We take a look at the role of the band’s iconic lead-guitarist Slash on some of the most recognizable videos Guns n’ Roses made.
For this analysis we’re going back to the early 90’s and the biggest rock band in the world at that time, Guns ‘n’ Roses. Having released two double lp’s at once – a statement of grandiose intent if ever there was one – the band were at the peak of everything: fame, creativity, cocaine use, rampant megolamania. Out of this period came what has become known amongst G’n’R fans as the Del James trilogy, videos shot by the director Andy Morohan for the singles ‘Don’t Cry’, ‘November Rain’ and ‘Estranged’ that draw on a story written by James and also, in dramatically overwrought and occasionally hysterical terms, tells the tale of Axl Rose’s doomed relationship with ex-wife Erin Everly.
However, what I would like to dig in to, what I think is maybe the key theme of the trilogy is not the lead-singer’s love life but another element which I feel remains under-explored, and that is the role of the band’s iconic lead-guitarist Slash.
Not content with staying on the stage with the rest of the band to play his solos, Slash clearly feels he needs a bigger environment, a vaster expanse within which to express himself such is the unbounded epicness of his playing. As we go through the videos in chronological order I want to illustrate how his need to wander became not only bigger but weirder too culminating in maybe the most mind-bogglingly strange guitar solo sequence of any video in history.
Ok, so first we have ‘Don’t Cry’. The band and Slash are first seen playing atop a skyscraper – naturally – and we have the first appearance of what would seem to be Slash’s favourite thing in the world at this time: the helicopter (more of this shortly). So, for most guitarists playing in such a location would satisfy their need for expanse but no, Slash clearly feels the pull towards more natural environments. A drive in the country with his girlfriend leads to a lover’s tiff which spells disaster. A distracted Slash drives the car over the edge of a cliff resulting in a huge explosion. However, Slash is clearly no dummy and not only escapes but has somehow managed to rescue his guitar too. Only one thing for it (at 3.10): let’s rock! Seconds later he launches his guitar skywards. I can only assume this was post-crash adrenalin kicking in.
This outdoor theme is then developed somewhat in the video for ‘November Rain’. Having attended Axl’s wedding as best-man this human-guitar solo clearly feels that standing outside a church in the middle of the desert whilst his good friend Mr. Helicopter swirls and dives around him is the order of the day. At 3.42 we see Slash start to leave the church early (having delivered the ring he clearly couldn’t be bothered with the rest of it) and then at 3.57 we cut to the outside where he’s not only picked up his guitar but a half-smoked cigarette too. And off he strides until he reaches the entrance, helicopter wind through his hair, and BOOM – guitar solo-a-go-go. At this point it’s as if the music is so huge that to play anywhere smaller would be to diminish its sense of grandeur. It’s like the solo is a wild animal that can’t be contained by walls and doors and needs to roam free in the wilderness.
You would think this would be enough but the time we get to ‘Estranged’ it seems Slash has decided that he can literally go *anywhere* with his guitar. Having tired of the desert we find our wandering axe-man at 6.16 (as you might expect, these videos get progressively longer this one clocking in at just under 10 minutes) outside a bar and grill. Even Slash needs to eat. He wanders down the street, playing as he goes, and past crowds of people all of whom seem oblivious to him. Where can he be heading?
Soon we find our answer, although it’s pretty much the last thing you would expect. Having watched Axl suddenly appear on a boat we see the singer plunge suicidally in to the water. Except once he gets down there he finds he’s surrounded by dolphins, clearly concerned for his welfare. And this is where things get really fucked-up.
At 8.06 we see one of the dolphins swim upwards and then 2 seconds later it turns out this particular dolphin – yes, really – is in fact Slash himself who emerges from the water (whilst Axl is still drowning, it should be noted) with his friend the helicopter waiting to greet him, before – get this – HE STANDS ON THE OCEAN PLAYING HIS GUITAR because, well, he’s Slash: guitar God. This is no normal musician. He is operating on another level entirely, a level only available to Slash. Others can do nothing but watch and weep. He is guitarist, smoker, car-crash survivor, long-distance walker, helicopter magnet and manphibian all rolled in to one.
‘Don’t Cry’ was released on September 17th, 1991 and reached #10 on the Billboard chart; ‘November Rain’ was released on February 18th 1992 in the UK, reaching #4, but not until June 2nd in the US, where it reached #3. Costing a reported $1m, the video was one of the most expensive ever made; released on January 17th, 1994 ‘Estranged’ was the 10th(!) single to be taken from the Use Your Illusion albums. The video was even more expensive costing a cool $4m. Despite this the song failed to gain a significant chart position anywhere, it’s highest posting being #26 in Sweden.