What Is Guns N’ Roses’ ‘November Rain’ Video REALLY About?
Like it or not, Guns N' Roses' 1992 video for "November Rain" is one of the most popular music videos of all time. In fact, it just became the very first rock video from the '90s to surpass 2 billion views on YouTube. But there's still a lot of mystery surrounding the storyline, so we're going to break it down.
As noted at the end of the video, it's based on a short story called "Without You," which was written by Del James for his 1995 book The Language of Fear. James is a longtime friend of the band and currently still works with them on tour. He wrote "Without You" based on Axl Rose's relationship with Erin Everly, whom he was married to in 1990.
"The 'Without You' story came about on a night where Axl called me, when he was still living with his girlfriend — who later on became his wife — Erin Everly, at about 4:00 in the morning and said, 'Dude, you have to come over here,'" James said during the November Rain: Makin' F@*!ing Videos documentary [via Appetite for Discussion], which came out on VHS in 1993.
"Essentially, the short story is about a rock star, who was inspired by Axl, who writes a song called 'Without You' about the woman who he loves but he can’t really have."
The rock star character in "Without You" is Mayne, and Elizabeth is the name of the woman he loved.
Axl Rose with Erin Everly
The events of the "November Rain" video don't line up perfectly with the sequence of "Without You," but there are certain scenes that reference different parts of the story. Toward the end of the music video, viewers discover that Rose's wife, portrayed by Stephanie Seymour, dies — but no one in the Guns camp ever actually confirmed how.
After James wrote the story "Without You" and showed it to Rose, the singer wrote his own version of the song "Without You," which became "Estranged." And you'll notice that the final two words of the final verse are, coincidentally, "Without you."
"It’s based around a song that this guy writes when it’s over in his relationship and what happens. And I wrote that song, you know? And I wasn’t even planning it — after I wrote it, I call Del and I go, 'Del, I wrote the song for it.' And I had never planned on that. I never even thought of that. It just ended up fitting together, and I was on a different track, but the two came together," Rose said during November Rain: Makin' F@*!ing Videos.
"Before the Illusions [albums] came out, there was talk of actually developing 'Without You' into full length feature movie. Due to logistics, that hasn’t been able to be a reality," James noted. "So what has happened is that there’s, like, kind of a condensed version of the story in the visuals. 'Don’t Cry' segues into 'November Rain,' which hopefully, if there’s time, will be 'Estranged' – you know, the third part of it, and it’ll all kind of make sense and we’ll tell this pretty heavy tale."
Shortly after Seymour was cast in the video for "Don't Cry," which came out before "November Rain," she and Rose started a romantic relationship. But the couple broke up in 1993 before they started filming "Estranged," which was the final video of the trilogy, and was supposed to continue portraying the sequence events in "Without You," so there were dolphins and other surreal moments in the "Estranged" video instead.
"We had intended to make the sequel or the follow-up and the conclusion of 'November Rain.' Things changed, plans changed," Rose said in The Making of Estranged: Part IV of the Trilogy.
Thus, you have to read "Without You" to really understand the nature of the "November Rain" video. But we compared the scenes of the video to the events of the story, so keep reading to learn more.
WARNING: Spoilers and excerpts from 'Without You' ahead.
"Without You" starts with a nightmare Mayne has about watching a woman he's in love with — Elizabeth — dance around gracefully before shooting herself in the head. He wakes up in a panic, and it's revealed that he has this nightmare often, as if it's haunting him. He has bottles of alcohol, drugs and cigarettes on his nightstand, which are shown next to Rose's bed in "November Rain," though he doesn't actually wake up from the nightmare until the end of the video, which implies that all of the events in the video were part of a dream.
"'November Rain' is a part of this story and shows different elements of this story. And I don’t really want to say where in line it falls, but it does show me going to bed and waking up on the nightmare at different points in the video," Rose teased during November Rain: Makin' F@*!ing Videos.
Mayne and Elizabeth never married, according to "Without You." Since Rose and Seymour's characters wed in "November Rain," it can be inferred that this was also part of Rose's dream that he awakens from at the end of the video.
There are a couple of times during the video where Seymour looks unhappy, as if she were upset about the marriage or her relationship in general. Though it's unclear why, in "Without You," we learn that Elizabeth caught Mayne having an affair in a hotel room after one of his band's concerts, and that he'd had many others.
"She’d set free inner feelings that he’d often tried avoiding. Her beauty, both inner and physical, was something he wanted, yet when she was his, he did everything conceivable to lose her.
The biggest mystery that remains behind "November Rain" is how Seymour's character died. As previously mentioned, the cause has never actually been confirmed by anyone, but James and Rose's comments during the November Rain: Makin' F@*!ing Videos documentary insinuate that she died the same way Elizabeth did in "Without You" — a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head.
The mirror in the casket in the video also supports this reasoning, as split caskets are often used when the deceased person sustained head trauma.
"I can't tell you, but it's just a horrible mess," Rose said with a smirk. "If we would have not had this split casket, it would have been disgusting. We didn't want to offend any child viewer's eyes."
"He removed the pistol from her hand and put it against his temple. He was going to join her. It was empty. Elizabeth had known she would only need one bullet."
We're never really told why Rose walks past a gun store in "November Rain," but in "Without You," we know that Mayne keeps one in his safe. He often thinks about using it to end his life, but instead, uses it to shoot the platinum albums hanging on his wall in a fit of rage.
"He held the silver-plated pistol in awe. He could easily join Elizabeth; all it would take was one quick squeeze of the trigger. The idea appealed to him. Maybe he'd get it right in his next life. Slowly, eyes closed, he raised the pistol. The trigger teased his scarlet index finger. The barrel felt good against his temple. Readying himself, he reopened his eyes."
Though "Without You" tells the story of Mayne's despair after the death of Elizabeth, and his eventual fate as well, the story is really about the ballad "Without You" that the rocker had written for her. The story mentions it several times — he grows flustered when he hears it on the radio, not only because it reminds him of Elizabeth, but because she had it playing on repeat when he found her dead.
At the end of the story, a lit cigarette falls off Mayne's nightstand and ignites his bedroom as he destroys the inside of his apartment and all of his beloved guitars. Eventually, he decides to sit and play "Without You" for Elizabeth as his entire apartment becomes engulfed in flames, with him in it.
"All he'd ever wanted to do with his life was play his music and now he was. For the moment, he felt free from his demons. He built up the courage and began singing 'Without You' in his natural gruff voice. The thick carpeting quickly became a wall-to-wall inferno as a giant wave of fire rose up and spread around the piano. He couldn't have cared less. As flames swallowed the apartment, Mayne never screamed and never missed a note."