A Punk House near Summit Street

The Bad Idea, part 2

When I first moved to this midwestern city almost twenty years ago, I would take the exit off the highway heading south, which is a continuous roll right onto Main Street until you hit the double intersections at Depot and Summit streets. I would exit the highway, take the first right onto Summit, go across the tracks and up the hill.

As I moved into my new apartment, this journey became most joyful. It was the beginning of a whole new life. I lived in the Water Hill neighborhood when only hyperlocal folks called it that. Now it’s labeled on the map. Since then, some things have changed, but are somehow still reliably the same.

And conspicuously, shortly after I deliberated on whether an idea is good or bad in my brief and silly essay, Wonderfully Bad Ideas, someone reminded me of The Bad Idea.

The Bad Idea was a punk house on north Main Street near Summit. I’m not really sure who actually lived there, but the rotating cast of characters always kept it interesting. The house was next door to a party store and often host to many a house party featuring local bands. One of my favorites was a three person punk rock band called Narwhals Collide. The saxophone player would roll into the room on roller blades and play the whole show on wheels.

There would be a slew of performances during a house party — live music, comedy, magicians, clowns, acrobatic troupes — a diversity of performance art. There were other punk houses too, some right across the street, but The Bad Idea held a special place in the punk scene. It was a haven for freely experimenting with artistic ideas and not worrying whether an idea was good or bad. It was, after all, The Bad Idea.

And while The Bad Idea house was a symbol of pure joy, it was largely in disrepair. The house was eventually abandoned and razed to the ground. I think it might have caught fire at one point, but I don’t quite remember.

It is, however, definitely gone, along with the music store that closed across the Summit Street intersection, though the music store had disappeared before I moved to the neighborhood up on the Water Hill. And now, just a few streets over, there is a distillery that makes a collection of liqueurs, named after the neighborhood. Creativity continues to persevere and flourish.

There are other interesting things on the north end, such as the annual summer tradition of the shopping cart race during punk week (notably, a perfect example of a wonderfully bad idea). This side of town has an interesting mode and character. The stretch of road near Summit Street to the north highway is… not what you might expect on the edge of a quaint, tree lined city. It’s an industrial side that appeals to my preference for rugged landscapes and to me, it’s perfect. It symbolizes raw elements of inspiration.

A land of ideas.

Perhaps you’re wondering if I have an update on the bad idea in question —

In fact, I do. What may have seemed like a silly endeavor was actually a practice of calculating risk. First, I parsed several different threads of a creative idea that were tangled up into one. I decided against any elements that carried too much risk with too little reward, with some acceptance of the better parts of the idea, and with a mitigation plan in place to manage any remaining inherent risk. Because somewhere in there is actually a very good idea, and to get to the high reward, taking some risks is part of the deal.

So, in essence, evaluating whether an idea is good or bad is really an assessment of risk and reward. What are the benefits? What are the risks? Are the benefits/rewards worth the potential risks? How certain are the benefits? How likely are the risks to occur? What is the level of risk aversity? Personally, I tend to be quite risk averse (low tolerance for risk). Sometimes, though, I will see potential for high reward and it will hold enough meaning for me that I will tolerate higher risk.

And this simple risk/reward evaluation was what The Bad Idea punk house symbolized, although there was, of course, much caution thrown to the wind. Otherwise, where is the fun to be had? And if you wanted to be part of the chaotic fun of artistic experiments, you needed a personal invitation. The Bad Idea managed risk by maintaining personal connection.

Essentially, an idea (especially a creative one) can be more complicated than simply ‘good’ or ‘bad’, as I so frivolously dissected. It is a mess of things that can be carefully evaluated, and from there you can decide its value — and whether to act on it, or not.

Just some interesting considerations, illustrated with some historical context from a midwestern city’s North Main Street, near the other side of the tracks.

Dandelions now populate the landscape where The Bad Idea house once stood. May 11, 2022. Photo by author.

Essay 007 of the 0100 series. Note: If you are familiar with the neighborhood history I discuss in this essay and have any corrections in the interest of preserving punk scene legacy, please feel free to reach out and let me know.

© Dawn Nelson, 2022



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Dawn Nelson

Dawn Nelson

Artist, writer, strategist ~ creative nonfiction and periodic episodic rambling and reflection ~ www.dawn.earth ~ also on substack dawnnelson.substack.com