Behind the Surreal Music Video for “November Rain” by Guns N’ Roses

Music videos in the early ’90s were cut from a different cloth. Musicians didn’t shutter at the thought of being cheesy like they seem to do today. Opulence was the name of the game and no one does over the top like Guns N’ Roses did in the visual for “November Rain.”

Full of surrealist imagery, “November Rain” was an undertaking for the band in 1991. The off-kilter and disjointed visual came with a price tag of $1.5 million. That generous budget was more than enough to get the band any and everything they wished for. No idea went unexplored, it seems.

It’s a wild ride of a visual and we’re here to guide you through it. Learn the meaning behind the music video for “November Rain,” below.

Behind the Music Video
The music video for “November Rain” came at a time when glam rock was nearing the end of its course and its grittier counterpart, grunge rock, began to take its place. Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” was released just a few months earlier, setting the tone for the genre moving into a new decade.

“November Rain” stands in stark contrast to Nirvana’s low-concept, simple video. “When a musician starts to use the term ‘mini-movie’ to describe a video, it’s time to quit,” Dave Grohl was quoted as saying in response to the visual for “November Rain.”

Guns N’ Roses were one of the last glam stalwarts, holding on to their decadence as long as possible.

“‘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,” Mike Southon, one of the cinematographers, told the Los Angeles Times.

Director Andy Morahan and story writer Del James were the original creators of the music video. James wrote the story that would become the inspiration for “November Rain” well before Rose and co. got their hands on it.

James’ story centers on a Rose-esque rock star, Mayne Mann, who struggles to cope after his girlfriend dies by suicide. The band took that story as a jumping-off point and built the high-concept video around it.

If the surreal imagery isn’t seared into your brain by now, here are the high points of “November Rain”: Rose takes drugs to help sleep his pain away amid an oh-so-’90s, back-lit room before hammering the song out on a piano placed smack dab in the desert.

Elsewhere, his real-life girlfriend at the time, model Stephanie Seymour, prepares to marry Rose wearing an iconic garter-showing wedding dress. Slash, the best man, temporarily reprieves himself from the wedding to deliver a mind-melting guitar line. Seymour eventually commits suicide like James’ story lays out. Rose’s feigned grief could earn him a spot on any soap opera. Shots of the band playing the ballad in a crowded concert hall are intercut between all the action.

“‘November Rain’s’ elliptical quality is part of what makes it so successful,” Daniel Pearl, the other cinematographer on the project argued in the same Los Angeles Times conversation. “Music videos need to be a bit obtuse, have a bit of complexity to them, so that as you watch it a third, fourth, fifth, sixth time, you’re getting something new.”

It’s something that has to be seen to be fully understood. Check it out, below.

Filming Struggles
Being true rock stars, the production team had trouble pinning down Guns N’ Roses for the filming process of “November Rain.”

“They would only really want to work at night,” Morahan once explained. “So even if you had a call sheet that said ‘daytime,’ there’s a good chance they wouldn’t turn up till after sunset.”

Eventually, Morahan decided to just keep the band going all night, playing on their nocturnal instincts. Even then, the director would leave the set some days with little to no footage shot. “It was probably about 3 in the morning that the [assistant director] came over to us and said, ‘OK, that’s a wrap,’ and we hadn’t shot anything,” Morahan continued. “They had to do the whole thing a few days later at a new location, but the moment the cameras finally started whirring, it just worked.”

Though the production team likely wasn’t thrilled about it at the time, the band’s unpredictable energy only made this video all the more interesting a watch. The strange hours resulted in some continuity errors (like Rose standing by a grave site at night though the funeral is in the daylight) and happy accidents (like Slash going for a smoke break and his inspiring strut out of the church in the middle of the wedding scene).

It’s a doozy of a video that could only come from a band like Guns N’ Roses. We will likely never see something like it again.

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