The 10 Greatest U2 Singles (Part Two)

9. Mofo
When he was 14, Paul Hewson lost both his maternal grandfather and his mother in the same month.  In September 1974, “Gags” Rankin suffered a fatal heart attack after a drunken night of celebrating his wedding anniversary.  While watching her father being buried Iris Hewson collapsed from a brain hemorrhage.  She later died in hospital.  Paul, the youngest of two sons, was never the same.
In the U2 By U2 coffee table book, Bono notes the following:
“You don’t become a rock star unless you’ve got something missing somewhere…If you were of sound mind or a more complete person, you could feel normal without 70,000 people a night screaming their love for you.
“Blaise Pascal called it the God-shaped hole.  Everyone’s got one but some are blacker and wider than others.  It’s a feeling of being abandoned, cut adrift in space and time.
“Sometimes this stuff follows the loss of a loved one…So many years later, my own hole can still open up.  I don’t think you can ever completely fill it in this life.  You can try to fill it up with songs, family, faith:  by living a real life, but when things are silent you can still hear the hissing of what’s missing.”
By the fall of 1995, it was time to address this matter head on.  After completing the Passengers project and contributing an old Achtung Baby leftover, Hold Me Thrill Me Kiss Me Kill Me, to the third Batman movie, U2 reconvened in their new studio in Dublin to work on their next album.
The Edge had spent much of his downtime in the early 1990s immersing himself in the world of clubbing while going through a painful divorce from his first wife.  He became fascinated with the technology and the energy of this music it inspired.  He started listening to it more and more and fiddled around with his own ideas.
Yes, it’s true.  Pop was supposed to be a dance album, a full-length valentine to club culture, but Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen Jr., the always dependable rhythm section, weren’t terribly happy about this idea.  Larry, who was recovering from back surgery at the time the sessions began (an important procedure he had been putting off since The Joshua Tree tour of the late ’80s when he was initially injured), hated the idea of being replaced by drum machines and loops.  With the exception of the first three songs on the album, Bono and The Edge’s dance concept was scrapped.  The final result left them all unsatisfied.  In U2 By U2, Bono calls the album, “the most expensive demo session in the history of music”.  Despite numerous remixes over the years, Larry still thinks they never properly finished it.
It is that third song, one of seven singles issued from the album, where Bono addresses what’s been bothering him all these years.  Before settling on Mofo, the nearly 6-minute Pop standout once went under the name of Oedipussy, perhaps the most uncomfortably Freudian working title ever.  Mofo, itself, is the abbreviated version of Motherfucker, which is strangely incestuous in its own right.  Wouldn’t Mother have been the best choice for a title?
Bono couldn’t stop talking about this song when the band did press for Pop and the subsequent Popmart tour in early 1997.  It’s no wonder it was the opening number for every show during that period.  And yet, Mofo is one of their lost singles.  On an album full of underappreciated numbers, it might be the most underappreciated of them all.
The lyrics are pure Catholic guilt.  The wildly successful son calling out to his dead mother hoping in vain for some kind of approval after over 20 years of deafening silence.  (“Mother/am I still your son?/you know I’ve waited for so long/to hear you so say so”)  The insecure father who worries about losing himself completely in his music and his search for inner peace to the detriment of his young children.  (“Looking for the father of my two little girls”)  The lost Christian still searching for spiritual enlightment in the darkness.  (“Looking for the baby Jesus under the trash”)  No matter how much he grows as a writer, a family man and a champion for other lost souls, the grieving over her death never ends.  (“Still looking for the face I had before the world was made”)  He even gets in a sly reference, albeit switched around, to The Tubes’ most famous song while simultaneously losing himself with his bandmates in a photo shoot.  (“White dopes on punk stare into the flash”)
It’s a deeply moving song lyrically but with that ominously danceable arrrangement, it’s enhanced considerably.  It’s hard to tell which embraces the darkness more.
I used to dismiss the hook as sounding too much like the bassline from The Who’s Squeeze Box.  But years later, the song grew on me to the point where I stopped caring about the similiarities.  It’s too moving to resist now, too energetic to remain stationary.
The song is an excellent representation of Pop with its compromised structure.  It is not a pure dance song despite its dominating technological spirit.  Larry Mullen Jr. jumps in with his frenetic drumming 11 seconds in and The Edge’s guitar playing, so simple and yet, so powerful, isn’t far behind, even though his role here is that of a supporting player.  But like all second bananas, he steals the show with some of his best work.  As usual, he squeezes the most emotion out of the fewest notes.  The final minute of the song showcases him in top form.
Ultimately, it’s Bono’s song more than U2’s.  It’s his inner turmoil laid bare, his confusion about his identity openly and willingly exposed, his disappointment with the lack of boundaries in his life honestly lamented.  In the end, all he can do is find comfort through prayer.  (“woo me sister/move me brother/soothe me mother/rule me father/show me mother”)  But, at the end of the day, it’s still not enough to make the pain go away.
Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Sunday, July 15, 2007
4:01 p.m.
Published in: on July 15, 2007 at 4:01 pm  Comments (2)  

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  1. Fek, i hate the song pride! but i’m surprised it’s so low on your list. it’s most people’s favs. I don’t know if you saw the U2 in mexico video, but MOFO takes on a whole other beast live. I saw that POPMART concert at the skydome from the 10th row on the floor. Your analysis of the album version is bang on, strong powerful riffs and sounds coupled with humbled words about his lost soul. When they start the show, the music begins with a dance remix of POPMUSIK. During this version, the band is being escorted through the crowd like faux-celebreties to the stage. BONO is dressed like a boxer, and is bouncing all the way like real boxers approaching a fight. They started the journey through the crowd at the back of the stadium and take a liesurely two minutes to get to the stage. When they finally arrive, Adam begins the riff, and POPMUSIK seamlessly transitions into the openning bars of MOFO. Bono is the last to climb the steps, and when he does the band and the stage is in full display. It takes about a good 5 minutes before that first break… just before he sings the first line. At that point the arena explodes into sound, and lights. it’s a DRASTIC departure from the original theme of the song. They almost evangelize it, they make such a big production out of it, you lose touch with what he is saying. It’s an overwhelming way to start the show. Of course, when your actually at a U2 concert, the first few songs are a blur. In ottawa, BONO rose out of the tip of the Heart-Stage during the start of BLINDING LIGHTS- ascending very spiritually. During the Elevation tour, they left the arena lights on for the first two songs… to make you feel like you’re at a rehearsal. During ZOOTV and Zooropa, he opened the show by GOOSE-STEPPING across the stage… in Europe!!! Everything they do starts with a bang. they know how to draw people in. It’s very precise and planned. The choice of using a song like MOFO must have been a very interesting conversation to be a part of. Great article!

  2. Thanks, bro.  Regarding the Mexico Popmart show, I know exactly what you mean.  I remember that opening vividly.  Pretty amazing that Bono was able to get away with goosesteping during a gig.  He must’ve been in character when he did it.  Then again, John Lennon used to make fun of cripples on stage but no one cared because they were too busy screaming their heads off.

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