Growing up, very few music videos stuck in my mind quite as much as this one did.
The song, entitled “Don’t Cry”, was a power ballad by the Guns N’ Roses, arguably the biggest band in the world at that time, and was recorded back in 1991 for those two Use Your Illusion albums.
Directed by Andrew Morahan, the video for the song was part of a trilogy of pretty cinematic vids, the other two being for “November Rain” and “Estranged”. It looked huge, expensive and far more ambitious and creative than what you’d expect from a simple rock video. Packed full of references and in-jokes, the video is still very fresh in mind to this day, which shows just how epic and dense it was.
On that note, let’s take a closer look at this magnum opus.
The video opens on a strange intro involving a naked baby:
We move into his eye and the video finally begins:
We find Axl Rose dressed up in full Barry Lyndon-style gear, looking like he’s straight out of a weirdly serious version of Adam Ant‘s “Stand And Deliver” video.
A close-up reveals poor old Axl is pretty darn cold, to the point of basically looking like a zombie:
I personally didn’t know that Axl was already around in those days but I guess that a dude this awesome can only be immortal.
We cut to what I can only guess is present day (well, 1991 present day) as Axl is having a rather heated argument with his girlfriend.
They both fight over a gun in a scene referring to something that really happened to the singer.
Stephanie Seymour, Axl’s then girlfriend, does a good job remaining glamorous throughout the scene.
And that’s when we reach one of the video’s most interesting stylistic choices: underground Axl.
Here and there during the video, we see Axl pray from below the Earth at the world above. We transition to something a little less odd and a little more peaceful: a picnic.
Then these cars show up and suggest that some sort of funeral is going on:
I guess a cemetery wasn’t the most upbeat place to have a picnic in after all.
It’s then suggested that someone drowned at some point… ?
That or it’s somehow symbolic of that particular relationship…
Oh, who cares? it’s a nice-looking shot.
Poor Axl, drowning in his own tears 😦
You know what this calls for?
As the budget of the video grows like crazy before your very eyes, we see the whole band rock out on a well lit rooftop, surrounded by helicopters.
Axl, as ever, wears no trousers.
Who needs ’em?
The best part of this particular sequence, however, has absolutely nothing to do with helicopters.
I am talking, of course, about this part:
Slash getting so into it that he literally “slashes” his hat right out of his head!
This blew my mind, back in the day.
I guess I always thought up until that point that his hat was just part of his body, like a third elbow or something, so seeing Slash whip it off just like that had some raw power to it I did not expect.
Anyway, back to the plot.
Good old Stephanie is looking through old polaroid pictures as Axl rocks out on her TV.
As it turns out, she’s looking at a picture of Axl with some other gal.
We enter the picture in an unexpected piece of transcendent filmmaking and we’re in the next scene, which begs the question whether this part is taking place before or after Axl’s ex-gal was looking at the pic.
Or whether it’s all in her mind.
It doesn’t matter either way.
Stephanie shows up to deliver Axl’s companion one of the most awkward punches you’re likely to see anyone attempt.
Somehow, the punch works and blonde lady is sent flying off the piano seat and onto her butt.
All the while staying stylishly lit and glamorous, of course.
Just because she’s knocked out doesn’t mean she can’t look good!
Gotta love the band’s reaction to this whole rumble: Slash is so shocked he actually stands up.
Duff McKagan, meanwhile, doesn’t seem all that fussed and kinda looks like he’s looking forward to sitting through a “cat fight” from afar.
Stephanie finally leaves and her bittersweet exit is final.
Sorry Steph, can’t win ’em all.
The focus of the video then switches to Slash who, believe it or not, has a little subplot in all of this.
We fly over him as he drives with his girlfriend in a badass-lookin’ car.
And we realise he’s having a full blown argument with her, even if he hardly seems to be getting involved all that much.
He does look weary when she flat out yells into his face, however.
Maybe not the best thing to do to someone who’s driving really fast near a cliff while you’re in the car.
Slash lets out a quiet yet significant sigh…
Before drifting out of control…
And smiling his ass off.
I wonder what’s so funny.
Did a squirrel just jump on the windshield?
Oh good, he’s fine.
Wasn’t there someone in the car with him?
Apparently, Mrs Slash, along with most of Slash’s clothes and his car died that day.
Luckily, Slash himself and his trusty guitar live to solo another day!
Well… one last day, anyway.
I love this entire sequence, Slash sorta single-handedly steals the show here and the scene captures brilliantly the spirit of the video which celebrates life, rock and roll and death, a key motif in all of this.
Only thing to do now is wrap up the Axl plot.
We find Mr Rose in a hospital room thinking about the tabloids and nasty articles surrounding his band and himself.
Then the video takes another odd Kubrickian turn as we delve into 2001: A Space Odyssey-style surrealism and another Axl Rose shows up wearing that cool kilt he often wore.
But then another shows up and things soon seem to be moving more towards something like Multiplicity than anything else…
In what is easily one of the most unexpected moments in he entire video, Axl Number 3 waves bye bye and enters the nearby mirror Orpheus-style.
Just in case viewers are getting too confused, we then cut back to that rooftop party where everyone’s having a ball power ballading away.
But Axl is struggling to recover from whatever horrible disease has taken a hold of him and we see him tremble in front of one very attractive and concerned shrink.
The smile in the next shot kinda takes away from the dark tone the video was going for at this point but the sequence still builds up to an appropriately downbeat climax.
Poor Axl, it turns out, dies soon after all that and his grave…
Was where that underground Axl was praying all along.
Or was it just a vision of Axl’s own personal hell?
Well, the ending suggests that he’ll be getting another shot at happiness very soon through baby reincarnation.
Oh dear, sure hope they didn’t actually drown that baby.
I mean, I know the Guns N’ Roses were big and could do just about whatever they wanted at the time but come on!
Nah, the baby’s fine and his frighteningly green eyes deliver the video’s final, somewhat cryptic, message.
So that’s the video for “Don’t Cry” and it is definitely just as epic and beautifully overblown as I remember it.
There’s, indeed, a lot goin’ on in it and I do really like the abstract way in which it tells its story and all the cool stylistic choices the video goes for. It manages to not only be arty but kick ass at the same time and make the most out of a bloody good song.
It’s nothing short of brilliant and it’s well worth revisiting.
Don’t cry, folks, more Guns N’ Roses coming soon on the blog 😉