LYRICS OF THE WEEK to “Mothers of the Disappeared”
“Mothers of the Disappeared” is a song by Irish rock band U2. It is the eleventh and final track on their 1987 album The Joshua Tree. The song was inspired by lead singer Bono’s experiences in Nicaragua and El Salvador in July 1986, following U2’s involvement on Amnesty International’s A Conspiracy of Hope tour. He learned of the Madres de Plaza de Mayo, a group of women whose children had been “disappeared” by the Argentine and Chilean dictatorships. While in Central America, he met members of COMADRES, a similar organization whose children had been disappeared by the government in El Salvador. Bono sympathized with the Madres and COMADRES and wanted to pay tribute to their cause.
The song was written on a Spanish guitar, and the melody lifted from a piece Bono composed in Ethiopia in 1985 to help teach children basic forms of hygiene. The lyrics contain an implicit criticism of the Reagan Administration, which backed two South American regimes that seized power during coup d’états and which provided financial support for the military regime in El Salvador. Thematically it has been interpreted as an examination of failures and contradictions in US foreign policy.
“Mothers of the Disappeared” was favourably received by critics, who variously described it as “powerful”, “a moving tribute”, and containing “stunning beauty and sadness”. The song was played seven times on the 1987 Joshua Tree Tour, and some recordings were considered for the ending sequence of the 1988 film Rattle and Hum. It was revived for four concerts on the 1998 PopMart Tour in South America, and for two of them, the Madres joined the band onstage for the performance, one of which was broadcast on television in Chile. Bono used the opportunity to ask General Pinochet to reveal to the Madres the locations of their children’s bodies. The song was played a further three times on the U2 360° Tour; one performance was dedicated to Fehmi Tosun, an ethnic Kurd who was forcibly disappeared in Turkey in 1995. Bono re-recorded the song a cappella in 1998 for the album ¡Ni Un Paso Atras!.
Recording sessions for The Joshua Tree began in January 1986 in Danesmoate House in Dublin and continued throughout the year. U2 briefly interrupted these sessions in June to join Amnesty International’s A Conspiracy of Hope tour. Following the first concert in San Francisco, lead singer Bono met René Castro, a Chilean mural artist. Castro had been tortured and held in a concentration camp for two years by the dictatorial Chilean government because his artwork criticised the Pinochet-led regime that seized power in 1973 during a coup d’état. Castro showed Bono a wall painting in the Mission District that depicted the ongoing plight in Chile and Argentina. He also learned of the Madres de Plaza de Mayo, a group of women whose children were forcibly disappeared by the Argentine government. The Madres’ children were students who had opposed the government during the Dirty War, and the coup d’état that brought Jorge Rafael Videla to power. The Madres joined together to campaign for information regarding the locations of their children’s bodies and the circumstances of their deaths, believing them to have been kidnapped, tortured, and murdered.
Inspired by the mural, Bono took an extended break from recording into July, travelling to Nicaragua and El Salvador with his wife, Alison Hewson, to see firsthand the distress of peasants bullied by political conflicts and US military intervention. While there, they worked with the Central American Mission Partners (CAMP), a human rights and economic development organization. In El Salvador they met members of the Comité de Madres Monsignor Romero (COMADRES: Committee of the Mothers Monsignor Romero), an organization of women whose children were forcibly disappeared by the Salvadoran government during the Civil War because they opposed the military regime that was in power. At one point during the trip, Bono, Alison, and a member of CAMP were shot at by government troops while on their way to deliver aid to a group of farmers. The shots were a warning and, according to author John Luerssen, the incident made Bono realize that “they didn’t care for their intrusion and they could kill them if they felt compelled.”
Lyrics to “Mothers of the Disappeared” by U2
Midnight, our sons and daughters
Were cut down and taken from us.
Hear their heartbeat
We hear their heartbeat.
In the wind we hear their laughter
In the rain we see their tears.
Hear their heartbeat, we hear their heartbeat.
Night hangs like a prisoner
Stretched over black and blue.
Hear their heartbeats
We hear their heartbeats.
In the trees our sons stand naked
Through the walls our daughter cry
See their tears in the rainfall.
Songwriters Adam Clayton, Dave Evans, Larry Mullen, Paul Hewson
Lyrics © Universal Music Publishing Group
You can listen to the song here: