Dreaming of a Huckleberry Finn-style adventure on the Mississippi Claire Boucher – better known as indie music star Grimes – and her boyfriend tried to sail down the Mississippi River on a DIY houseboat loaded with live chickens, a sewing machine and 20 pounds of potatoes. Kickass choice of bagage for a kickass journey!
Grimes the indie music star
Grimes made name as indie’s hottest new star in 2012. Her first two albums didn’t make too much noise, but ever since Visions came out in 2012 —with its buzzworthy video “Oblivion,” shot at a McGill University football game in Montreal—she quickly rose to stardom and became one of the fastest rising, most praised stars of the indie world.
And in 2015 her star rose even further when her new album ‘Art Angels’ made a splash in the charts worldwide mainly driven by the hit single ‘Flesh Without Blood’.
Great song to listen to while reading the rest of this article by the way
But Grimes is not too big a star for a good old school adventure yet! Kudos to her adventurous spirit.
Some years ago Grimes and her then boyfriend, dreamed up the plan in their hometown of Montreal, did some internet research and then traveled 25 hours from Montreal to Bemidji, Minnesota, (close to the source of the Mississippi) where they spent a month constructing a 20-foot houseraft on a friend’s property with the intention of sailing it down the Mississippi River to New Orleans.
Building the ‘Velvet Glove Cast in Iron’
For more than a month, they toiled over the engineering of the 20-foot boat to make sure it floated. They installed accordion folding doors, glass windows, pink shutters and painted murals in black, white and red paint of fantastical creatures on the sides. Strangers gave them bikes, a mattress and the sewing machine (powered by on-board batteries). They got a copy of Mark Twain’s “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” which neither of them had read, but somehow was the inspiration for their adventure.
Once the boat was ready they named it the “Velvet Glove Cast in Iron” and renamed themselves “Veruschka and Zelda Xox” for the trip.
Names indeed worthy of a grand adventure across one of the world’s greatest rivers.
“I always wanted to live on a boat,” Boucher / Zelda Xox said. “We both wanted to go south and live on it when we get to New Orleans.”
A false start
When, after a month of frantic construction work, the young couple pushed off from the riverbank in north Minneapolis the first week of June 2009 they were…..well not quite ready for what was to come.
Moments after they shoved off from land the first week of June their engine began to sputter and gurgle. They made it to the other side of the river and tied the boat to a tree, determined to repair the motor and be on their way again in a few days.
They were awakened one morning by Minneapolis park police officer Rob Mooney tapping the side of their boat with a stick. Mooney gave them until the next Tuesday to gather life jackets, paddles and other supplies – items required by law. They were lucky enough he left them alone with a warning as they it is equally illegal in Minneapolis for boats from tying up to any tree in a park without a permit.
“I love the idea of the Tom Sawyer adventure,” Mooney said. “The problem is it’s not 1883. You can’t do that anymore. You have to follow the rules.”
When Mooney returned a week later and saw Boucher and Gratz’s chickens grazing and signs of camping, they were given citations for camping and alcohol consumption in the park and told to move along.
“We were just trying to get our act together so we could get away from here” Gratz said. “We didn’t want to float down the river out of control.”
So under pressure of a once again returning police officer Grimes and the ‘Velvet Glove cast in Iron’ set sail and started floating down the mississippi. But without a properly functioning engine the next leg of their journey was much more precarious. After entering the channel without a working motor, they began to drift toward rocks jutting out of the water. Surrounded by caution signs, they frantically pushed away from the danger using sticks reaching an island.
The island seemed to be a haven for canoes and other boats, they said, so they set up camp and made plans to resume their search for a working motor over the next week. Swimming was the only way to reach the river bank, so several times a day they would jump in the water and bring back tools wrapped in plastic bags.
An uncertain journey
The tranquility of the island didn’t last long. This time, the Hennepin County Sheriff Office’s water patrol showed up and told all of the boaters to leave by that evening in advance of the closely situated Lowry Bridge demolition that Sunday. Another boat towed the Velvet Glove Cast in Iron to Boom Island where they set up camp again.
Determined to get the engine working they started working hard. However after not too long Mooney, the police officer that firstly warned them, spotted them. That’s where the trouble started.
“I personally allowed them for a couple weeks to try to solve the problem on their own,” he said. “It was clear that they couldn’t get it done. So seeing them again without any progress and still in a big mess I couldn’t allow them to continue their journey”
The city loaded the houseboat onto a flatbed trailer and took it away.
On Thursday, Boucher and Gratz took a city bus to the impound lot to retrieve whatever they could carry from the boat. They searched for a jar of wild rice so they could make dinner for the strangers who are letting the couple stay with them for a few nights.
The couple say they can’t afford to fix the minor damage from the towing or have the boat hauled back to the river. They’re planning to continue their trip south by bus. The chickens can’t be reclaimed without a Minneapolis address and permit, so they will be sent to a chicken farm. Its fate uncertain, the Velvet Glove Cast in Iron rests next to burned-up and smashed car carcasses.
Boucher and Gratz still have a few people rooting for them.
“I would love for them to go,” Mooney said. “I hope they do it. They just gotta get their act together”
And that, unfortunately, hasn’t happened so far.
An idea for anyone else?!
A music star that actually managed to completed a kickass trip is Swedish star Sofia Talvik who made a 25,000 mile roadtrip across the USA while playing gigs and cooking meals along the way.
Also Dotan Negrin’s piano hauling roadtrip was a hell of an inspiring musical journey.