30 Years Ago This Week, The Greatest Music Video of All Time, "November Rain" Premiered
LA Times - Thirty years ago this week, the “November Rain” video premiered on MTV — a baroque nine-minute rock opera starring Guns N’ Roses frontman Axl Rose and his then-girlfriend, supermodel Seymour, in a timeless tale of love gone wrong. The video, unveiled on MTV’s “Headbangers Ball” and broadcast later that night on Fox, left a generation of music fans with questions that linger to this day. “How did Stephanie die?” “Why did that guy dive into the cake?” “Did he kill Stephanie?” “What is Slash doing in the desert?” and “Oh, my God. Is this the best music video of all time?”
Directed by Andy Morahan, “November Rain” quickly went into heavy rotation on MTV and helped the single — a lushly arranged power ballad that shifts into an ominous metal dirge at the seven-minute mark — climb to No. 3 on the charts, where it landed behind two other memorably romantic anthems (Boyz II Men’s “End of the Road” and TLC’s “Baby-Baby-Baby”).
This video right here is what Music Television was made for.
A 9 minute epic with so much imagery and symbolism we're still asking ourselves what the fuck happened thirty years later.
Some called it a financial nightmare, a runaway train the likes of which hasn't been seen since Boston's Big Dig. (The video reportedly cost $1.5 million to produce back in 1992, which was an unfathomable amount at the time).
I call it a peak inside the brilliant mind of one of time's most misunderstood geniuses- Axl Rose.
As this LA Times article points out, there were so many great things about this video it's hard to tell where to start.
Obviously, the fact Axl Rose dated Stephanie Seymour, arguably top 5 hottest women in the world in the early 90s, and threw her in this video is one of the biggest flexes of all time. (Yah I know she's got that weird real life Brazzers thing going on with her son, I don't care)
Then there's the Slash guitar solo. We can sit here and debate this for days, but in my humble opinion, Slash's solo in "November Rain" is pound for pound the best guitar solo I've ever heard.
The story behind how it came to be (on the video) is a great one.
Take, for instance, Slash’s guitar solo. While shooting the wedding ceremony at St. Brendan Church on Van Ness Avenue, the guitarist stepped outside for a smoke break as the cameras continued to roll. Watching on a monitor, Morahan realized the footage of Slash strutting down the aisle and out the church door would provide a perfect transition to his big solo. “That gave us the idea of him walking out the door into the middle of nowhere,” Morahan says.
The solo was filmed on a movie ranch in New Mexico, in front of a wheeled church that also appeared in the 1985 western “Silverado.” (The ranch was later bought by designer Tom Ford, and is currently on the market. The church is still there, but it has been repainted.) To get the shot, Pearl, the cinematographer, used a Louma crane, a Steadicam and a helicopter, which he says “came ridiculously close [to Slash] at one point. And at that point, we stopped.”
On location in New Mexico, Morahan happened to run into fellow director Anton Corbijn, who saw the gear and asked, “‘Oh, my God. Is this the whole video? It’s incredible,’” Morahan recalls. “I go, ‘No, it’s about 30 seconds.’ It was bonkers.”
Do yourself a favor and go to around the 7 minute mark in this gem of a video from the 1992 MTV Music Awards
Then there's the whole basis for the song and the video. Yah, you didn't just think this was some heartfelt ramblings of a coked-out 80s rockstar did you? No sir. Axl was a well-read man. And he took what he read, namely a short story titled, "Without You,” written by Del James, a journalist, road manager and permanent fixture in the band’s orbit, and crafted it into this masterpiece.
James’ story, written well before “November Rain” was released, centered on a hard-living rock star named Mayne Mann (and clearly modeled on Rose) who comes unglued after his ex-girlfriend’s suicide. (“I basically was that person,” Rose wrote in an introduction to James’ short story collection, “The Language of Fear.”) The story ends with Mayne playing “Without You,” the hit song inspired by their breakup, on the piano as flames engulf his condo.
In the analog era of 1992, none of this backstory was available to the casual MTV viewer. (As an obsessive tween fan of Guns N’ Roses, I had no way of knowing James was not yet a published author and tried to find the story at my local library.) And its actual resemblance to “November Rain” is limited.
Not only that, but "November Rain" was the middle of a trilogy of videos Axl strung together to form (somewhat of) a story.
The first being, "Don't Cry"
and the last being, the truly bizarre, "Estranged"
Nirvana's drummer at the time, Dave Grohl was not a fan.
To that band’s drummer, Dave Grohl, “November Rain” was a “train wreck,” as he recalled in “I Want My MTV: The Uncensored Story of the Music Video Revolution,” by Craig Marks and Rob Tannenbaum. “When a musician starts to use the term ‘mini-movie’ to describe a video, it’s time to quit.”
No offense, but Dave Grohl can kindly fuck himself.
The video was also a watershed moment in the history of music videos.
At the Video Music Awards that September, where Rose and Kurt Cobain famously clashed offstage, Guns N’ Roses was honored with the Michael Jackson Video Vanguard Award, the MTV equivalent of a lifetime achievement award. But the video itself picked up only one competitive trophy, for cinematography. One vibe shift had taken place — decadent hard rock was out and grunge was ascendant — and another was lurking in the wings — a few months before “November Rain” came out, “The Real World” premiered on MTV. Over the ensuing decade, the network would steadily cut back on music videos and switch almost completely to unscripted programming.
“‘November Rain’ was a bit like the last of the dinosaurs before the meteorite, and the meteorite was grunge and everything that happened to the music industry” thanks to file-sharing, says Mike Southon, one of two cinematographers who shot the video.
"November Rain" was also the first music video to surpass ONE BILLION views (for videos made before the advent of Youtube).
As of June 2022, it has been viewed nearly 1.9 billion times, more than any video of the ‘80s or ‘90s. According to MTV’s own rankings, it’s the third-best video of all time.
There's also the famous scene of one of the elaborate wedding party-goers diving head first through the cake.
The scene was originally nixed from the video, but Axl gets what Axl wants.
Likewise, Morahan’s original treatment never included a man diving headlong into the wedding cake but, he says, “Axl and I wanted this ‘Godfather’-type of ostentatious wedding that gets absolutely splattered. It’s not supposed to be realistic.It’s supposed to be completely [over the top].” They had just about wrapped the scene — shot at Villa del Sol d’Oro, a 1920s-era Tuscan-style villa in Sierra Madre — when Rose threw out an idea: Why not have someone dive into the cake?
“Without a proper stunt coordinator, we should probably never have ever done it,” Morahan says. “But it literally was our last shot [and we thought], ‘What harm can it do?’” Pearl thought it looked ridiculous but a do-over was impossible because there wasn’t a backup cake. Morahan agreed that it didn’t quite work and left the shot out of his original edit of the video, prompting Rose to ask, “‘Where’s the cake?’” Back in it went.