Music Video Breakdown: ‘November Rain’ By Guns N’ Roses

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.