Kerrang! (UK) - - News - WORDS: SAM COARE PHOTO: GETTY

Axl Rose has long been used to get­ting ex­actly what he wants – and us­ing any means nec­es­sary to get it. In Los An­ge­les in 1989, for in­stance, he stood on­stage at the enor­mous LA Coli­seum and de­clared that the band would be over should his band­mates not shake their drug habits. Later, in 1993, he would re­port­edly threaten not to go on­stage in Barcelona should gui­tarist Slash and bassist Duff Mck­a­gan not sign over own­er­ship of the band to the front­man (some­thing Axl has strin­gently de­nied ever since).

And so, when in 1990 Axl said that he would “quit the mu­sic in­dus­try” should Guns N’ Roses not able to record the song Novem­ber Rain to his sat­is­fac­tion, it wasn’t ex­actly clear where the joke be­gan and ended.

The vo­cal­ist’s at­tach­ment to the song was un­der­stand­able. It had be­gun form­ing in his mind even be­fore he upped-sticks and left be­hind a trou­bled In­di­ana child­hood marked by abuse at home and po­lice at­ten­tion on the streets in search of some­thing more in the bright lights of Los An­ge­les. Upon ar­riv­ing

in the City Of An­gels in De­cem­ber 1982, and adopt­ing the name by which he would be known ever since, Axl set about find­ing him­self a band, with those he came in con­tact with since talk­ing of Novem­ber Rain as a song the then-21-year-old was try­ing to work through in his mind. As Guns N’ Roses took shape in 1985 and 1986, Slash re­mem­bers one ver­sion of the song, com­pris­ing pi­ano and acous­tic gui­tar, that bor­dered on 20 min­utes long. Tom Zu­taut, the man who signed GN’R to Gef­fen Records, re­calls hear­ing Novem­ber Rain for the first time in early 1987 as stu­dio work on de­but al­bum Ap­petite For De­struc­tion be­gan. “Axl had been work­ing on a song, and we were do­ing a bunch of vo­cals one day and he wanted to take a lit­tle break,” Tom re­calls to Ker­rang!. “There was a lit­tle pi­ano sit­ting in the stu­dio, and he said, ‘Hey, Tom, I want to play you this idea I’m work­ing on.’ He sat down and played me Novem­ber Rain from start to fin­ish, and I was like, ‘Holy shit…’ It was just amaz­ing.” The song was just one that would ul­ti­mately find its home on the Use Your Il­lu­sion al­bums of 1991, but which had their ge­n­e­sis in the Ap­petite ses­sions. “It’s not a well-known fact, but al­most all of the songs that came out of the orig­i­nal Guns N’ Roses were writ­ten dur­ing the six months be­fore I signed the band and through the Ap­petite ses­sions,” Tom says. “A lot of those songs that ended up on Use Your Il­lu­sion were riffs and ideas writ­ten be­fore and dur­ing that record.” Pretty Tied Up, Civil War, The Gar­den, Dust N’ Bones, Yes­ter­days, You Could Be Mine and Back Off Bitch were all de­moed for con­sid­er­a­tion on Ap­petite four years prior to their in­clu­sion on the Il­lu­sion al­bums. Don’t Cry and Novem­ber Rain, too. Tom Zu­taut, how­ever, was of the mind that Ap­petite should cap­ture the dangerous rock’n’roll “essence of the first GN’R show I ever saw in LA”, and should there­fore have no more than one ballad – a spot taken by Sweet Child O’ Mine. “I knew Novem­ber Rain wasn’t done, and I didn’t want any­one to help me write it,” claimed Axl. “At the same time, I knew it would take a lot of work, and I didn’t feel ca­pa­ble or that the peo­ple around me were ca­pa­ble of un­der­stand­ing what I was try­ing to do, so we de­cided to save it.”

What­ever the truth, Novem­ber Rain found it­self on the shelf.

he Use Your Il­lu­sion ses­sions – which ran spo­rad­i­cally from early 1990 through mid-1991, af­ter Ap­petite had es­tab­lished GN’R as the big­gest and most dangerous band in the world – were a trou­bled time, marked by drum­mer Steven Adler’s de­par­ture and in­creas­ingly er­ratic be­hav­iour from Axl. The front­man’s in­ter­ests, when he turned up to the stu­dio at all, ex­tended pre­dom­i­nantly to per­fect­ing Novem­ber Rain above the 28 other tracks that would comprise the two Il­lu­sion discs, said re­place­ment drum­mer Matt So­rum. The sticks­man’s drum­ming on the track, un­der di­rec­tion from Axl, took in­spi­ra­tion from El­ton John (El­ton would later per­form the song with GN’R at the 1992 MTV VMAS); Tommy Lee’s per­for­mance on Möt­ley Crüe’s Home Sweet Home, mean­while, would in­spire Axl’s pi­ano play­ing. “[Novem­ber Rain] was tor­tur­ing [Axl],” was Duff Mck­a­gan’s mem­ory of the stu­dio ses­sions.

The song – about “hav­ing to deal with un­re­quited love”, said Axl – was to be the cor­ner­stone of the first Use Your Il­lu­sion disc, and would later take its place along­side Don’t Cry and Es­tranged as part of a trio of videos based around the short story With­out You, penned by Axl’s friend, the jour­nal­ist and au­thor Del James (Es­tranged, the “theme song” to the story, says Axl, ref­er­ences the ti­tle in the lyric ‘I’ll never find any­one to re­place you / Guess I’ll have to make it through, this time, oh this time / With­out you’). Bri­tish di­rec­tor Andy Mo­ra­han was charged with re­al­is­ing the full tril­ogy, of which Novem­ber Rain would fol­low Don’t Cry and pre­cede Es­tranged (some fan the­o­ries in­ter­pret the run­ning or­der of this tril­ogy dif­fer­ently, but that’s a story for an­other day).

“It wasn’t par­tic­u­larly fleshed out,” Andy re­calls of Novem­ber Rain’s con­cept, which would bal­loon into one of the most ex­pen­sive mu­sic videos ever, with a ru­moured price tag of $1.5 mil­lion. “It was ba­si­cally to do with Axl fall­ing in love with a girl, who’s played by [Axl’s then-sec­ond wife, pic­tured left] Stephanie Sey­mour [though oddly, the With­out You story was in large part in­flu­enced by Axl’s re­la­tion­ship with one-time girl­friend Gina Siler and first wife Erin Everly, about whom Sweet Child… was also writ­ten]. He falls in love, there’s a wed­ding, then an ac­ci­dent with a gun and the girl gets half her face shot off… It be­came a re­ally ab­stract canvas of ideas, mainly about Axl’s faults and angst, what­ever he was go­ing through at the time.

“I’ve al­ways said work­ing with them was like work­ing with vam­pires,” Andy re­mem­bers of the film­ing. “It was very hard to get them to do any­thing in the day. Their hours were dusk un­til sun­rise. We had to keep the band up all night just to do a day­light scene. One of the days, when we were record­ing the fu­neral scene, they just didn’t turn up [un­til the evening], which is why they’re not at the fu­neral, and why Axl, in his cape [kneel­ing at the grave, pic­tured above], is in the dark.

“It was very bizarre,” Andy laughs. “It was a bit ridicu­lous, but there’s noth­ing wrong with that. I mean, some of the best videos are the most ridicu­lous.”

More ridicu­lous still was to come. By the film­ing for Es­tranged, Axl’s re­la­tion­ship with Stephanie Sey­mour had bro­ken down. The front­man flip­pantly de­manded his videos fea­ture no more “beau­ti­ful girls”; in­stead, he’d rather have a dol­phin. And, of course, as his later cud­dling of a dol­phin in the tril­ogy’s in­fa­mous clos­ing video would prove, what Axl Rose wanted, Axl Rose would get.


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