My favorite song: Estranged
Here’s my second entry in the section called: my favorite songs. Ever since it was released, Estranged by Guns N’ Roses struck a nerve. If one has to categorize the reasons why, the list is long.
It’s the rhythm, the lack of a defined chorus and asymmetrical lyrics, or the oscillation between Slash’s presence and Dizzy Reed’s and the occasional intrusion by Sorum’s defined, measured beats.
It’s the lyrics. It’s sensation of estrangement Axl Rose generates in every sentence he wrote. It’s the short yet fiery passion–right ahead of frustration–one feels when romance exits the room, the romance one knew as passionate love making that suddenly turned into crawling like a ball and hiding in the closet.
It’s the video. The frustration of swimming in endless waters, unable to touch the ground, but unable to stay afloat. Yet, it’s the urge to jump into abyss when there’s nothing left.
It’s the song, in its entirety.
Axl Rose’s writing resembles a soliloquy of desperation. He recalls, in many interviews, that he wrote the song when Erin Everly annulled their marriage. But Rose takes this beyond just separation, he delves into a journey beginning with the first breath. Every heart that has been broken can’t help but feel the pain along with him.
When you’re talkin’ to yourself
And nobody’s home
You can fool yourself
You came in this world alone, alone
But it’s a heart that still wants to fight. The battle will not end so easily:
I don’t know how you’re supposed to find me lately
And what more could you ask from me
How could you say that I never needed you?
When you took everything, said you took everything from me
And the question begs to be asked. How many times have we spoken to ourselves, alone, in order to find answers we already know? Whatever the answers are, we all know that love is an endless battle, it’s a back and forth that sometimes only side chooses to carry on tugging.
So, the lyrics lead us to a bit of backstory and a very peculiar character called Del James. A journalist, writer, and close friend of Rose’s, James had written a series of horror short stories and compiled them in the book A Language of Fear. One of them was called Without You. Axl Rose read and fell in love with the story, just like when someone can’t look away from a crash–that kind of love.
This story gave way to November Rain and also to the ideas of Estranged and Don’t Cry. If one reads the short stories–now only available for hundreds of dollars on Ebay or an occasional hacked PDF version–one gets translated into that desperation, that frustration of having to pick pieces of a broken heart, before the door slams and blows them away.
So much was the impact these stories had on Rose, that he himself wrote the introduction to the re-released version.
Understanding this background is essential. What’s the core emotion in November Rain, Don’t Cry and Estranged? Is it desperation in the form of pills and water? Water is mighty, we must never forget. Is it heartbreak? Beauty walking down the aisle then beauty lying still down the aisle. Is it both?
In charge of channeling this cornucopia of emotions was Andy Morahan, who stepped up big time. In its day, the video had a total budget of about 4 million dollars, making it one of the costliest in history.
The elements are all there: how water can be beautiful and hold dolphins in the streets and how it can turn into an endless void that will suck the remaining beats out of a broken heart.
Mansions filled with white, supposedly bringing peace, instead become labyrinths and hideouts, taking an almost clinical aspect reminiscent of Don’t Cry. The intermittent displays of GnR’s power on the stage and Axl’s family life bring us an undisclosed glare into their lives; undisclosed because we will never know which of those smiles will be forced and which of those headbangs will be only out of frustration.
Music has the power to make you glide through life, even surge from the ocean. Slash’s powerful image in this song represents the struggle the musician had to come to grips with the lyrics. So much so that Axl Rose has continuously highlighted the guitarist’s abilities to transmit the emotion. There would be no Estranged without slash.
But besides all this, besides the tragic beauty of this song, it’s the endless journey through the ocean, however, that comes closer to me. The struggle of the helicopters finding a floating dot in the vastness of solitude.
Sometimes in life, there’s a void, there’s no heading, nothing, only vast horizon ahead. No matter where you go and where you turn, no compass will guide you, yet you must swim.
And if you wear out, if your energy dies down and you feel yourself pulled by the current, just remember: there might dolphins below.
That’s why this song is still with me. And here’s the video:
Originally published at machinaverborum.com on April 27, 2016.