The 90’s gave birth to some of the most epic songs and bands of all time. Soul Asylum’s hit 1993 song, “Runaway Train” with its hypnotic rhythm guitar and affecting lyrics was one of these epic songs. The tune won a grammy for best rock song in ’94 and is, in my opinion, one of the best songs ever written. I can spend hours lost in the guitar music, which I am unable to pay proper homage with flattery alone. (For a proper breakdown of the lyrics and music read this review by Song Mango.) Frontman, Dave Pirner cites personal experience as inspiration for those powerful, emotional lyrics.
The song’s video, directed by Tony Kaye, was a sort of PSA for missing children and aired in several countries, with each country showing images of their own missing children. There were three versions released in the US featuring a total of thirty-six missing children. According to the video’s director, twenty-six missing children from all over the world made it back home because of “Runaway Train.” But not all of those missing had a happy ending and some have yet to be found. Among those listed as still missing are Thomas Dean Gibson (the last child shown in each of the US versions), Byron Page, Wilda Benoit, Christopher Kerze, and Martha Dunn.
The lyrics for “Runaway Train” were not actually about runaways but became the song’s legacy, and possibly the band’s, in the mind of many listeners and fans after the release of the video. The hit song gave the band mainstream success and visibility, which proved difficult to surpass from a marketing and branding perspective. I was fortunate enough to experience the song without having seen the video first and managed not to see the video until two years after its release, so the song and video are, for me, two vastly different but equally important works of art.
Now mainstream music is set to autotune and lyrics often lack depth and emotion. You have to dig deep in the industry’s treasure chest as the real musical gems lie beneath a layer of costume jewelry-esque lyrics and hooks. The good stuff is rarely played but has the most value. I eagerly anticipate a revival of the industry where raw, imperfect talent and vocals are once again encouraged and autotune meets its demise. I want lyrics and videos, not advertisements for perfume, clothes, jewelry, cars, and swank digs set to a mix of moans and too many vocal runs. Fuck your diamonds, furs, purse puppies, vodka, party dancers, and vibrato. I don’t care if your cords could climb Mt. Everest, I don’t need to know how you sound during orgasm, Justin already brought back sexy, and no one, I repeat no one, can ever out pimp Prince. More art. Less fiddle fart.
That last ranty paragraph aside, I’m not a music snob. I do enjoy many of today’s commercial songs, mainly because my daughters play them over and over like psychological torture until one day I wake up a self-professed 1D fan (status is debatable, as the same thing occurred with Barney, and god help me, Teletubbies) and have memorized Tay’s life story. Still, there’s something about the music of yesterday that I miss, and one can hardly deny that the true artists of the industry are underrated and/or unknown.
Of course, some will argue that I’m just getting old.
Sources and further reading: