Never Mind The Darkness...
Guns N' Roses
Use Your Illusion I
Director: Andy Morahan
There was a time that I can still remember when MTV used to show music videos. Sadly, that is not the case anymore. MTV has turned into a joke, an archetype of empty commercialism. On MTV's program schedule for 11/09/04, there were 12 hours of reality shows such as The Real World, Boiling Points, Laguna Beach, and Pimp My Ride. This is not an unusual schedule for them. Where are the videos? Well, MTV shows its hour-long video countdown show Total Request Live three times a day. Oh, but they only tape it once a day. And while TRL does technically show videos, there is a news crawler along the bottom of the screen, the videos are often cut short, and picture boxes with screaming girls constantly pop up to let you know just how sexy John Mayer is. MTV has slowly turned into a primer for stupid lazy housewives everywhere. Isn't Pimp My Ride just a ghetto version of Queer Eye For The Straight Guy? Isn't The Real World just Days Of Our Lives with worse actors? MTV is in serious need of a new name and Style is already taken. I suggest MMTV for Music Montage Television. After all, one of the only times you actually get to hear any music on MTV is during the second-rate video packages that end each and every one of their fucking reality shows. That, or The Trendy Dumbass Channel.
MTV does still show some music videos, but they are mostly hip-hop videos. The rationale is that since hip-hop is popular, MTV must cater primarily to that audience. This creates a paradox of sorts. Does MTV play hip-hop because it's popular, or is hip-hop popular because MTV puts it in heavy rotation? The truly depressing part is that MTV used to cater to niche audiences. Weekly shows like Headbanger's Ball and Yo! MTV Raps catered to metal and rap fans whose needs weren't necessarily met by the daily programming. In 1995, MTV canceled both shows. Riki Rachtman, with the backing of hardcore fans, had pushed to stop showing punk and alternative videos and focus his show solely on rock and metal once again. This didn't go over well with MTV's top brass. Rachtman was fired and Headbanger's Ball was canceled, but not before MTV aired a 2 hour retrospective show that Riki was not allowed to host. Headbanger's Ball was recently resurrected on MTV2, but there's no balance anymore. The new Ball is primarily loud, aggressive bands like Slayer, Cradle of Filth, and Helmet. VH1's short-lived Rock Show got it right: a balance of old and new, metal and rock. Superjoint Ritual followed by vintage Poison. Sadly, that show did not last either. I could probably write a 20 page thesis on how MTV has systematically destroyed the music industry, but I'd rather remember the good times, before music videos were as soulless as Jerry Bruckheimer films.
Music is a deeply personal medium for both artist and listener. It allows artists to express themselves better than words alone ever could. Music and lyrics have a reciprocal relationship; each one greatly enhances the power and depth of the other. Listeners then take an artist's work and find a way to transplant it into their own lives. The songs that we like the best are the ones that we can find personal meaning in. The song doesn't need to recall a specific memory to do this. If it evokes some vague implacable feeling, that is enough. By adding a visual element, music videos have the potential to magnify that meaning even more. November Rain is one such video.
The video opens with Axl Rose downing an indeterminate number of sleeping pills. From there, we are taken on an epic trip through his drug-induced dreams. As a result, the video has a fairly nonlinear storyline. We are treated to a series of surreal images, starting with a Gun N' Roses concert in some fancy concert hall, complete with orchestral accompaniment.
The concert cuts in and out throughout the video, mixed in with various other images. One of the first images is Axl playing the piano alone in middle of nowhere, a sharp contrast to the crowded concert hall. Another early shot involves a statue of Christ that cries blood. These are lonely, desolate images. At this point, it's still unclear where the story is going. It doesn't really matter, however, because the cinematography is phenomenal. In fact, November Rain won the 1992 MTV Video Music Award for Best Cinematography.
Suddenly, we're in a fancy church in the middle of a storybook wedding. Axl Rose and Stephanie Seymour are getting married. The tone shifts. There's even some light comedy as best man Slash, who is quite possibly drunk, is unable to find the ring. Luckily for him, bandmate Duff McKagan has it. Slash unceremoniously drops the ring into the hands of a rather annoyed priest. With his formal duties fulfilled, Slash leaves.
Slash walks out of the cathedral and into a desert. If this wasn't a deliberate lack of continuity, it might annoy me. But it is, and it's a really badass sequence too. As a windstorm kicks up, Slash lets loose one of the coolest guitar solos EVER. A few years later, in Aerosmith's Living on the Edge video, Joe Perry would play a guitar solo on train tracks in the middle of nowhere. It seems somewhat ironic that Aerosmith, who were a major influence on Guns N' Roses as well as a former touring partner, ended up imitating a shot from a GN'R video.
Again, we sre given the image of a solitary Axl. This time, he's apparently in the Old West. His dream keeps coming back to this one central idea of loneliness. At this point, the scene seems rather inexplicable. We aren't given much time to think about it though, because suddenly we're at a wedding reception watching a very happy Axl and his bride cut the cake. For those keeping track, this is costume change number 3,167 for Axl during the course of this video.
The moment does not last. Out of nowhere, the sky opens up and the wedding guests quickly run for cover and chaos ensues. Wine bottles are knocked over, vases shatter... the reception is ruined. In one particularly bizarre moment, a man dives through the wedding cake while trying to get to shelter. The song, which is quickly reaching the seven minute mark, seems to reach its conclusion at this point. Indeed, the song and the video could end here on a positive note with this line: Nothing lasts forever, even cold November rain. That line gives a renewed sense of hope, it's a mandate to never give up hope. But the song doesn't end here. Almost immediately after the song seems to end, an ominous piano part begins. Then the strings come back in. Then Slash's guitar.
Church again. Only this time, it's a funeral. Apparently Stephanie is dead. The video never explicitly indicates how she died, but the mirror that covers half of her coffin hints that it was a rather violent death. This video is the second part of a trilogy comprised of Don't Cry, November Rain, and Estranged. In Don't Cry, Stephanie pries a handgun away from a suicidal Axl so her death could somehow be related to that gun. The definitive answer is that it was suicide. The video is based on a short story by Axl's friend Del James where the main character's wife kills herself due to his infidelity. Of course, very few people who saw the video ever got a chance to read the story.
At this point, Axl wakes up. The sleeping pills couldn't make the nightmares go away. He is forced once again to confront the ceaseless pain that haunts his very existence. We see him at her burial plot, hours after the funeral has ended. It is dark and raining, but he simply doesn't have the power to move.
The very last shot in the video is of a bouquet of red roses slowly draining of their color. The red funerary roses are directly contrasted to the white wedding bouquet. Although it could perhaps be interpreted as such, the return from red to white isn't a symbol of renewed hope; it is a reinforcement of death. The roses are becoming as pale and lifeless as a corpse.
Despite its runtime of 9 minutes, November Rain spent 16 weeks on the U.S. Top 40 charts in 1992, peaking at #2 in the week ending on August 29. Unfortunately, it was beat out by fucking Boyz II Men. Although it's been 11 years since Guns N' Roses last studio album, they remain highly popular. Watching this video, it's not hard to see why. GN'R were an amazing band with great talent and definite artistic vision. Although W. Axl Rose is the sole remaining member from the original lineup, the prospect of a new album still has unlimited potential. After all, November Rain was arranged entirely by Axl himself.
Posted by: Syd Lexia