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Why We Love the Dulcimer-Playing Dad, His Raccoon and Tears for Fears

On Wednesday, August 24, 2016 Ted Yoder set up a dulcimer in his Goshen, Indiana backyard and turned on Facebook Live, while his wife and five of his seven kids (plus the family’s pet raccoon, Gidget) filmed him and watched from the wings. As he played a smashtastic instrumental arrangement of the 1985 Tears for Fears song, “Everybody Wants to Rule the World,” thumbs-up icons and red hearts fluttered across news feeds around the globe.

Yoder assumed 1000 people might see his performance online. He’d had some success with posting videos – one of his biggest hits prior to this week, a 2014 cover of The Eagles’ “Hotel California,” snagged more than 96,000 views and got him Facebook verified. Even with a little blue check beside his name, Yoder had no idea his latest rock remake would get so much attention. By Thursday evening, he’d received 33,000 views on Facebook for the Tears for Fears cover; Friday morning, the count stood at 7.2 million. As I publish this today, on August 27, Yoder’s Facebook Live video has received 26 million views and may likely double over the weekend (update in January 2017: the video has almost 88 million views). To put this explosion into perspective, a fan upload of the original “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” music video by Tears for Fears has earned more than 40 million views in five years.

In a phone call Friday morning, Yoder laughed and called his video’s view count, “stinkin’ surreal.” He’d been working on “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” for about a year in his house, only performing the song once in public before deciding to stream it on Wednesday.

“I started picking out the song on the instrument after a friend suggested it to me,” Yoder told me. “That was a huge song in the 1980s, and it sounded like it was made for the dulcimer. I listened to the recording only once or twice to refresh my memory, then pulled in the melody, the bass and chord progression.”

The hammered dulcimer is a traditional favorite of the Middle East, Bavaria in Europe and across Appalachia and the Midwest in the United States, and Yoder happens to be one of America’s dulcimer champions. He lost his job as a sales rep a few days before he won the National Hammer Dulcimer Championship at the Walnut Valley Festival in 2010 and credits his family for convincing him to pursue music full-time. Since then, he’s released several albums, appeared on NPR’s All Things Considered, and built a YouTube channel full of impressive takes on classics – from Bach to The Beatles.

Here’s what made Yoder’s version of a Tears for Fears song the one to break the internet:

An element of surprise

We’ve had earbuds full of compressed digital sounds stuck so far into our heads for so long that the experience of hearing a person play an ancient acoustic instrument in his yard without the aid of a DJ, a team of six songwriters, or Taylor Swift’s (née Kanye’s) stylist in tow feels like an exotic, spiritual awakening.

An imperfect yet virtuosic performance

T-shirts, bare feet, crickets, kids, a raccoon (!), tall grass and the setting sun. No PR machinery. No expectations, just artistry. What could have made this video more inviting? Nothing.

Raw, amazing talent

While Yoder’s musicality and dexterity are mind-boggling on the mallets, his rhythmic timing and keen sense of melody are what astonish people when they see the video: this is the kind of magic that happens when a great musician meets a great song.

That damn good song

Thirty-one Junes ago, Tears for Fears took “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” to number one on the Billboard Hot 100, and it’s forever burnished in our minds as a feel-good yet lyrically complex tune. Hearing the 1985 recording’s sparkling intro immediately puts us under a blue sky, on an open road, and behind the wheel with the top down (remember when Curt Smith, the band’s bassist and the song’s lead vocalist, drove an Austin-Healey 3000 in the video?). Yoder’s version paid tribute to the original’s melodic layers and textures (credited to the song’s writers, Tears for Fears frontman and guitarist Roland Orzabal, former keyboardist Ian Stanley, and producer Chris Hughes) and built upon its perfect chorus-bridge-solo-chorus climax.

A chance to fill in the blanks

Bands from the new wave era often paired upbeat sounds with dark lyrics (The Cure, The Smiths, New Order and Tears for Fears are examples; read Mad World by Lori Majewski and Jonathan Bernstein for more on this concept); “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” uses this type of light/dark juxtaposition (for an excellent analysis of the song’s dichotomies, check out a review of its recent use in the TV show, Mr. Robot). Yoder’s instrumental performance of “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” gave our minds and memories room to stretch out, to reflect upon the lyrics we remember without being burdened by judging a vocal performance. We’ve been trained by celebrity TV judges to judge a voice first and ponder the music later. When Yoder’s video arrived in our news feeds without an agenda (and without singing or lyrics), we did the opposite: we reveled in the freedom to make the song our own again. And isn’t that what the joy of music is about?

“Welcome to your life … there’s no turning back.”

For more information about Ted Yoder, click here.

Tears for Fears performs at the iHeart Radio Music Festival in Las Vegas September 23 and 24, 2016.


Video: Ted Yoder




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