U2101 – Mothers of the Disappeared

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past week, you probably already know that U2 has announced their upcoming Joshua Tree 2017/2019 Tour, on which they plan to play the entire Joshua Tree album in sequence at every show. This means that we, the fans, are going to be treated to some wonderful live rarities, like “Red Hill Mining Town”, which I wrote about last week, “Trip Through Your Wires”, which hasn’t been performed since the original Joshua Tree Tour in 1987, and “Mothers of the Disappeared”.

The beating heart of the song is Larry Mullen, Jr’s drum beat – by itself, a bouncy, martial sounding cadence that would be appropriate for a marching band to do it’s thing to. Once producer Brian Eno had added an electronic treatment to  that he was fond of at the time, it became a sinister drone, evocative of the fear and paranoia that one must feel when living in a world where you never know if yourself or a loved one might be the next victim of the death squads. Without that ominous hum, the song might almost be too saccharine sounding. The beautiful main guitar riff is gentle enough that it could almost be a lullaby, and the easy rise and fall of of Bono’s vocal melody follows suit, especially at the beginning of the song. As the piece progresses, the listener encounters some more aggressive elements – Bono’s vocal becomes more strident, and Edge introduces a striking buzz on the guitar that really elevates the song to the next level. Finally, at the end of the song, everything fades away except for Larry’s drums, bring us back full circle to the beginning of the song, where the drums gradually fade in.

“Mothers of the Disappeared” is about a group of people, mostly mothers, in Central and South America who joined together to uncover the truth about the kidnappings and probable murders of their children, who were political protesters. Bono first learned about these groups from his friend, artist Rene Castro. Castro’s artwork motivated Bono, and his wife Ali, to take a trip to Central and  South America to see for himself the plight of those living in that poor region. Another song that came from this trip was “Bullet the Blue Sky”, from the same album.

Mothers of the Disappeared was only played seven times on the original Joshua Tree Tour, often joined by the refrain “El pueblo vencera”, which translates to English as “a people united will overcome”. The song didn’t make another appearance after the Joshua Tree Tour until the final leg of the Pop*Mart Tour in 1998, where it appeared at four shows in Argentina and Chile. The actual group that the song took it’s name from appeared on stage at one of these shows. The song appeared again in 2006 on the Vertigo Tour, when the song was played twice, solely by Bono and Edge. For these performances, Edge played a charango, a traditional South American instrument similar to a ukelele, that he had been given as a gift by the Chilean president. Finally, the song was played three times during the third leg of the 360 tour in 2010. All in all, “Mothers of the Disappeared” has only been played eighteen times, so we should all feel very lucky to have a new opportunity to hear the song performed on U2’s upcoming tour. It’s going to be an exciting tour!

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Ever since I realized as a kid, while poring over the liner notes of the Bob Marley - Songs of Freedom boxed set, that writing about music was a viable career choice, one of my greatest desires has been to write about U2. The band has been a major part of my life for as long as I can remember, and I'm thrilled to have this opportunity to contribute a little something to the fantastic online community that's been built around the band.

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