The Guns N’ Roses ‘November Rain’ Cake Jumper Isn’t Who You Think
For decades, Guns N' Roses' "November Rain" video has inspired a mixture of shock, awe, intrigue and just a tiny bit of scorn. One scene, in particular, continues to nag viewers and raise the same question: Who is the infamous cake jumper?
For the uninitiated, here's a quick summary of the $1.5 million "November Rain" video: GNR perform their nine-minute epic ballad in a theater filled with stuffy, suit-wearing audience members, flanked by an orchestra onstage. The performance is interspersed with footage of Axl Rose marrying his real-life girlfriend Stephanie Seymour in a chapel in the middle of the desert. (Slash, the best man, leaves the wedding to rip a guitar solo outside.) The wedding reception sours when the titular November rain begins pelting the guests, who all run for cover, including one man who leaps over a table and plows through the wedding cake. The wedding then abruptly transforms into a funeral for Seymour.
The identity of the cake jumper has puzzled fans for years. It was long presumed to be Riki Rachtman, owner of Hollywood nightclub the Cathouse and host of MTV's Headbanger's Ball. But Rachtman denied demolishing the cake in a new interview.
"We had been up all night shooting at the Rainbow [Bar and Grill in Hollywood]," Rachtman told Vice. "And then we went straight to the wedding reception scene the next morning. Axl wanted it to feel like a real wedding, so all his friends were there. It's why I was there. When I see the video now, it's a lot of faces from the old scene. But the biggest misconception of the whole video is that I was the guy getting thrown through the cake. That wasn't me. Everybody seems to think it was, but it wasn't."
Cinematographer Daniel Pearl, who served as director of photography for GNR's legendary Use Your Illusion video trilogy ("Don't Cry," "November Rain" and "Estranged") also told Vice that the cake-jumping scene was spontaneous.
"It absolutely did come up on the spot," said Pearl, whose cinematography credits also include the original The Texas Chain Saw Massacre and its 2003 remake. "All I know is I got my instructions from Andy [Morahan, director] that we were going to shoot this. And I know we shot it very quickly. I have to say that your choice of verb, that we got the [actor] 'jumping' through the cake — it is jumping. It's not like he just falls through it or anything. When we shot it, I went, 'Well, that's no good, man.' It looks like the guy jumps into the cake, and we had only one cake. So there it is, that's it. That's what it is. My reaction at the time was that it looked wrong."
Morahan was more generous in his assessment of the cake jumper.
"The concept of 'November Rain,' what does it mean?” Morahan asked Vice. "It's like a bad dream. It was deliberately over the top. It's an allegory. When Daniel [Pearl] goes, 'Oh, I didn't really like the guy going through the cake,' I'm not saying it's a joke, but it is supposed to be a tongue-in-cheek bad dream, where everything just goes to shit. For me, that scene was like pissing on the wedding reception in The Godfather. It’s an upside-down nightmare version of that wedding."
Watch Guns N' Roses' 'November Rain' Video
Morahan also said he had removed the cake-jumping shot when he and his team began editing the video, but they reinserted it at Rose's behest. "I agree with Daniel. It looked a little bit too jokey to me," he said. "But then I showed the cut to Axl, and he said, 'Where's the cake? I love the cake.' So we put it back in."
So, if Rachtman isn't the infamous cake jumper, who is? The answer is still uncertain. One Swedish Blogspot user named Jim recalled getting on a train in Malaysia and sitting next to a man nicknamed "Slow," who claimed to have done the scene. But neither Jim nor Slow responded to Vice's requests for comment, so for now, the cake jumper's identity remains a mystery.
Perhaps one day the anonymous cake jumper will emerge from their self-imposed exile and take credit for their mystifying acrobatic feat. To paraphrase Rose: If he could take the time to lay it on the line, we could rest our heads just knowing that he was fine.