GUNS AND ROSES – “November Rain”

We had a “rock party” last night. I was going to go as Fred Durst but I couldn’t find a baseball cap, so instead I sat around downloading hard rock hits, almost all of which sounded wonderful at ten to fifteen years distance. I never listened to hard rock or metal in the 80s; I looked down on it, I thought it was pompous and dishonest, and I was a little frightened of it too. I thought hard rock would be aggressive, so aggressive it might compromise me somehow – or implicate me, more like, in its world of big emotions and big noises and the hedonism I so pinchedly mistrusted and desperately wanted.

I’m confident enough to like it now. I’m not saying that hard rock was music for confident people – most of the people who listened to it were probably as neurotic, or teenage, as me. But the specific patterns of my neuroses – passive-aggression and puritanism – meant that big gestures were an aesthetic no-no. And they don’t get much bigger than “November Rain”; an enormous, glutinous, gorgeous skyscraping stupid mess. Not aggressive, either – it’s an absolute truism (because true) to point out that Axl was the most confused, agonised, flouncy and downright indie performer of his day, but it’s still his vulnerabilities that make the song. Well, them and the bitchin’ solos.

At the party we were talking about how Suede’s “Stay Together” was a pallid imitation of “November Rain”, and even that record sounded vast compared to what other rock bands in Britain were doing. The grandiosity was what put me off back then but now I can just enjoy it as a sonic fact: the need to cram in more sentiment, more solos, more orchestration, more more more of everything but always making sure the whole tottering folly is still a song. Maybe because I’m confident, because I’m happy, I don’t need to believe in the music I listen to any more – but even so at four this morning I could lie back on my bed and let Axl’s fuzzy studio pain slosh around me, and I might not have needed to believe it but I did.