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25 years later, Soul Asylum’s “Runaway Train” is still raising awareness for missing children

Screenshot: RunawayTrain25.com (YouTube)

Soul Asylum’s breakthrough 1993 hit “Runway Train” won the Grammy for Best Rock Song and peaked at number five at the Billboard Hot 100. Fueling the song’s popularity was its Tony Kaye-directed video, in which photos of actual missing children/possible runaways were interspersed along images of the band performing the song. Rolling Stone reports that the video “miraculously led to the location and recovery of 21 of the 36 missing kids.”

For the song’s (just-passed) 25th anniversary, Jamie N Commons, Skylar Grey, and Gallant have recorded an updated version, again in collaboration with the National Center For Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC). The Runaway Train 25 website describes it as “more than just a cover song—it’s a dynamic music video, designed not just for watching, but for bringing home real missing and trafficked kids near you.”

The new video starts out with the statement that “every year there are over 400,000 missing kids in the U.S.” The Runaway Train 25 website uses “geo-targeting technology,” says Rolling Stone, so that viewers who watch the song on the site receive specific information about children from their area who have gone missing. After all, NCMEC states that 61% of missing children are found in the same state they were lost in. The new song is much more orchestral than the acoustic original, adding a bit of a lush slant, aided by the collaboration of the disparate performers.

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Although not every missing child in that original video had a happy ending—like still-missing Christopher Kerze, profiled in the Mel article “The Lost Children of ‘Runaway Train,’”—the song did inspire some kids to come back and hopefully some not to run away in the first place. Soul Asylum’s Dave Pirner—the only original member still in the band—told Spin magazine in 2016: “It’s weird to see people still come up to me and go, “That song saved my life.’” For a while though, “Runway Train” became the song that the band could not escape. Pirner said in Spin: “It turned into a joke for me. I went into an Irish bar once and there was a sign that said, ‘Danny Boy’—ten bucks.” I just wanted to put a sign on my shirt that said, ‘Runaway Train’—ten bucks.’” Director Kaye, who went on direct American History X, told Spin that he still considers it “maybe the most important thing I’ll ever do.”

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Gwen Ihnat

Gwen Ihnat is the Editorial Coordinator for The A.V. Club.