18 Male Leonard Cohen Fans Over the Age of 65 Star in an Oddly Moving A Cappella Version of “I’m Your Man”

It’s going to be a tearjerker, I think — artist Candice Breitz

Watch 18 diehard Leonard Cohen fans over the age of 65 ardently fumbling their way through the title track of his 1988 album, I’m Your Man, for a deep reminder of how we are transported by the artists we love best.

These men, selected from a pool of over 400 applicants, don’t appear overly bothered by the quality of their singing voices, though clearly they’re giving it their all.

Instead, their chief concern seems to be communing with Cohen, who had died the year before, at the age of 82.

Artist Candice Breitz zeroed in on the likeliest candidates for this project using a 10-page application, in which interested parties were asked to describe Cohen’s role in their lives.


Almost all were based in Cohen’s hometown of Montreal.

Many have been fans since they were teenagers.

Participant Fergus Keyes described meeting Cohen at a 1984 signing for his poetry collection, Book of Mercy:

He told me he liked my name. He asked if he could use it in some future song. I said yes and he wrote it down in his little notebook. I said to him, ‘Sometimes I don’t understand what you’re saying.’ And he said there was no wrong way of interpreting it, because he wrote for others and whatever we interpret is right. 

There’s definitely a variety of interpretations on display, above, in an excerpt of Breitz’ 40-minute work, I’m Your Man: A Portrait of Leonard Cohen.

In person, it’s displayed as an installation in-the-round, with viewers free to roam around in the middle, as each participant is projected on his own life-size video monitor for the duration.

They’re our men.

Some standing stiffly.

Others with eyes tightly shut.

Some cannot resist the temptation to act out certain choice lines.

One joyful uninhibited soul beams and dances.

They keep time with their hands, feet, heads… a seated man taps his cane.

One whistles, confidently filling the space most commonly occupied by an instrumental, while the majority of the others fidget.

There are suit jackets, a couple of Cohen-esque fedoras, a t-shirt from a 2015 Cohen event, and what appears to be a linen gown, topped with a chunky sweater vest.

Breitz’s only requirement of the participants was that they memorize the lyrics to the I’m Your Man album in its entirety, prior to entering the recording studio.

Each man laid his track down solo, singing along while listening to the album on earbuds, unaware of exactly how his contribution would be used. Several professed shock to discover, on opening night, that synchronous editing had transformed them into members of an a cappella choir. 

The project may strike some viewers as funny, especially when an individual or group flubs a lyric or veers off tempo, but the purpose is not mockery. Breitz worked to establish trust, and the participants’ willingness to extend it gives the piece its emotional foundation.

Victor Shiffman, co-curator of the 2017 Cohen exhibit A Crack in Everything at the commissioning Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal, told the Montreal Gazette:

They are not precisely singers. They are just passionate, ardent fans; their goal was to communicate their devotion and love for Leonard by participating in this tribute. It is not about hitting the notes. The emotion comes through in the conviction these men portray and in the dedication they show in having put themselves out there. There is so much beauty in that work; it disarms us.

Having centered similar fan-based multichannel video experiments around such works as Bob Marley’s Legend and John Lennon’s Working Class Hero, Breitz explained the casting of the Cohen project to CBC Arts:

I was really interested in this moment in life when one starts to look back and contemplate what kind of a life one has lived and what kind of life one wishes to continue living as one approaches the end of that life. And I think that even when he was a young man, Cohen was somebody who thought about and wrote about mortality in very profound ways. So what I decided to do was to invite a group of Cohen fans who really would be up to the project of interpreting that complexity.

Prior to the work’s premiere, Breitz gathered the group for a toast, suggesting that the occasion was doubly special in that it was highly unlikely they would meet again.

Sometimes artists are unaware of the powerful force they unleash.

Rather than going their separate ways, the participants formed friendships, reunite for non-solo Cohen singalongs, and in the words of one man, became “a real brotherhood… once you establish that connection, everything else disappears.”

Related Content: 

Three Leonard Cohen Animations

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Watch 4 Music Videos That Bring to Life Songs from Leonard Cohen’s Final Album, Thanks for the Dance

Ayun Halliday is the Chief Primaologist of the East Village Inky zine and author, most recently, of Creative, Not Famous: The Small Potato Manifesto.  Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Archaeologists Discover 200,000-Year-Old Hand & Footprints That Could Be the World’s Earliest Cave Art

Wet cement triggers a primal impulse, particularly in children.

It’s so tempting to inscribe a pristine patch of sidewalk with a lasting impression of one’s existence.

Is the coast clear? Yes? Quick, grab a stick and write your name!

No stick?

Sink a hand or foot in, like a movie star…

…or, even more thrillingly, a child hominin on the High Tibetan Plateau, 169,000 to 226,000 years ago!

Perhaps one day your surface-marring gesture will be conceived of as a great gift to science, and possibly art. (Try this line of reasoning with the angry homeowner or shopkeeper who’s intent on measuring your hand against the one now permanently set into their new cement walkway.)


Tell them how in 2018, professional ichnologists doing fieldwork in Quesang Hot Spring, some 80 km northwest of Lhasa, were over the moon to find five handprints and five footprints dating to the Middle Pleistocene near the base of a rocky promontory.

Researchers led by David Zhang of Guangzhou University attribute the handprints to a 12-year-old, and the footprints to a 7-year-old.

In a recent article in Science Bulletin, Zhang and his team conclude that the children’s handiwork is not only deliberate (as opposed to “imprinted during normal locomotion or by the use of hands to stabilize motion”) but also “an early act of parietal art.”

The Uranium dating of the travertine which received the kids’ hands and feet while still soft is grounds for excitement, moving the dial on the earliest known occupation (or visitation) of the Tibetan Plateau much further back than previously believed — from 90,000-120,000 years ago to 169,000-226,000 years ago.

That’s a lot of food for thought, evolutionarily speaking. As Zhang told TIME magazine, “you’re simultaneously dealing with a harsh environment, less oxygen, and at the same time, creating this.”

Zhang is steadfast that “this” is the world’s oldest parietal art — outpacing a Neanderthal artist’s red-pigmented hand stencil in Spain’s Cave of Maltravieso by more than 100,000 years.

Other scientists are not so sure.

Anthropologist Paul Taçon, director of Griffith University’s Place, Evolution and Rock Art Heritage Unit, thinks it’s too big of “a stretch” to describe the impressions as art, suggesting that they could be chalked up to a range of activities.

Nick Barton, Professor of Paleolithic Archeology at Oxford wonders if the traces, intentionally placed though they may be, are less art than child’s play. (Team Wet Cement!)

Zhang counters that such arguments are predicated on modern notions of what constitutes art, driving his point home with an appropriately stone-aged metaphor:

When you use stone tools to dig something in the present day, we cannot say that that is technology. But if ancient people use that, that’s technology.

Cornell University’s Thomas Urban, who co-authored the Science Bulletin article with Zhang and a host of other researchers shares his colleagues aversion’ to definitions shaped by a modern lens:

Different camps have specific definitions of art that prioritize various criteria, but I would like to transcend that and say there can be limitations imposed by these strict categories that might inhibit us from thinking more broadly about creative behavior. I think we can make a solid case that this is not utilitarian behavior. There’s something playful, creative, possibly symbolic about this. This gets at a very fundamental question of what it actually means to be human.

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Ayun Halliday is the Chief Primaologist of the East Village Inky zine and author, most recently, of Creative, Not Famous: The Small Potato Manifesto.  Follow her @AyunHalliday.

The 10 Paradoxical Traits of Creative People, According to Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (RIP)

Despite decades of research, scientists still know little about the source of creativity. Nonetheless, humans continue to create things. Or, at least, we continue to be fascinated by creativity; now more than ever, it seems. There may be as many best-selling books on creativity as there are on dieting or relationships. The current focus on creativity isn’t always a net positive. Anyone who does creative work may be labeled a “Creative” (used as a noun) at some point in their career. The term lumps all working artists together, as though their work were interchangeable deliverables measured in billable hours. The word suggests that those who don’t work as “Creatives” have no business in the area of creativity. As psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi put it:

Not so long ago, it was acceptable to be an amateur poet…. Nowadays if one does not make some money (however pitifully little) out of writing, it’s considered to be a waste of time. It is taken as downright shameful for a man past twenty to indulge in versification unless he receives a check to show for it.

Csikszentmihalyi, who passed away this month, deplored the instrumentalization of creativity. He wrote, Austin Kleon notes, “about the joys of being an amateur” — which, in its literal sense, means being a devoted lover. Like Carl Jung, Csikszentmihalyi believed that creation proceeds, in a sense, from falling in love with an activity and losing ourselves in a state beyond our preoccupations with self, others, or the past and future. He called this state “flow” and wrote a national bestseller about it while founding the discipline of positive psychology and co-directing the Quality of Life Research Center at Claremont Graduate University .


You can see an animated summary of Csikszentmihalyi’s book, Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience above (including a pronunciation of Csikszentmihalyi’s name). Creativity should not only refer to skills we sell to our employers. It is the practice of doing things that make us happy, not the things that make us money, whether or not those two things are the same. This is a subject close to Austin Kleon’s heart. The writer and designer has been offering tips for training and honing creativity for years, in books like Show Your Work, a guide “not just for ‘creatives’!” but for anyone who wants to create. Like Csikszentmihalyi, he refutes the idea that there’s such a thing as a “creative type.”

Instead, in his book Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention, Csikszentmihalyi notes that people who spend their time creating exhibit a list of 10 “paradoxical traits.”

  1. Creative people have a great deal of physical energy, but they’re also often quiet and at rest.
  2. Creative people tend to be smart yet naive at the same time.
  3. Creative people combine playfulness and discipline, or responsibility and irresponsibility.
  4. Creative people alternate between imagination and fantasy, and a rooted sense of reality.
  5. Creative people tend to be both extroverted and introverted.
  6. Creative people are humble and proud at the same time.
  7. Creative people, to an extent, escape rigid gender role stereotyping.
  8. Creative people are both rebellious and conservative.
  9. Most creative people are very passionate about their work, yet they can be extremely objective about it as well.
  10. Creative people’s openness and sensitivity often exposes them to suffering and pain, yet also to a great deal of enjoyment.

We may well be reminded of Walt Whitman’s “Do I contradict myself? Very well then I contradict myself,” and perhaps it is to Whitman we should turn to resolve the paradox. Creativity involves the willingness and courage to become “large,” the poet wrote, to get weird and messy and “contain multitudes.” Maybe the best way to become a more creative person, to lose oneself fully in the act of making, is to heed Bertrand Russell’s guidance for facing death:

[M]ake your interests gradually wider and more impersonal, until bit by bit the walls of the ego recede, and your life becomes increasingly merged in the universal life. An individual human existence should be like a river: small at first, narrowly contained within its banks, and rushing passionately past rocks and over waterfalls. Gradually the river grows wider, the banks recede, the waters flow more quietly, and in the end, without any visible break, they become merged in the sea… 

This eloquent passage — Csikszentmihalyi might have agreed — expresses the very essence of creative “flow.”

via Austin Kleon

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Slavoj Žižek: What Fullfils You Creatively Isn’t What Makes You Happy

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Nick Cave’s Online Store: Pencils Adorned with Lyrics, Mugs, Polaroids & More

I’m sitting on the balcony
Reading Flannery O’Connor
With a pencil and a plan

– Nick Cave, Carnage

Access to technology has transformed the creative process, and many artists who’ve come to depend on it have long ceased to marvel at the labor and time saved, seething with resentment when devices and digital access fails.

Musician Nick Cave, founder and frontman of The Bad Seeds, is one who hasn’t abandoned his analog ways, whether he’s in the act of generating new songs, or seeking respite from the same.


“There has always been a strong, even obsessive, visual component to the (songwriting) process,” he writes, “a compulsive rendering of the lyric as a thing to be seen, to be touched, to be examined:”

I have always done this—basically drawn my songs—for as long as I’ve been writing them…when the pressure of song writing gets too much, well, I draw a cute animal or a naked woman or a religious icon or a mythological creature or something. Or I take a Polaroid or make something out of clay. I do a collage, or write a child’s poem and date stamp and sticker it, or do some granny-art with a set of watercolour paints. 

Last year, these extra creative labors became fruits in their own right, with the opening of Cave Things, an online shop well stocked with quirky objects “conceived, sourced, shaped, and designed” by the musician.

These include such longtime fascinations as prayer cards, picture discs, and Polaroids, and a series of enameled charms and ceramic figures that evoke Victorian Staffordshire “flatbacks.”

T-shirts, guitar picks and egg cups may come graced with doodles of frequent collaborator Warren Ellis‘ bearded mug, or the aforementioned naked women, which Cage describes to Interview’s Ben Barna as “a compulsive habit I have had since my school days”:

They have no artistic merit. Rather, they are evidence of a kind of ritualistic and habitual thinking, not dissimilar to the act of writing itself, actually.

Of all of Cave’s Cave Things, the ones with the broadest appeal may be the pencil sets personalized with thematic snippets of his lyrics.

White god pencils quote from “Into My Arms,” “Idiot Prayer,” “Mermaids,”  and “Hand of God.”

A red devil pencil bearing lines from “Brompton Oratory” slips a bit of god into the mix, as well as a reference to the sea, a frequent Cave motif.

Madness and war pencils are counterbalanced by pencils celebrating love and flowers.

The pencils are Vikings, a classic Danish brand well known to pencil nerds, hard and black on the graphite scale.

Put them all in a cup and draw one out at random, or let your mood or feelings about what said pencil will be writing or drawing determine your pick.

Meanwhile Cave’s implements of choice may surprise you. As he told NME’s Will Richards last December:

My process of lyric writing is as follows: For months, I write down ideas in a notebook with a Bic medium ballpoint pen in black. At some point, the songs begin to reveal themselves, to take some kind of form, which is when I type the new lyrics into my laptop. Here, I begin the long process of working on the words, adding verses, taking them away, and refining the language, until the song arrives at its destination. At this stage, I take one of the yellowing back pages I have cut from old second-hand books, and, on my Olympia typewriter, type out the lyrics. I then glue it into my bespoke notebook, number it, date-stamp it, and sticker it. The song is then ‘officially’ completed.

Hmm. No pencils, though there’s a reference to a blind pencil seller in Cave’s contribution to the soundtrack of Wim Wenders’ science fiction epic Until the End of the World.

Two more lyrics about pencils and he’ll have enough to put a Pencil Pencils set up on Cave Things!

Follow Cave Things on Instagram to keep tabs on new pencil drops.

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

A Guitarist Rocks Out on Guitars Made from Shovels, Cigar Boxes, Oil Cans & Whisky Barrels

When Keith Richards felt he’d gone as far as he could go with the six-string guitar, he took one string off and played five, a trick he learned from Ry Cooder. These days, the trend is to go in the opposite direction, up to seven or eight strings for highly technical progressive metal compositions and downtuned “djent.” Traditionalists may balk at this. A five-string, after all, is a modification easily accomplished with a pair of wire-cutters. But oddly shaped eight-string guitars seem like weirdly rococo extravagances next to your average Stratocaster, Tele, or Les Paul.

Ideas we have about what a guitar should be, however, come mostly from the marketing and public relations machinery around big brand guitars and big name guitarists. The truth is, there is no Platonic ideal of the guitar, since no one is quite sure where the guitar came from.


It’s most easily recognized ancestors are the oud and the lute, which themselves have ancient heritages that stretch into prehistory. The six-string arrived rather late on the scene. In the renaissance, guitars had eight strings, tuned in four “courses,” or pairs, like the modern 12-string, and baroque guitars had 10 strings in five courses.

Closer in time to us, “the jazz guitarist George Van Eps had a seven-string guitar built for him by Epiphone Guitars in the late 1930s,” notes one brief history, “and a signature Gretsch seven-string in the late 60s and early 70s…. Several others began using seven-string guitars after Van Eps.” Russian folk guitars had seven strings before the arrival of six-string Spanish classical instruments (two hundred years before the arrival of Korn).

Meanwhile, in the hills, hollars, and deltas of the U.S. south, folk and blues musicians built guitars out of whatever was at hand, and fit as many, or as few, strings as needed. From these instruments came the powerfully simple, timeless licks Keef spent his career emulating. Guitarist Justin Johnson has cultivated an online presence not only with his slick electric slide playing, but also with his tributes to odd, old-time, homemade guitars. At the top, he plays a three-string shovel guitar, doing Keith two better.

Further up, some “Porch Swing Slidin’” with a six-string cigar box-style guitar engraved with a portrait of Robert Johnson. Above, hear a stirring rendition of George Harrison’s “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” on an oil can and a slide solo on a whiskey barrel guitar. Finally, Johnson rocks out Ray Charles on a three string cigar box guitar, made mostly out of ordinary items you might find around the shed.

You might not be able to pluck out Renaissance airs or complicated, sweep-picked arpeggios on some of these instruments, but where would even the most complex progressive rock and metal be without the raw power of the blues driving the evolution of the guitar? Finally, below, see Johnson play a handmade one-string Diddley Bow (and see the making of the instrument as well). Originally a West African instrument, it may have been the very first guitar.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Cartoonist Lynda Barry Teaches You How to Make a Visual Daily Diary

Cartoonist and educator Lynda Barry is a favorite here at Open Culture.

We’re always excited to share exercises from her books and intel on her classes at the University of Wisconsin, but nothing beats the warmth and humor of her live instruction… even when it’s delivered virtually.

Last week, she took to Instagram to inform the fourteen lucky U of W students enrolled in her fall Making Comics class to prepare for a new way of keeping their required daily diaries, using a technique she calls “sister images.”

Those of us at home can play along, above.


Grab a composition book, or two blank sheets of paper, and a black felt tip pen. (Eventually you’ll need a timer, but not today.)

Rather than describe the ten-minute writing and drawing exercise in advance, we encourage you to jump right in, confident that teacher Barry would approve.

There are plenty of resources out there for those who want to learn how to outlinescript, and storyboard comics.

Barry aims to tap a deeper vein of creativity with exercises that help students embrace the unknown.

The sister diary’s purpose, she says, is to “let our hands lead the way in terms of figuring out our stories.”

Whether or not you seek to make comics, it’s an engaging way to document your life. You can also implement the sister diary technique for discovering more about characters in your fictional work.

You’ll also pick up some bonus tips on drawing backgrounds, using all caps, allotting enough space within a panel for full body renderings, and staying in the moment should you find yourself at a temporary loss.


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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Follow her @AyunHalliday

Take an Intellectual Odyssey with a Free MIT Course on Douglas Hofstadter’s Pulitzer Prize-Winning Book Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid

In 1979, mathematician Kurt Gödel, artist M.C. Escher, and composer J.S. Bach walked into a book title, and you may well know the rest. Douglas R. Hofstadter won a Pulitzer Prize for Gödel, Escher, Bach: an Eternal Golden Braid, his first book, thenceforth (and henceforth) known as GEB. The extraordinary work is not a treatise on mathematics, art, or music, but an essay on cognition through an exploration of all three — and of formal systems, recursion, self-reference, artificial intelligence, etc. Its publisher settled on the pithy description, “a metaphorical fugue on minds and machines in the spirit of Lewis Carroll.”

GEB attempted to reveal the mind at work; the minds of extraordinary individuals, for sure, but also all human minds, which behave in similarly unfathomable ways. One might also describe the book as operating in the spirit — and the practice — of Herman Hesse’s Glass Bead Game, a novel Hesse wrote in response to the data-driven machinations of fascism and their threat to an intellectual tradition he held particularly dear. An alternate title (and key phrase in the book) Magister Ludi, puns on both “game” and “school,” and alludes to the importance of play and free association in the life of the mind.


Hesse’s esoteric game, writes his biographer Ralph Freedman, consists of “contemplation, the secrets of the Chinese I Ching and Western mathematics and music” and seems similar enough to Hofstadter’s approach and that of the instructors of MIT’s open course, Gödel, Escher, Bach: A Mental Space Odyssey. Offered through the High School Studies Program as a non-credit enrichment course, it promises “an intellectual vacation” through “Zen Buddhism, Logic, Metamathematics, Computer Science, Artificial Intelligence, Recursion, Complex Systems, Consciousness, Music and Art.”

Students will not study directly the work of Gödel, Escher, and Bach but rather “find their spirits aboard our mental ship,” the course description notes, through contemplations of canons, fugues, strange loops, and tangled hierarchies. How do meaning and form arise in systems like math and music? What is the relationship of figure to ground in art? “Can recursion explain creativity,” as one of the course notes asks. Hofstadter himself has pursued the question beyond the entrenchment of AI research in big data and brute force machine learning. For all his daunting erudition and challenging syntheses, we must remember that he is playing a highly intellectual game, one that replicates his own experience of thinking.

Hofstadter suggests that before we can understand intelligence, we must first understand creativity. It may reveal its secrets in comparative analyses of the highest forms of intellectual play, where we see the clever formal rules that govern the mind’s operations; the blind alleys that explain its failures and limitations; and the possibility of ever actually reproducing workings in a machine. Watch the lectures above, grab a copy of Hofstadter’s book, and find course notes, readings, and other resources for the fascinating course Gödel, Escher, Bach: A Mental Space Odyssey archived here. The course will be added to our list, 1,700 Free Online Courses from Top Universities.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

The Pulp Tarot: A New Tarot Deck Inspired by Midcentury Pulp Illustrations

Graphic artist Todd Alcott has endeared himself to Open Culture readers by retrofitting midcentury pulp paperback covers and illustrations with classic lyrics from the likes of David BowiePrinceBob Dylan, and Talking Heads.

Although he’s dabbled in the abstractions that once graced the covers of psychology, philosophy, and science texts, his overarching attraction to the visual language of science fiction and illicit romance speak to the premium he places on narrative.


And with hundreds of “mid-century mashups” to his name, he’s become quite a master of bending existing narratives to his own purposes.

Recently, Alcott turned his attention to the creation of the Pulp Tarot deck he is funding on Kickstarter.

A self-described “clear-eyed skeptic as far as paranormal things” go, Alcott was drawn to the “simplicity and strangeness” of Pamela Colman Smith’s “bewitching” Tarot imagery:

Maybe because they were simply the first ones I saw, I don’t know, but there is something about the narrative thread that runs through them, the way they delineate the development of the soul, with all the choices and crises a soul encounters on its way to fulfillment, that really struck a chord with me. You lay out enough Tarot spreads and they eventually coalesce around a handful of cards that really seem to define you. I don’t know how it happens, but it does, every time: there are cards that come up for you so often that you think, “Yep, that’s me,” and then there are others that turn up so rarely that, when they do come up, you have to look them up in the little booklet because you’ve never seen them before.

One such card for Alcott is the Page of Swords. In the early 90s, curious to know what the Tarot would have to say about the young woman he’d started dating, he shuffled and cut his Rider-Waite-Smith deck “until something inside said “now” and he flipped over the Page of Swords:

I looked it up in the booklet, which said that the Page of Swords was a secret-keeper, like a spy. I thought about that for a moment; the woman I was seeing was nothing like a spy, and had no spy-like attributes. I shrugged and began the process again, shuffling and cutting and shuffling and cutting, until, again, something inside said “now,” and turned up the card again. It was the Page of Swords, again. My heart leaped, I put the deck back in its box and quietly freaked out for a while. The next day, I asked the young lady if the Page of Swords meant anything to her, and she said “Oh sure, when I was a kid, that was my card.” Anyway, I’m now married to her.

The Three of Pentacles is another favorite, one that presented a particular design challenge.

The Smith deck shows a stonemason, an architect and a church official, collaborating on building a cathedral. Now, there are no cathedrals in the pulp world, so I had to think, well, in the pulp world, pentacles represent money, so the obvious choice would be to show three criminals planning a heist. I couldn’t find an image anything close to the one in my head, so I had to build it: the room, the table, the map of the bank, the plan, the people involved, and then stitch it all together in Photoshop so it ended up looking like a cohesive illustration. That was a really joyful moment for me: there were the three conspirators, the Big Cheese, the Dame and The Goon, their roles clearly defined despite not seeing anyone’s face. It was a real breakthrough, seeing that I could put together a little narrative like that.

Smith imagined a medieval fantasy world when designing her Tarot deck. Alcott is drawing on 70 years of pop-culture ephemera to create a tribute to Smith’s vision that also works as a deck in their own right “with its own moral narrative universe, based on the attitudes and conventions of that world.”

Before drafting each of his 70 cards, Alcott studied Smith’s version, researching its meaning and design as he contemplates how he might translate it into the pulp vernacular. He has found that some of Smith’s work was deliberately exacting with regard to color, attitude, and costume, and other instances where specific details took a back seat to mood and emotional impact:

Once I understand what a card is about, I look through my library to find images that help get that across. It can get really complicated! A lot of times, the character’s body is in the right position but their face has the wrong expression, so I have to find a face that fits what the card is trying to say. Or their physical attitude is right, but I need them to be gripping or throwing something, so I have to find hands and arms that I can graft on, Frankenstein style. In some cases, there will be figures in the cards cobbled together from five or six different sources. 

These cards are easily the most complex work I’ve ever done in that sense. The song pieces I do are a conversation between the piece and the song, but these cards are a conversation between me, Smith, the entire Tarot tradition, and the universe. 

Visit Todd Alcott’s Etsy shop to view more of his mid-century mash ups, and see more cards from The Pulp Tarot and support Kickstarter here.

All images from the Pulp Tarot used with the permission of artist Todd Alcott.

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David Bowie Songs Reimagined as Pulp Fiction Book Covers: Space Oddity, Heroes, Life on Mars & More

Songs by Joni Mitchell Re-Imagined as Pulp Fiction Book Covers & Vintage Movie Posters

Four Classic Prince Songs Re-Imagined as Pulp Fiction Covers: When Doves Cry, Little Red Corvette & More

Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Follow her @AyunHalliday.

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Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.