I don’t know if any of you are in a band. Based on the odds, I think it’s safe to assume at least some of you are. In fact, you might be sitting there right now saying to yourself “Hey, I’m in a band.” If this sounds like you, allow me to pass along two small morsels of advice: 1) Maybe think about changing your band’s name to something hecka cool like The Razor Spiders or Lasagna Anarchy. 2) If anyone in your band suggests making a nine-minute song and a high-concept music video to go along with it, really, REALLY ask yourself if it’s a good idea. Especially if it’s part of a trilogy of ambitious big-budget videos. I don’t know what kind of music and visuals you and the rest of Lasagna Anarchy (growing on you, right?) have loaded up in the hopper, so for all I know y’all are about to set the world on fire with a flamethrower full of creativity. But ask the question first, because it may be a sign of trouble.
The reason I say all this is because I have seen the music video for “November Rain” by Guns N’ Roses. The most famous and highest-charting song off Use Your Illusion I & II (the band’s simultaneously released 1991 albums), “November Rain” and its epic video are the last thing big things most people remember the band doing before leader singer Axl Rose drifted off into uncharted Chinese waters for well over a decade. As the story goes, it was part of a trilogy along with “Don’t Cry” and “Estranged” (another nine-minute video) that is based on a short story by a writer (and friend of Axl) named Del James. See those things in this paragraph in parentheses? Those are red flags.
The point I am meandering toward is this: When you make awesome music, you get famous. When you get famous, people stop saying no to you and your ego starts running amok. When people stop saying no to you and your ego starts running amok, things like a trilogy of insanely expensive nine-minute music videos based on short stories by your friends start kinda making a lot of sense, and with no one to step in and say “Whoawhoawhoa. Maybe that’s a bit much,” they happen. And then you show up ten years later at the VMAs with dreadlocks and a guitarist who wears a damn bucket on his head.
I’ve seen it a million times.
The video is split up into two parts: A live performance in a large concert hall, and a sad, confusing tale about love lost because of precipitation. I will focus more on the latter because it is strange and nutty and that is the kind of thing I tend to focus on in these breakdowns, but I reserve the right to periodically check back in with the live performance to update you on important events. Like, for example, the existence of a curly-haired, mustachioed conductor who is wearing a tuxedo and a white bow tie. That would be something I would bring to your attention. If I see one, I mean. Keep your eyes peeled.
NOTE: This guy is my fourth favorite person in this video.
The video’s dramatic plot begins with Axl Rose alone in his oddly-lit bedroom sucking down a handful of unidentified pills. We will get back to Axl, the man, in a moment, but the important thing to take away from this slide is that he is about to drift off into the great prescription abyss, and things are going to get WEIRD. Buckle in.
“Potential side effects of Drugsbutrin include headaches, anxiety, being transported to some weird cloudy desert and playing the piano, and diarrhea. If you have an allergy to weird cloudy deserts or a history of heart trouble, please consult your doctor before taking Drugsbutrin. Drugsbutrin, because EVERYBODY FREAK OUT.”
Here is a statue of Jesus that is crying blood. I have watched this video no less than eight times while working on this breakdown, and I have literally zero clue what purpose this serves. It is a video about a dude getting married and his wife dying (spoiler alert), which, I mean, sure, it’s sad and everything, but is it “Jesus crying blood” sad? I don’t think so.
My best guess as to why this shot was included is that at some point during the filming of the video Axl snakey-shimeyed up to the director — probably no less than four hours after they were supposed to start shooting for the day — and they had this discussion:
AXL ROSE: Hey. You.
DIRECTOR: Yes, Axl?
AXL ROSE: Let’s get a shot of Jesus crying, like, blood.
DIRECTOR: What? Why?
AXL ROSE: Because it’ll be cool as f-ck, that’s why.
DIRECTOR: But it has nothing to do with the rest of the video.
AXL ROSE: I SAID IT’LL BE COOL AS F-CK.
DIRECTOR: OK, fine. Whatever.
AXL ROSE: Cool. I’ll be in my trailer.
DIRECTOR: But we have scenes to shoot…
AXL ROSE: [grunts, snakey-shimmies away]
This lady is my third favorite person in this video.
Ladies and gentleman, William Bruce Rose, Jr., aka William Bruce Bailey, aka Axl Rose.
This is the spot in the breakdown where I would normally give you a paragraph or two about what a fascinatingly bonkers human being Axl Rose has been over the past 30 years, but all of the things I would say have already been said far more eloquently by John Jeremiah Sullivan in his 2006 profile of Axl for GQ. I mean, just read this paragraph:
Then he was there. And apologies to the nice woman, but people do not go that nuts when Bon Jovi appears. People were: Going. Nuts. He is not a tall man—I doubt even the heels of his boots (red leather) put him at over five feet ten. He walked toward us with stalking, cartoonish pugnaciousness. I feel like all anybody talks about with Axl anymore is his strange new appearance, but it is hard to get past the unusual impression he makes. To me he looks like he’s wearing an Axl Rose mask. He looks like a man I saw eating by himself at a truck stop in Monteagle, Tennessee, at two o’clock in the morning about twelve years ago. He looks increasingly like the albino reggae legend Yellowman. His mane evokes a gathering of strawberry red intricately braided hempen fibers, the sharply twisted ends of which have been punched, individually, a half inch into his scalp. His chest hair is the color of a new penny. With the wasp-man sunglasses and the braids and the goatee, he reminds one of the monster in Predator, or of that monster’s wife on its home planet. When he first came onto the scene, he often looked, in photographs, like a beautiful, slender, redheaded 20-year-old girl. I hope the magazine will run a picture of him from about 1988 so the foregoing will seem a slightly less creepy observation and the fundamental spade-called-spade exactitude of it will be laid bare. But if not, I stand by it. Now he has thickened through the middle—muscly thickness, not the lard-ass thickness of some years back. He grabs his package tightly, and his package is huge. Only reporting. Now he plants his feet apart. “You know where you are?” he asks, and we bellow that we do, we do know, but he tells us anyway. “You’re in the jungle, baby,” he says, and then he tells us that we are going to die.
So, yeah. Read that.