Spotlight: Soul Asylum’s “Runaway Train”

Spotlight Series on the band Soul Asylum

In our new Spotlight Series, we’re featuring some of the incredible, diverse talent performing on Levitt stages! This week we’re taking a look at ‘80s alternative rockers Soul Asylum, playing at Levitt Arlington this Saturday, May 23, and their smash hit “Runaway Train.”

If you lived through the early ‘90s, you probably remember “Runaway Train,” the emotional power ballad about a man going through hard times that was Soul Asylum’s breakthrough hit. Instantly recognizable from its first few bars alone, the song saved the band from breaking up, vaulted them to international fame and won them a 1994 GRAMMY Award for Best Rock Song and a gig at the 1993 Presidential Inaugural Ball. At its peak, the song reached #5 on the Billboard Top 100, #2 on the U.S. Top 40 mainstream and was certified gold by the Recording Industry Association of America.

Part of the song’s success can be attributed to its iconic music video, directed by Tony Kaye, whose other works include the videos for Johnny Cash’s “God’s Gonna Cut You Down” and Red Hot Chili Peppers’ “Dani California” as well as the critically-acclaimed drama American History X. Part traditional music video, part public service announcement, the video juxtaposed footage of the band with shots of abused kids either trapped in or running away from terrible situations.

Inspired by the famous milk carton photos, the video also included pictures of actual missing children along with the year they disappeared in hopes of reuniting runaways with their families. Three versions were made for the United States and international broadcasts in England, Australia and Germany were also recut to feature local missing kids. According to Kaye, the music video helped inspire over 20 children from around the world to return to their homes.

While other situations ended more tragically, the video nonetheless brought attention to an important issue and cement the song as the band’s most iconic hit. In a 2013 interview with Spin Magazine, frontman Dave Pirner said:

“It’s weird to see people still come up to me and go, ‘That song saved my life.’ So at points, it seems corny or melodramatic, but it’s all pretty real for me. There’s an interesting level of communication that we often don’t even have with the people closest to us. And for that, I’m thankful that music exists.”

See Soul Asylum perform “Runaway Train” and other hits at Levitt Arlington on Saturday, May 23, with openers Taylor Craig Mills and Brandy Zdan. The first show starts at 5 p.m.

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