Saturday, November 14, 2009

"Estranged" -- a music video retrospective

I have been listening to Chinese Democracy's "Street of Dreams" for about two weeks straight, every day. I cannot figure out if the opening lyrics are actually Axl Rose's voice or a pitch corrector, auto-tuning his pipes to those lows and highs. The first time I heard it, I assumed the latter. A decade's worth of fine-tuning CD would make anyone believe Rose was perfecting every syllable from his throat. Concerts were cancelled because of laryngitis/illness in the past, and it always seemed that Axl was straining to sound immaculate (especially on old songs). But now, I am not so convinced. He could be that good after the first or the millionth take...

There is no other rock star I can think of that defined a generation better than Axl Rose. When I look back at grade school, every boy envied the man. Rose set such a high bar: he beat his wife, incited riots, idolized Charles Manson and looked good in a kilt. He feuded with Kurt Cobain and Vince Neil. Nothing could touch him, except maybe supermodels. The only thing that could hurt W. Axl Rose was himself. And, that's exactly what rings true today on "Estranged".

I just completed Chuck Klosterman's Fargo Rock City. It is a retelling of 80s "metal" and touches on some great moments in video history. I guess I had forgotten that GNR had a video trilogy back in the early 90s to promote Use Your Illusion I & II. I figured they were separate entities (especially the "November Rain" clip, as it was based on a short story). And, like "November Rain", in "Estranged" (the final act) there is a lot of water here. A lot...

This video is a chronological mess, but it is all magical. It can be best summed up by:
  1. cops invading Axl's home (flashback?)
  2. a live concert
  3. post-concert Axl showering and walking along Sunset Strip (out-of-body experience?)
  4. people vacating a home
  5. roadies loading up equipment
  6. Axl on an oil tanker
  7. GNR attempting to rescue a drowning Axl
  8. rescue (both spiritual and Coast Guard)
There is too much to discuss here! First, bottlenose dolphins... Remember that dolphin craze (or was that just me)? If you are a dolphin fan, then this is your Mecca. Porpoises are on televisions, coming out of billboards, swimming in CGI rivers, in cargo planes and even on hood ornaments. The only thing preventing this notion from being overkill is 9 minutes of other good stuff.

There is also concert footage interspersed with old "Don't Cry" stuff interspersed with backstage roadie shots. When people remember one of the three videos, they often get the scenes confused.

Slash's second solo is the best guitar part expressed through video ever. Slash rises from the sea, only to shred a Les Paul while walking on water. The color of the guitar and sunset even match.

The rest of the video is hard to describe, and the screen captures hardly do it justice. Tons of "money shots" all throughout: Axl-esque poses throughout, slow-motion Slash, hot chicks... what else is there to want?

Oh, and the budget... One must remember the Waterworld Rule: any film with water scenes has an insane price tag. However, here is where the internet fails. I have searched and searched to find how much this video cost. No satisfaction!

"Estranged" is one of those videos that is overshadowed by an even bigger one, and pre-web days just really blow my chances of ever finding a cost without sifting through microfilm.

I distinctly remember (via an MTV special back in the day) the oil tanker costing $1 million for a day's rental. Combine that with dolphins, Coast Guard and water CGI, and logic dictates it's above the $3 million mark.

Video stats
Length: 9:41
Director: Andy Morahan
Date: December 1993
Est. Cost: $3 million*

The GNR legacy, to me, lies in videos. As soon as I heard Welcome to the Videos existed, I plunked down $15.00. Almost every video shows concert footage, and captures the band at its zenith.
There is still rumored to be a "Better" video, which will be the first visual in over a decade from the "band". But, it will never capture the post-80s turmoil and bombast of Slash, Izzy, Sorum and all the other fired members.

There is much more to write... Stephanie Seymour, etc... but I'm tired.

To submit ideas for Retrospective articles, or to just chat about the obscure and esoteric, contact me here.

[All images are © their respective owners.]
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  1. whats all this abt the manson t shirt though?

  2. Interesting review! According to wikipedia, the estimated budget for the Estranged video was US$4 million

  3. .....not sure who was SO clearly touched by 'HEAD' and/or the Monkees - Axl, Del or BOTH but, NO question that, like Marillion's QUITE brilliant longform video for 'Brave' (the album, and also showing a VERY big 'Twin Peaks' affectation) around the same time, "Estranged"s visual narrative was HEAVILY influenced by it - to WIT: apparent suicide and reluctant rescue, dolphins, illusions.....

  4. thanks Man ... one of my favorite tracks of all time .... damn fine guitar work ... remembered watching the video and wondering the 'messages' ...