In his typical spirit of bringing the past into the present day, Alberta old-time folk musician and ethnomusicologist Mike Tod is sharing an animated video for his new single, “The Coo Coo,” in which he revives the lost artform of “crankies” or “moving panoramas.” The song is off his upcoming self-titled album that’s set for release on April 13.
The crankie theatre was a popular form of storytelling in the late 1800s and early 1900s, where a story would be illustrated over spools of paper and wound through a box with a screen. The use of shadow puppetry was also sometimes incorporated.
“The crankie is this odd, interesting format for sharing stories that has almost gone defunct,” says Mike Tod. “But I love how there are pockets of people carrying on these types of older traditions. It felt right to select an older, two-dimensional form of storytelling like the crankie for this old-time folk song. By animating it, those images come to life and pop off the scroll. It’s a more vibrant, almost 3D interpretation, much like what I’m trying to do with the songs themselves.”
In the video animated by Molly Little, verses of the song are woven together in striking detail while following the path of a cuckoo bird. The song presents a series of devastating vignettes that, at first glance, appear unconnected, yet there are twisted, sinuous themes of displacement, restlessness, and homelessness that tie them together.
The song’s origins can be traced to the southern Scotland border lands and date back to a long tradition of balladry collected from the region. Having travelled over the Atlantic Ocean to North America, the song was popularized by Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, whom Tod met in 2013 on a trip to California.
“Meeting him was really special,” Tod says. “I learned that his version of the song was especially popular on the American rodeo circuit during the 1940s. He made it a true cowboy song.”
Tod’s rendition is dark, ominous, and warbly, with shrieking violin lines that build in intensity, sculpting a sound more suitable for an Alfred Hitchcock horror film.
“If you listen closely to the lyrics of the song, they really are quite horrific,” Tod explains. “You have all the elements of a horror film: Living on the fringes of society, obsession, potential addiction, loss of love, loss of life. When I read those lyrics and when creating the arrangement and video for this song, I really wanted to convey that sense of horror. And if you’ve ever seen the film The Birds, there are some parallels to the song ‘The Coo Coo.’ With The Birds, you have lovebirds, gulls, sparrows, and crows that all reflect major themes and developments in the movie. With ‘The Coo Coo,’ you have this single bird that represents obsession, of a love that leaves, and ultimately, of an unattainable love or love unrealized.”
Upcoming Canadian Tour Dates:
March 18 – The Owl Acoustic Lodge – Lethbridge, AB
April 15 – Festival Hall – Calgary, AB
April 29 – Twin Cities Saloon – Longview, AB
Connect with Mike Tod:
I’m Jenna, the founder and editor of Canadian Beats. I have had a strong love for Canadian music, which started many years ago. I have a passion for promoting these talented Canadian bands and artists, and that’s how Canadian Beats came to be.
Canadian Beats has grown to become more than media, and what a journey it’s been.
You must be logged in to post a comment Login