Staffed as fashion icons, musical muses and love interests, groupies have played a pivotal role shaping the industry. Pamela Des Barres founded the groupie band, the GTOs, which was produced by Frank Zappa. The Rolling Stones wrote “Ruby Tuesday” about a groupie Keith Richards once knew, and ‘Sweet’ Connie Hamzy was name-checked by Grand Funk Railroad. David Bowie hired Cherry Vanilla, self-proclaimed groupie, as his super publicist, and Tura Satana taught Elvis Presley some of his famous moves. They’ve inspired dozens of songs and broke, even more, hearts, and Midnight Rambler is re-imagining the stories of the groupies behind the feather boas and swathes of suede.
Vanessa Hollander, one-half of Wiissa, the duo behind the project, explains her fascination with groupies. “I entirely devote myself to the bands I love, by listening to their music constantly, reading all of their interviews, watching their music videos, and basically trying to get as close as possible to their music in any way I can,” observes Hollander. “I wanted to be the musicians just as badly as we wanted to be with them. Rock bands were my life, and I was always called a ‘groupie’, even though I had never even met a musician, let alone slept with one!”
The “G-word” was thrown around by her peers who dismiss devoted music fans, particularly teen girls. It’s seen as a hysterical, infatuated thing that’s sole interest is sex with a star. “I started getting really interested in what people meant when they used the word groupie as an insult, and wondered why being a real groupie was a bad thing,” says Hollander. “So what if someone wants to sleep with a musician? And so what if they sleep with many band boys? Why is it impossible to genuinely love someone’s music and also be sexually attracted to them?”
Hollander and Wilson Phillippe work together as Wiissa, a film and photographer duo in New York. “We’re film obsessed, and this film is shot on a mix of Super 16 and Super 8 formats, with a bit of digital footage thrown in,” says Hollander. “We like creating our dream world, they are sometimes idealistic, like a world where groupies all support each other and don’t have too many bad experiences.”
The filmmakers found Almost Famous in high school, and Pamela Des Barres’ I’m with the Band encapsulated everything they loved about groupie culture. The photoshoot scene in the film was directly inspired by the photoshoot Baron Wolman did for the Rolling Stone Groupie Special Edition in 1969. A vintage copy of the actual issue made a little cameo in the film. It’s the lifestyle that Midnight Ramblers celebrates: that of style icons, actresses, models, publicists and musicians in their own right, redeeming the tarnished and tired reputation. The word “music”, says Hollander, comes from the Latin mousikē, meaning ‘art of the muses’: so groupies aren’t to be so easily dismissed.
Midnight Ramblers has no specific timeframe but draws heavily from the 60s and 70s, the heydays of the groupie. There was a sexual revolution going on, and young women were liberating themselves with music and sex. “Each character is based off a mixture of my own experiences, the actresses' experiences and those of the groupies that I have read in Let’s Spend the Night Together and I’m with the Band,” says Hollander.
“Some of the girls in the film are groupies themselves, have boyfriends in a band, or have in the past. I’ve had the amazing fortune to live my teen dreams by working with some of the musicians whose music I used to obsess over and cry to, so a lot of those feelings of wanting to get near my heroes served as an inspiration to create the characters. The girls we worked with are all amazing, and the interviews are a mix of my loose script and their improv based on experiences.”
“We imagined Midnight Ramblers as a name the groupies might call their group of friends. They are the girls rambling through the streets at night in their tall platforms, strolling from show to show, hurrying before their favourite band goes on stage.”