Meaning of “Runaway Train” by Soul Asylum
Soul Asylum’s “Runaway Train” is a song is about the singer going through a bout of depression. And although at the beginning of the song, he finds a little relief by interacting with someone who is presumably his girlfriend, overall this is a very-serious case. How serious? So serious he has basically concluded is incurable.
Thus the rest of the track does not find him pleading for help or anything along those lines. Rather it focuses on his confused mindset, a result of him refusing to deal with the “pain” of reality. And more importantly, it finds him comparing the trajectory of his life to a “runaway train”, where he is on a one-way course to the point of no return.
Facts about “Runaway Train”
- This track is also the primary reason why the album it is featured on, Soul Asylum’s “Grave Dancers Union”, went on to sell over three-million copies.
- “Runaway Train” was released on the same day as the album, which was 1 June 1993, by Columbia Records.
- In celebration of its 25th anniversary, “Runaway Train” was re-recorded in 2019 by Jamie N Commons, Skylar Grey and Gallant in collaboration with the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC). This initiative is complete with a new, state-of-the-art website which allows viewers who watch the interactive music video to see missing children in their respective areas, where they have a higher tendency of being recovered, through the utilization of geo-targeting technology.
- All of this for a song which, according to its sole writer Dave Pirner, really has nothing at all to do with missing children.
- Adding to the success story of “Runaway Train”, the song won Dave Pirner the 1994 Grammy for Best Rock Song. However due to his personal belief that one song should not be exalted over the others, Pirner did not attend the ceremony. And Meat Loaf accepted it on his behalf.
Music Video of “Runaway Train”
The legendary music video to this track, which was directed by Tony Kaye, is what is largely accredited with blowing it up. It features images of dozens of real life missing children. Furthermore, in the clip, there is an epilogue of Dave Pirner issuing a telephone number to call if one of them is spotted or if they themselves wanted support.
Some versions of the clip featured different children based on the country in which it was to be aired.
FYI, MTV edited out the epilogue due to not wanting the video to read like a public service announcement.
Were the missing children in the video ever found?
As of 2019, Rolling Stone confirmed that of the 36 missing children featured on the clip, 21 had been found. However, the number reported by Tony Kaye in 2013 was 26. Overall while most of them were actually found, it was not always a happy situation.
How did “Runaway Train” fare on the charts?
It charted in many countries, most notably peaking at number 5 on America’s Hot 100 and number 7 in UK. It also reached number 1 on RPM Top Singles (Canada).