Artist StatementArts & Culture

Stephen Copeland Talks Double Door Inn on Book Anniversary

Life outside the 'House of Rising Sounds'

Stephen Copeland (Photo courtesy of Stephen Copeland)

There’s an essay from Thomas Merton, the Trappist monk, author, poet, social commentator, and perhaps the most influential and widely published spiritual writer of the 20th century, that rang especially true to local author Stephen Copeland while he was working on his latest book.

“Merton says some people never see a tree until they think of cutting it down,” Copeland says, paraphrasing the essay. “What he’s saying is that we have an obsession in this country with commodifying everything and attaching our own usefulness to that thing. It’s like, ‘Can things just be as they are? Let’s just not view trees as things that are only useful if we cut them down.” 

Copeland’s book, In the House of Rising Sounds: A Boisterous Music Bar, a Faith in Transition, and the Thin Space They Inhabited, is not about deforestation but the loss of a historic music venue in Charlotte. 

When Copeland learned of the Double Door Inn’s imminent closing in 2016, he decided he would spend as much time as he could in his favorite venue, swathing himself in the emotions that would come with the news and writing his way out of them.

Along the way, he met and introduced readers to a number of unforgettable characters, some of whom still play local blues joints and dive bars across the city.

In the lead-up to the one-year anniversary of his book’s May 2023 release, we caught up with Copeland to check in on how the book’s been received and how his own spiritual journey ties in with his writing process, among other topics. 

Queen City Nerve: We’ve only traded a few emails, but I feel like I know you closely. What’s it like to write such a personal book, putting yourself out there for the folks whom you didn’t already know? 

Stephen Copeland: I think that’s one reason I’m drawn toward memoir. It’s just an interesting craft. I mean, a memoir isn’t a journal. If you’re just treating it like a journal and you’re just like, word vomiting all over the place and getting out your undealt-with emotion or trauma or whatever, it’s like, okay, I mean, that’s great, but you’re really not serving your purpose as a memoirist. Really a big thing about memoir is your story becomes its own avenue for the reader. 

As I was going to the Double Door, it’s like, “I’ve got to write my way out of this place.” I really tried to figure out what’s the best format to make this book accessible to people that may have never heard of the Double Door. How do we make this accessible to people that live in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and have never even been to North Carolina?

The namesake double doors of Double Door Inn. (Photo by Daniel Coston)

I felt like a memoir was the best route, to bring my own story into it, show why this thin place is so important and impactful, and maybe help some person reading out West or wherever they may be, up in Canada, whatever, maybe they feel like they’ve been to the Double Door now. 

That helps them to awaken to the thin place in their own reality. That could just be the dinner table. They’re going through a tough time, and all of a sudden it makes you pause and it’s like, “Wait a second. Yeah, I’m exhausted, but I’m here with my family. We’re having a home-cooked meal, and this moment is sacred somehow.” 

I think many people are familiar with what a third place is, but how would you describe the thin place to someone, because it was my first time hearing it here in this book.

Thin places, from my understanding, come from pagan Celtic tradition, where there were these times in the year where they said that the veil and their reality became very thin; they could see to the other side. That became, I don’t want to say hijacked, but in Christian mysticism, it more deals with heaven and earth, where heaven and earth become strangely thin and you realize you’re in this space that is sacred — but not sacred in the way that religious people describe sacred, sacred in the sense that you’re connected to everyone and everything around you. 

Language falls short of explaining experiences like that, but we all need those experiences. When I first went to the Double Door Inn, like a lot of Americans, perhaps, I was completely caught up in doing a performance. “I’ve got to do this, this, and this to get here,” and I was not taking care of myself and just really obsessed with accomplishing and performing, attaining, all these verbs, and the Double Door was an invitation into being

Charles Hairston performs alongside Jim Brock at Double Door Inn
Charles Hairston performs alongside Jim Brock at Double Door Inn. (Photo by Daniel Coston)

The Double Door had a unique way of doing that because they just didn’t give a shit — I mean, to their fault, too, to their detriment. It’s like, maybe your website shouldn’t look like it was from the ’90s. (laughs) 

So I guess my pitch for thin places would be like, we’re so caught up in these things, we’re so busy that we’ve forgotten how to gaze and how to listen. In America these days, especially amidst our polarization, we’re so busy talking when there’s a real power in listening and having disciplines and practices that help to train our ears. There’s no better place than that for me than the Double Door.

It’s not tied to a physical space, but that’s sort of how I view journalism, having the opportunity to sit with someone like yourself who has done or is doing something I respect and just listen. It’s as therapeutic for me as anything else. 

Yes, you’re exactly right. That’s a huge aspect of journalism is a posture of openness and listening and a curiosity like, “Oh, maybe there’s something I don’t understand here.” Maybe at the end of the day, I’m still going to disagree with the person I’m talking to, but maybe they hold the key to my own conversion in some way. 

I think the Double Door, at least for me, it was like it helped to tune my ears, made me pause, made me be, and maybe begin to awaken to the depth and beauty that’s rising all around us, and particularly in the places that I least expect. When my mentor first took me there, I was like, “This dude’s going to kill me.” You first go to that place, it’s this old family home and you’re like “Really? This is the blues Mecca?”  

The Double Door Inn before its demolition. (Photo by Daniel Coston)

What are your thoughts when you drive by the location now? 

I was completely disoriented the first time. We caught a show at the Visulite when the [Friday Night] All-Stars were still playing together. I was telling [my then-girlfriend, now-wife] Lauren, we had just started dating at the time, but I was like, “I’m pretty sure that’s where it was.” 

Now that we’re a year out from the release and you’ve had time to sit with it and hear feedback, how are you viewing the book differently, if at all? 

I’m really proud of it still. I feel like I probably should have marketed it more. That’s not my forte, marketing. I’m a creative so I like to write and then move on to the next thing. 

Did you find a decent audience for it, though, just in terms of people around here, at least? 

Yeah. The publishers say it’s doing well. I think we got some good local media coverage in Charlotte. 

How often do you find yourself at live music venues in Charlotte these days? 

Not as much as I’d like. Right after the Double Door closed, I moved to Nashville for a couple of years, which was awesome. Just being able to, any day of the week, catch a show anywhere. You’re like, “Why is this person not on the radio?” I moved there for about two years. Then my wife and I lived in NoDa. We loved it. But then COVID hit. Then we had kids.

We did go to the Neighborhood Theatre a couple of times. We loved Evening Muse. I’m still hoping to get out to Smokey Joe’s. I haven’t seen Shana [Blake, formerly of the Friday Night All-Stars] out there yet. We’ve been to Jazz at the Bechtler a couple of times to see Ziad [Rabie, also formerly of the All-Stars].

Shana Blake fronts the Friday Night All-Stars at Double Door Inn. (Photo by Daniel Coston)

You recently released the audiobook. Did that process bring anything new to the forefront for you? The process of sitting there and reading it out loud?

Well, I’m a perfectionist, so I did catch a couple typos. (laughs) But the reading, it was pretty fun. I was like, “Wow, I believe in this thing.” But then going back and editing it, I was like, “I hate my voice.” The editing was the most tedious part. 

What has been your journey religiously? I think most people would write this book about their favorite bar or music venue and not think to make it so spiritual, but you can tell that you’re very versed in the language. 

So, I mean, I’m not a fan of labels. I found a certain home in, I can call it Christian mysticism or Franciscanism, which is under Catholicism in the tradition of St. Francis of Assisi and St. Clare of Assisi. I don’t have the greatest experience with religion, just the judgment that so often rises up from religion, judgment toward people that are different, that check the boxes of their creed. I just found that really discouraging. 

The mystics and the Franciscans, there’s flaws there, too, as with anything, but I like that it holds together complexity and diversity. To me, it’s something, at least right now, and this could change, but it’s something that I can endlessly explore. I think that both integrate Eastern spirituality as well in a way that a lot of Western evangelicalism in particular, but Catholicism as well, do not. 

Read more: Terrance Simien Shares Double Door Love Story Before Queens Show

I’m getting my Master’s in Franciscan theology through the University of San Diego. They have a Franciscan school of theology out there. But yeah, the language for the book is more of a necessity than anything … It was like, what I’m experiencing is uniquely spiritual, and what I mean by that is that it’s connecting with me on a really deep level, so I just had to rely on language that I had studied and knew. But I don’t want to push people toward anything. I more so want to invite them into the mystery.

SUPPORT OUR WORK: Get better connected and become a member of Queen City Nerve to support local journalism for as little as $5 per month. Our community journalism helps inform you through a range of diverse voices.

Related Articles

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *