Saturday, April 11, 2009

Music Mysteries #1

There's nothing like a good mystery, especially when it's about something cool, like music, more so if it's about a band we like. I'm sure there are a lot more, but I'm going to look at three of varying degrees of importance.

1. November Rain
The most interesting music mystery I've found is the secrets of the "November Rain" video by Guns n' Roses. A brief history lesson, if you don't mind: In the mid-1980s, Guns n' Roses exploded onto the rock scene with "Appetite for Destruction", still considered a great album 23 years later. Between that and the lesser-known "GnR Lies!" album, Guns n' Roses rose above most hair metal bands (though not enough to be pretentious). That changed with their double album, "Use Your Illusion", volumes 1 and 2. Three videos were done for the double album that were a little different than the other videos, and they were sort of linked, though it wasn't clear why. The strangest one was "November Rain".

Summary of the November Rain video: Tossing and turning in bed, Axl Rose wakes up from what seems like a terrible nightmare. He takes a drink of water and settles back down into bed. We see a symphony playing in an opera hall, and then a wedding, Axl Rose marrying real-life girlfriend Stephanie Seymour. Immediately after the kissing of the bride, guitarist Slash gets up and leaves, performing a wicked solo in the desert. As the couple leave, the newlywed bride looks unhappy. There's an afterparty, which is washed out by rain. Back in the opera hall, Axl, who was playing piano, changes the tune, and Slash gets up on top of the piano to jam. All of a sudden we're back in the church and there's a funeral - for the wife. A quick shot of the open casket shows nothing wrong, makes you wonder how she died, and why. The video ends with Axl crying over her grave, and the ominous note, "Based on the short story Without You by Del James".

Here's where things get interesting. Del James is a friend of Axl's, and as it would come to turn out, they worked together on the video. "Without You" is a short story about a band which is based on Guns n' Roses. Problem is, James' book, "The Language of Fear" was never published widely. After a run of just a couple hundred copies, the publisher went out of business. eBay was new then, and the few existing copies of the book went for hundreds of dollars. For the better part of 15 years, the meaning of November Rain remained a mystery. Axl wasn't saying anything, and the people making a killing on eBay weren't about to threaten their own livelihood by letting others in on it for free. To know, you had to pony up the cash and buy the book, read it, and then hope to make some of your money back. Every few months I'd search for it, and always come up empty.

Well, finally, somebody broke the silence and posted the entire short story online, including Axl's introduction he wrote for the book. The story follows a band called Suicide Solution and its crazy vocalist Mayne Mann, based on Guns n' Roses and Axl Rose. The band's success story mirrors that of GnR - crazy hair metal band puts out a rock ballad which changes everything for them - GnR's was November Rain; Suicide Solution's was Without You. In the story, Mann is newly married (like in the video) but the band is on tour. Mann calls his wife and asks if she'll come along for the last leg of the tour. She says no, she has a life of her own (she's a model or something). Last show on the tour, Mann's got a couple groupies in his bed, and there's a knock at the door. His wife thought to surprise him, but got a surprise of her own. So she went home, put "Without You" on on the stereo, and blew her brains out. Mann gets home, sets the place on fire, and plays along on the piano as his home burns around him. It's a really cool story, actually, and it's told from his point of view.

But wait, Stephanie Seymour didn't blow her brains out in the video. She was clean in the casket - it was an open casket funeral. But here's where things get interesting. Watch the best quality copy you can find of that video, and freeze-frame on the open casket. You'll notice there's a mirror installed. You can only see half of her; the other half is behind that mirror. Funeral homes can do a lot for a corpse, but sometimes damage is too extensive, and that's why we often have closed-casket wakes and funerals when the deceased died a violent death. However, for celebrities, public figures, open-casket is ideal, so they have reconstruction technologies which will pass a passive examination by grieving relatives. The mirror clearly indicates only that half of the body (most likely the face) was able to be reconstructed at all.

So there you have it. The November Rain mystery solved. There was more to the story than the video let on. The wedding and funeral were not on the same day. They were shown as such to illustrate the importance of the two events and to show that what happened in between doesn't matter (as much). He cheated on her with a groupie or a pair of groupies, and she blew her brains out. (Like Axl's worth it! But that's another matter.) And somehow, "Estranged" and "Don't Cry" tie in as well.

At some point I'll do #2, and it concerns a more recent band, though a significantly less important one.

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