Interview with Chris Paradis, Creator of the Rock and Roll Tarot - Conducted by Diane Wilkes
I was very impressed with the Rock and Roll Tarot, and thought an interview with Chris Paradis might offer some insights to others who are interested in making (and possibly self-publishing) a deck of their own.
Chris' insights into art, tarot and life are quite profound, and I found his answers to my questions fascinating (no exaggeration). What is most remarkable to me is that he began the deck at the young age of 25 (!) and finished it at 29, and has thought about and integrated tarot in such a thorough and deep way.
I hope you find Chris' worldview as compelling as I do...
Diane: What was your introduction to the tarot?
Chris: When I was about six or seven, a cousin's wife did readings for my
family with a deck of playing cards. Officially, a longtime friend, Michelle, always
carried a wicked pack of cards, and gave me my first reading, introducing me
to tarot in college.
Diane: Was the Star Wars Trilogy the first tarot deck you created?
Chris: No, the Rock & Roll deck is the first tarot deck I have completed. The Star Wars Trilogy deck started unofficially when I was eight or nine. Some of my first drawings were of the Major Archetypes in the film, Star Wars. But I did not see them as tarot cards then. I just felt a deeper connection to the language of that film than to the religion I was being brought up in (Missionary Baptist). And Lucas' message of the spirit's triumph over the mechanical really spoke to me.
But where does the digital replacement of film come into play in that philosophy? Ask the Emperor himself, I suppose.
Diane: Is the Emperor George Lucas?
Chris: In the sense that he is the Father of Star Wars, and the technological advancements in the Film industry, yes. The archetype becomes him. (Vader E4, "Don't be too proud of this technological terror you've constructed ... It is insignificant next to the power of the Force." "Vader" means "Father" in Dutch.)
Most Sci-Fi Heroes become both Jesus and Hitler archetype (Savior/Destroyer) in the course of their actions - read Enders Game by Orson Scott Card.
Diane: Please talk a bit about the Star Wars Trilogy Tarot.
Chris: The Star Wars tarot is written in my head. But I left it on the back burner to complete the Rock & Roll Tarot. The problem with publishing the Star Wars Tarot, according to US GAMES, is the Lucasfilm licensing ...and theme-wise, the high-contrast world of Star Wars requires quite a few stretches in the Major Arcana.
The Emperor in that world is quite "black" and corrupt so the Father (going with Father/Mother as the Emperor/Empress cards) Archetype would have to be Annakin.
Stars, Moons, Suns and Worlds are also difficult to place literally, so the Alchemical Silver and Gold of R2D2 and C3PO come into play - I like the fact that 3PO is somewhat humanoid and a Translator Droid, making him perfect for the clarity of the Sun card. And R2D2 is not easily understood but clever, mischievous, and more than anything he bears the "secret plans" that will save the day and projects distorted holograms- which indicates the Moon card.
Also, the pervading mythology of Star Wars as viewed through the tarot helped me to
understand films I adored more completely. Pee Wee's Big Adventure is a fun
one to find the Major Arcana in as well, as are many others, but I find that fantasy films
contain the most apparent linkages.
Diane: What inspired you to create the Rock and Roll Tarot?
Chris: The odd thing is I've never been a rock connoisseur, or had much of a serious musical taste...in college, I listened to Janet Jackson, Madonna, and of course Michael Jackson -- more Dance/R&B music than pure rock and roll.
I also recall an assignment in 9th grade Art to design an album cover. I realized then that I knew nothing about popular music, so I invented a band called Wanderlust, a word that I found at random in the dictionary...
So, the answer to the question: I wanted to educate myself about rock & roll, and I felt a semi-objective perception (because we can never truly be fully objective) would help to select artists who brought important lessons to the rock and roll and tarot classroom for initiates of both.
Diane: You mention in your deck introduction that your Michael Jackson artwork was the
that you did it in college. How did that drawing became the foundation for the deck?
Chris: Four years ago, I was working at Barnes & Noble, and had a tight group of
co-worker friends. I ordered my first deck (the large Thoth deck) -- and was truly
fascinated by the paintings on each card. I slowly began to realize a
stream of mental connections -- how so many aspects of human existence follow
the pattern of the tarot. I was enthralled when the structure of all stories became apparent.
I realized the essence of Star Wars and Joseph Campbell and Carl Jung are all present in the tarot - and, as in Roger Zelazny's tales, we are but shadows of that pattern created out of Chaos. And Frank Herbert teaches in his stories that this pattern is in our cells and in all of nature and he paints the downsides of prescience when overindulged. It was clear that the best way to gain a deeper understanding of these patterns was to create my own deck of tarot cards. To focus on each pattern, I knew I wanted a focus of ideas to view traditional archetypes in a new way.
Then I remembered the airbrush painting of Michael Jackson. I had always put a graphic design twist on all of my fine art as an innate response to the marketing of all of our ideas--sooner or later, Van Gogh becomes a coffee mug or Picasso a necktie. The Michael Jackson painting, "Make that change", was based on a Spin Magazine cover - the article inside contained a quote that resonated many chords in my head:
"Assimilation has traditionally been a social phenomenon, But Jackson redefines it, through cosmetics and plastic surgery-he has assimilated himself biologically." (Quincy Troupe around the release of Bad.)
This isn't just about Jackson. As a world culture, we are assimilating digitally while our bodies and minds are subject to the Mechanical - Our Stuff owns Us. You are not the contents of your wallet or your credit card. Until now. A chip with all of the information about you -- your Self is an account, not a story, but information on every credit card - you ARE your credit card. It's only a matter of time before you see your neighbors stepping out to sweep their porch -- open their mouths -- a screech -- and realize they've just sent you a fax to say "Hey, neighbor," and then the digital sky backdrop fazes out to reveal a Landfill City.
It makes me giggle that I am typing this response out while sitting at my Macintosh.
Reflecting all of this into a deck of cards--rock and roll is a mechanical music--music born out of amps
and electric guitars and brought to you through discs and lasers and magnetic recordings. Rock and roll is the perfect art to show the human spirit triumphing over the electronic. The first 50 years of Rock are the most
Potent--like Cinema--the first actors had deep political power, as did John Lennon and many others . 50 years later, actors become corporate puppets. Music artists merely pretend to rebel against the corporate machine, while depending on it the whole time to get their message across.
The jukebox is a temple where these artists appear in concert just for you -- sound spewed forth from a tower of glass and neon and dancing color. Most of us know these artists not through small intimate performances, but through videos and photographs, and the printing press. I wanted The Rock and Roll Deck to contain ghosts/gods in the machines that speak to us through the Temple of the Mechanical.
I know people who remember random lyrics from songs that reflect personal moments more than photographs or
grandmother's stories told at the family table, the radio in your car IS that family table. Missionary Churches of the Juke Box - reaching out to all lost souls -- to listen and learn and
remember our past. I knew the cards must be done mechanically, not mere paintings moved to the press -- but created
digitally - images summoned
forth from the Genie WWW - and tweaked, colorized, filtered, cloned - into the final result.
Most people who use Photoshop don't realize where many of the tools like Dodging, Burning, Kerning, and Tracking get their names/ They are old darkroom/printing press techniques. Likewise writing.... I love the words "Spelling" and "Grimoire" -- the ancients knew words and letters to be magic. The word SPELLing contains the word SPELL (today, most of our SPELLing is used for SELLing). Grimoire is Romance/French for Grammar--tell kids they are learning a secret Grimoire understood by few, and see how that increases learning and spelling in Grammar class.
I knew I had to start with an artist I loved -- and my Musical tastes had broadened a bit since college. Tori Amos was the first card; she is my favorite musical artist. Her music reflects the hymns I was brought up with, and has a deep fire and expression and raw piano exploding with her trilling vocals. If I let my bias enter in-- she would have been the High Priestess.
Diane: I think she would have been an ideal High Priestess.
Chris: But her following is as esoteric as the Tarot and I wanted someone who might have been an influence on her to have Major ranking. And the deck proceeded from there.
Diane: Were there any artists you really wanted to include, but didn't?
Chris: Yes, many. Enough to make two alternate decks and perhaps more...Joni Mitchell as the Star, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Yes, ZZ Top, Crosby, Stills, and Nash, Rod Stewart, and Peter Frampton are but a few
Diane: Have you heard from anyone who has your deck who complained that a particular artist
Chris: Yes, mostly during the making of the deck. Many of my friends "campaigned" for certain artists-- Dave Matthews owes his presence in the deck to Marcie. Many of my conversations invariably turned to, "Why do you like the music you like?" and "What lyrics highlight defining moments in your life?" I knew I wanted to steer away from the expected - I didn't know about the I TaRock I Tarot (by Lo Scarabeo) until the Rock and Roll Tarot was almost complete, so I had to see how it was done and who was included. Once I saw it, I felt I had almost gone that route artistically -- and I'm glad I didn't -- because it had already been done. I knew people would see Alice Cooper as Death, and in some universe that card exists.
But Stevie Nicks and Fleetwood Mac as The Moon...I just couldn't say no to. My list of artists that I left out is extensive. Musicians had to fit certain criteria to make it into this random jukebox, and it wasn't their marketing appeal or corporate power that mattered.
Certain artists I tried to make cards for and found that their lyrics were so wacky that I would laugh at the card when it was in a reading. Not to say a reading can't contain humorous elements, but the cards had to be serious on some level. A perfect example of this is Little Richard as the King Of Voice. "Good Golly Miss Molly/ you sure like to Ball..." Hmmmm.
Perhaps he could have been the Queen or Queen (the group) could have been the QUEEN Of Fire. Gender displacement aside, I wanted each card to be punny and serious - to give it stick and mindplay.
Diane: What do you mean by "stick"--strength? Force?
Chris: No. Like a commercial soundbyte - It is catchy and sticks in your head. People rarely remember entire lyrics of a song they hear on the radio. But subconsciously, a random piece of music in a symphony or riff and lyrics will come on in a song you like and you'll sing along or say, "Hey! I love this part, turn it up! Naked is a state of mind! Yeah!" and then fake the rest.
You really can't listen to the whole song that some of these lyrics are cut from, because rock lyrics invariably turn to Love/Lust, and get the intended meaning for that card. The lyrics taken out of context stick like a jolt of quickly cut images you might see on MTV or commercials: Image is nothing; Thirst is everything/Obey your thirst. Stickin' together is what good waffles do, etc.
However sugar coated, the deeper meaning is there, and can be bitter as well as
sweet, if not downright confusing, but that is how sound bites and
micro-meanings work in the New Digital Millennium. In this
deck, I intended for a plane to be crossed in which the lack of empathy and lasting meaning in these sound bytes is reconnected with a basic spiritual essence in the tarot. On that note, the Rock and Roll Tarot is designed to be read as a spiritual anti-pollutant, taking the marketplace emptiness that we are bombarded with on every surface of our day and replacing it with something more meaningful so the Art sounds true again.
It is a forced Stichomancy (reading a randomly selected passage in a book to find an answer to a query) and, to some, even Bibliomancy (Stichomancy using specifically holy texts).
Guns and Roses ("Welcome to the Jungle") was replaced by the Bee Gees simply because I had to include the Disco Inferno in the Fire Suit...had to have the Disco Inferno. There is no excuse for using Cyndi Lauper, except that I love her and the rainbow belonged to her in the Swiftness card (Eight of Wands).
Click to read Part Two of this interview.
You can read a review of Chris' Rock and Roll Tarot here.
Art © 2000, 2001 Chris Paradis
Interview and page © 2001 Diane Wilkes