Guns-n-Roses ‘November Rain’ Backstory
“When your fears subside, and shadows still remain”…. ‘November Rain’ stands the test of time.
It’s hard to believe almost thirty years have passed since Guns-n-Roses released ‘November Rain’. Written by the band’s frontman, Axl Rose, the song was a single from their third studio album, Use Your Illusion I released in 1991. Dueling guitar solos (both by Slash,) an orchestra backing up the band, Axl’s angry, raspy voice, and his exquisite work on the piano keep this song fresh as rain. This was played at every prom during 1992 and has been in rotation at parties, proms, weddings, and bar mitzvahs ever since.
The lyrics and video are based on a short story by Del James called ‘Without You.’ The story is part of a collection from, “The Language of Fear,” which was brought back to the market in 2008 after being out of print. Back when ‘November Rain’ came out in 1991, this book contained the story that the video was based on and you couldn’t find the book anywhere, or if you did, it was like $80. The new (less expensive and available @amazon.com) version of the book contains an intro by Axl Rose. The critics praised this collection of short stories even if Gun-n-Roses fans were disappointed that the G-n-R video wasn’t exactly tracking. John Skipp, splatterpunk horror and fantasy author and anthology editor, described it as, “Pissed-off, heartbroken rock ‘n’ roll horror: surprisingly tender, garage-band crude, savage as a shotgun blast and audacious as an exit wound.”
Axl Rose had been working on ‘November Rain’ as early as 1983. Former L.A. Guns guitarist Tracii Guns said: “When we were doing that EP for L.A. Guns, like in 1983, he was playing ‘November Rain’ on piano. Way back then. It was the only thing Axl knew how to play, but it was his. He’d go: ‘Someday this song is gonna be really cool.’ And I’d go: ‘It’s cool now. But it’s not done, you know.’ And like anytime we’d be at a hotel or anywhere there’d be a piano, he’d just kinda play that music. And I’d go: ‘When are you gonna finish that already, you know?’ And he’d go: ‘I don’t know what to do with it.'”
The video debuted on MTV’s metal show Headbanger’s Ball on June 6, 1992. The show’s host, Rikki Rachtman, makes a cameo at the 7-minute mark as the guy diving through the wedding cake. Axl’s actress/super-model girlfriend at the time, Stephanie Seymour, stars in the video as “The Bride.” She and Axl have a picture-perfect wedding with Slash serving as best man and the rest of the band smiling encouragement from the front row. After the wedding, it starts raining and the next scene shows Stephanie’s funeral in the same church.
Shooting the “November Rain” video was a huge production and the final cost reached $1.5 million, making it one of the most expensive videos to produce ever; however, the return on investment was almost immediate. ‘November Rain’ set records as the longest song to stay in the top ten and as the most expensive video on record. The Use Your Illusion 1 & 2 set records for being both number 1 & 2 at the same time on the billboard charts. It won the category for Best Cinematography at the 1992 MTV Video Music Awards, where it also received a Video Vanguard award. Slash spoke to Q Magazine in 2004 about the pressure to create memorable videos saying, “We got into doing these huge production videos and by ‘November Rain’ it was too much, just too involved. At the end of the day it was a great video but that’s when I started realizing that it was getting out of hand.”
The lyrics and composition of Guns-n-Roses, ‘November Rain’ explore the essence of transition from light to darkness. Whether it be a season, a musical time period, or romantic love, this song expresses the common phrase of, “All good things must end” – except G-n-R. Axl and Slash are still pumping out power-ballads and hard-driving rock-n-roll. We loved seeing them at the ACL fest in Austin, TX this year. Tonight & tomorrow, they’re playing at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, NV. We wish we could fire up the private jet and hit the Strip – but sadly, we’ll have to miss this weekend’s Vegas shows.
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