As he explains when introducing this song in concert, Bono wrote this when he made a trip to El Salvador in the middle of the civil war in the '80s. In San Salvador, he met with the Comadres, who were a group of women also known as the "mothers of the disappeared." These women had lost their children, who were taken in the night by death squads, leaving the mothers unsure if their children were alive or dead. He then stayed with a group of guerillas in the middle of the mountains in the north of the country, where he was inspired to write "Bullet The Blue Sky
," another single from The Joshua Tree
Alexis - San Salvador, El Salvador
This song ties in with U2's work with Amnesty International. In 1986, they participated in six concerts as part of the Amnesty International Conspiracy Of Hope tour. Peter Gabriel, Lou Reed, Brian Adams, and Sting were also on the tour with U2.
On February 5, 1998, U2 played in Buenos Aires with The Mothers of the Disappeared onstage with pictures of their missing children. After performing the song, the women draped scarves around Bono's neck and the crowd sang the Argentine National Anthem. This was the first time the band played the song in concert since 1987.
At some concerts, U2 would lead into this with a song called "El Pueblo Vencera," which is Spanish for "A People United." Bono would often implore the crowd to sing with him.
In the book U2 by U2, Bono says he wrote this on his mother-in-law's Spanish guitar "for these beautiful women with pictures of their missing sons and daughters."
The track is a hymn to those who had been vanished at the hands of regimes in Central and South America. "It's kind of ominous," Adam Clayton told Mojo of the song in 2017. "But there's an optimism in the melody that we can survive these dark forces, as well as an acknowledgement that those dark forces are demonic in these situations."
The album was U2's second outing with producers Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois, the latter coming off the success of Peter Gabriel's So album. The added acclaim of The Joshua Tree, a worldwide #1 hit, made Lanois a hot commodity among other high profile artists. Aside from his continued work with U2 (partnered with Brian Eno), he produced albums Bob Dylan, Emmylou Harris, and Willie Nelson, among others. The buzz also gave him the nudge to release his debut solo album, Acadie, in 1989.
Recalling his memories of the tune on the album's 20th anniversary box set, Bono noted: "I remember [Daniel Lanois], when we were finishing 'Mothers of the Disappeared,' losing his mind and performing at the mixing desk like he was Mozart at the piano, head blown back in an imaginary breeze, and it was pouring down with rain outside the studio and I was singing about how 'in the rain we see their tears,' the tears of those who have been disappeared. And when you listen to that mix you can actually hear the rain outside. It was magical really."