Songs That Grabbed Me – U2, Mothers of the Disappeared

From the 1987 Album , The Joshua Tree, easily their best album in my opinion, the final track, Mothers of the Disappeared, has to be one of the saddest songs ever written. Argue with me if you like. I’ll just nod and say “yeah, probably” but I really won’t care.

The title and the soft droning music invoke a desperate sadness that even an emotionally inert blockhead like me can’t fail to pick up. On first hearing the lyrics I figured it was about soldiers lost at war described from their mothers’ point of view.

The first two lines alluded to this – “Cut down, taken from us”. The second verse I thought was about the reminders of lost children mothers would see everywhere, especially of their earlier years. The third verse suggests soldiers captured by the enemy and tortured. I imagine at night after the distractions of a busy day, when a mother goes to bed, would be a time the loss of a child would come to the forefront of her mind – if it isn’t there already. Verse 4 brought up images of a prisoners of war in a concentration camp.

Midnight, our sons and daughters
Cut down, 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 heartbeat
We hear their heartbeat

In the trees our sons stand naked
Through the walls our daughters cry
See their tears in the rainfall

But it didn’t really fit. Not snugly, anyway, so after a small amount of research I found I had it all wrong. It was really about the children who had been “disappeared” by the dictatorships of Argentina and Chile in the 1980’s. Even worse than losing a child to war would be trying to deal with not knowing where your dictatorship-government has taken your children, what happened to them and what horrors they went through in the process. This song is permanently etched into my psyche. Good job, Bono.

The unofficial video of Mothers of the Disappeared from the The Joshua Trip The Movie:

4 thoughts on “Songs That Grabbed Me – U2, Mothers of the Disappeared

  1. ericjbaker

    I am the most casual of U2 fans, drifting in and out of what they were doing over the years, but I will say with certainty that they put on the best live performance I’ve seen in all my years of concert and club-going.

  2. jmmcdowell

    The Joshua Tree is my favorite U2 album. I didn’t care so much for the turn they took following Achtung Baby, and only started listening to some of their newer stuff in the 2000s. But definitely one of the best groups of all time in my book.

    1. Richard Leonard Post author

      Agreed. Although I once sat on the couch, eyes closed, headphones on and did nothing but listen to Achtung Baby from start to end. Mind blown. Haven’t experienced it since.


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