Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Nothing lasts forever - except November Rain

By Gaurav Parab

Ever since I can remember, my house always had music playing in some corner at all times. It started with that old HMV gramophone about 20 years ago – partial to Neil Diamond and the Beatles, followed by that faithful Phillips 2-in-1 in the early nineties, and that delightful Sony CD player my sister and me begged my father for around the time IK Gujral became the Prime Minister.

When I moved out on my own, it took my neighbors about a couple of years to live with the fact that I have an eight speaker set, which is not going anywhere.

Country, Rock, Metal, Easy Listening, Hip Hop, Western Classical, Joe Sat, Clapton, Rap, Jagjit Singh, Dylan, Mohd Rafi, - heck! even Abba are million little moments that have defined me. To ask me which is my favorite song, is taking a quick look at a lavish landscape and trying to pick the best pixel.

But if I were to pretend that someone had put a gun to my head and demanded to know my favorite song – then I would probably shrug and say November Rain by Guns and Roses.

November Rain, written by Axl Rose- probably one of the most underrated song writers of our times, cuts across genres, beyond places and through my mind like very few things do. Axl Rose, what went through your mind when you wrote,

When your fears subside,
And shadows still remain.
I know that you cant love me,
When there is no one left to blame
So never mind the darkness,
We still can find a way,
Nothing lasts forever, even cold November rain

Oh, but that was not enough was it. You had to blend your high octane vocals with two unforgettable solos with Slash to produce two rare moments in time when I feel my soul not only move- but jump and down like a clueless ball let go from a skyscraper. Brilliance overkill.

As the legend goes, Rose first started playing this song on the Piano in 1983. “Someday this song is going to be pretty cool. But it is not done” he reportedly told Traci Guns, the ex- GNR guitarist.

Yeah right. Trust me. It turned out pretty well.

The song is a remarkable love song, not only for the lavish string arrangement, the moving lyrics, the distinct Rose voice, Slash reluctantly strumming out a melody, the obscenely expensive video, the drummer hitting the right cymbals at just the right moments, but because of the fact that it does not follow the standard structure and template that most songs do.

Lets discuss how the song flows for a moment here. And I cannot promise you that I will not get carried away.

The start is a little bit of an undertaker announcing his own death, dark piano notes strengthen by the sounds of lightening in the background, sweeping violins pushing the listener to and fro between two unknown extremes – and then Rose’s voice breaking through - “When I look into your eyes, I can see a love restrained…”

The start fades away, and it is almost as if someone put on another song. But you wont even notice, because the transitions are so seamless. So like another GNR classic, Estranged. Just when your mind settles into a rhythm, there is a shift in momentum and then we really start having fun. Rose’s voice is supported by a chorus of beautiful female background singers who stop as soon as they start.

“If you want to love me, then darling don’t refrain. Or I will just end up walking in the cold November rain…..”

Then there is another shift, and Rose sets up the stage for introducing Slash slowly. His voice goes slow, as if he is saying “Ladies and Gentlemen, let me warn you –It took me years for me to complete this song, and this one is special.”

“I know it is hard to keep an open heart, when even friends seem out to harm you…but if you could heal a broken heart, wouldn’t time be out to charm you?”

And before you catch your breath, Slash comes in with a soul stirring melody. It is not fast, nothing fancy, just a simple melody played really well. Just when you think this is it, Rose comes back in for a second or two, only to unleash Slash again. And after Slash is done, my favorite piece of writing and music is played out.

As Rose says, “When your fears subside, And shadows still remain..”. you hear the chorus girls in the background, a million soft violins, rhythm guitars, the piano and a little bit of life itself all coming together beautifully and picking up pace at the right time. The moments of silence in Rose’s voice as he moves into the next line are as beautiful as anything you will ever hear. And then the party starts. First the dummy- the pause, and then Slash’s lead. As Slash picks up pace, everyone come back in, and Rose plays his vocal chords like a hyper-charged guitar. “Don’t you think you need somebody?”

Hell yeah Rose! If you say so. Axl Rose, take a bow.

As the song ends, you cant help but do the only thing that seems to be right. Play it again. For November Rain remains one of those epic songs which does not lose steam in spite of repetitive listening, a rare track which not only grows on you – but becomes a part of you. And to think the rest of the band never wanted to do this song as they did not agree with Axl’s fondness for symphonic ballads.

There is no denying that a lot of songs combine great lyrics with great music. November Rain stands out for me because at the core, in spite of its massive scale it remains a simple song that has held a mysterious hold over me for nearly fifteen years now. It has that gift which allows it to be used totally out of context in different situations that life throws at everyone. A love song one moment, a stress buster the next, an inspirational piece of art when I need to do something creative or a great song to put on when sharing a game of cards with family and friends. I can hear it when I am feeling good, I can hear it when I am in a crowd, I can hear it alone in my house – with darkness for company, applauding genius like it should be applauded.

If you have been staying in a different planet for the last decade or so, and have not heard November Rain yet, getting a copy of Use Your Illusion –I by Guns and Roses and an eight speaker set is not a bad idea. You might have to look for a different place every now and then, but I assure you those 8 minutes and 57 seconds of magic are worth it.


Anonymous said...

The earliest memories i had of the song.. when i was in mid school and our cable had only a single music channel. , i stil remember a hairy dude walking out of a church and doing some cool stuff! That image hasnt gone away, was the single reason i picked up the guitar. I still remember the night when i searched for the lyrics and heard this song, IT totally blew me away! It still does. November Rain is the certainly one of the masterpieces of all time and shall remain so because of its simplicity. Its one of the few times the egos of Slash and Axl Rose have collided to produce an absolute gem of a song. There are other gems too , lots in GNR. but this one takes the cake.. the perfect blend of soul, guitar, and Axl Rose!!!
The video was the costliest ones ever made during that time and is considered to be one of the best ever. And why not. It captures the true spirit of rock n roll. the rise and the fall.


Anonymous said...

Slash rocks man….


Anonymous said...

You kinda wrote down pretty much everything i ever wanted to say about the song ! I can practically play the entire song (all 8 mins 57 secs) in my head.Axl Rose was in a very special place in his life when he wrote/composed this song.The kind of time that folyd were in when they wrote comfortably numb.

KRR said...

The last para that you have mentioned used to be my signature once upon a time...and surely it did serve the purpose... few of my frnds started looking at this gem in a totally new light :).

The song rocks...


Anonymous said...

very nicely written. Liked the poem 'Ropes' too. Well done.

shweta said...

Well fell in love with the song all over again...

Its perfect for today!

Beautifully written.

Surferosh said...

great article.. and succinctly describes the song.. i was introduced to the song by my sister and she has mentioned your post in her blog.. so i hopped over to read :)

everytime i listen to November Rain, it brings up different emotions in me.. and the two pieces by Slash keep haunting me for a long long time after i am done with the song... hats off to Axl and Slash !

tambourine girl said...

November Rain used to be 'the' song to love, in high school, cos it fit the bill so perfectly - love, angst, melody, rock, guitar solos. And back then, we sang it without any real insight into the lyrics.

Its only when I found myself heartbroken, ironically in November, in gloomy Scandinavia, that the lyrics hit home. Its never been just a song since.

Just finished a first read of your book, btw, and I definitely want an autograph now! :P

Your title poem repeats in parts in my head now. I couldn't remember reading it here, so I came back looking for it.

Clicked the 'unlucky' link in the 'Favourites' set and landed on this post. And now I'm stuck in weird nostalgia. Damn you Gaurav Parab! :) You keep going like this, you'll get stalked by all kinds of carzy ppl out here :)

Aravind Ganesan said...

Lance Armstrong in his autobiography says "If I have to die, i would like to jump down a cliff riding a bike". If I were to use it, how nice it would be to do so, playing that second solo by slash.
It is worth two articles by GUP and more.