and then completes the story. I’m fascinated by stories that move in circles, and not completely linear. The more that the circles return to where they have been before, more can be revealed. I wrote the last section first, then the beginning, and then wrote throughout the rest of the book. Some of it was planned, but I largely wrote based on what felt right, and then did some editing from there. Readers may also note that the book is still credited to Debby Wallace, and myself. The work began with Debby, and ends with me. A promise is still a promise, no matter how many years ago such promise was made. 

I did make one mistake in the process of writing the book. Just as I began to see the end of the work on the book, I had to put the book down to work on other things. And for a few weeks, it drove me crazy. The worst thing a writer can do is see the finish line, even if it is a mirage. You’ve seen the end, and now you just want to find it, even if it isn’t time yet to do so. After a few weeks of working on other projects, I carved out the time to finish off the book, and begin to make it ready for its final version.

I knew that I wanted a whole new set of interviews for this book. Over the period of several weeks, I started interviewing everyone that would talk to me. Nick and Matthew Karres, all four Spongetones, longtime barman George Mandrapilias, and others. Reading the original book now, it's a good book, but I wanted more. Now, I feel that the book tells a more complete story, and provides a lot more information. Most of the interviews were also done by the time I started rewriting the book. That way, what they had told me was already in my head, allowing me to have my writing be in tune with their words.

What surprised me the most in writing the final version? Learning about the rich history of the building, and the famous hands that the building and street passed through before it became the Double Door Inn. The house, originally listed as 4 North Fox Street in the 1930 census, was probably built around 1924 by the Wearn family. When the house was built, the road did not have a name, and would not have one for a few more years. The city of Charlotte’s records are all listed by street address. Somewhere in the archives, the building order is hidden away, languishing with many other homes that were built before their streets were named. But we know that William Wearn Sr. sold the land to his son on December 20th of 1923. I held the original deed in my hands, as well as the deed, written in longhand, when Wearn Sr. bought the entire plot of land from Stephen Torrance. As a researcher and archivist, this was what I live for.

The line that defines the book, for me, came late in the process of writing. I had written the end of the book, but I knew that one paragraph needed one more line. Something that would bring everything else I had written into sharp focus. As I began to fall asleep late one night, the line emerged in my head. The Double Door Inn passed through many of us, just as much as we passed through it. I woke myself, wrote out the line, and emailed it to myself, so that I would see it again the next morning. It’s amazing that you can write a mountain of words, but it can take only one line to define everything that you’re trying to do. And if you’re lucky, or working hard, or both, that line emerges through the clouds, and onto the page. 

What did the journey of the last several months teach me? That we may not always win the battles that we would like, but that does not mean that they weren't worth fighting for. That the best story isn’t always told at the time, but given time, will be told. That a building can be more than a biulding, when we as humans give it the chance to be. And that the things we love can continue to live on in our hearts and minds, if we remember to not let fear, anger and bitterness win us over. As difficult as that all can be, we are better for the journey when we allow the best of life to pass through us, and lead us from where we once were, and into the next story.
-Daniel Coston
July 4, 2017

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