Book Cover

Life After Music…

What Makes Me Tick (A Rich Coffey bio of sorts...)

Tired of the phonies or talented but ego-centric “legend-in-their-own-minds” fellow musicians and mostly—as a trombonist—tired of scuffling for enough gigs to feed a family (You know the joke: What’s the most common words uttered by a trombonist on a job?… “You want fries with that sir?”) I gradually moved away from a music career quite a few years ago.

Being from a preacher’s family (my grandfather and grandmother were both preachers… my uncle and aunt have been Methodist missionaries and have traveled and lived across the globe) I guess I was born with an innate need to “preach” as well. It took a few years to find my “calling” but my message wasn't forged in a religious zeal but more a by-product of the sixties. Not “Turn On… Tune Out” but “Wake Up and Wise Up.”

Interactive media seemed like the perfect vehicle to hone my message as I found structuring the content, building button rollover states and designing interactive interfaces equally as creative and inspiring as writing songs or composing music for eclectic ensembles.

Web Weaver

Ages ago, I set up a web site, at first to showcase my music and various musical projects. One offering was “ScoreViewLive” which featured musical transcriptions of original compositions synced to the audio. It was cool, it was unique.

ShockAs my skills developed, my sites also functioned as a multimedia lab for experiments as I toyed with both Macromedia Director and Macromedia Flash, creating interactive animations and a few crude attempts at political satire. A sister site featured “Anemutions.” a bizarre melding of strange animated graphics, weird rollover effects and looped snippets of original topical songs.

All along I kept Randy Newman’s song in the back of my head: “It's Money That Matters.” I was driven to keep the creative fires burning by pumping out new things—I dreaded becoming the “little fat guy in a red jumpsuit…” so, as his song goes, I continued to be “lurking in book stores…” and “never adjusted to the great big world.”

Cubicle Dweller

But I signed on to the corporate cubicle world after my son was born. (three reasons: Health Insurance, Health Insurance and Health Insurance…). Initially my team consisted primarily of talented corporate misfits—art school grads and such. There was down time to experiment with new software and a shared camaraderie in improving our skill sets and creating cool stuff. I even had a go at “Elastic Reality” the same software used in creating the Terminator movies. Remnants of that time period are preserved in mini-postings still online>>.

As time edged on, my corporate career has taken me from Desktop Publisher to Graphic Designer to Application Developer—at first cranking out presentations, then moving to high-end print pieces (a Quark and Photoshop sweatshop) and finally settling into the more satisfying world of web development.

Witnessing the world of communication turning more and more to the internet, I somehow felt a bit vindicated by the choices I had made.

Flamers, Films and Forums

Then came the blogs and Web 2.0. Everyone was out there posting opinions, flaming each other on forums or filming themselves doing stupid stunts. It was a rough and tumble world, new and wide open—either a “Coney Island” of the bizarre and slimy; or a button-down money-making venture to harness the uncharted millions lurking on the embryonic social networks that were forming.

The World "Wild" Web: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly…

  • The Good epitomized by Google’s and Word Press’ Blog design;
  • The Bad epitomized by the proliferation of disinformation that surfaced as more and more disgruntled hate-mongers and close-minded extremists found a new platform to voice their gospel of distortions;
  • The Ugly epitomized by the free-for-all chaos of MySpace. In its inception, MySpace’s concept of adding “friends” thru social networking seemed revolutionary, but now when you go there, it seems there’s nothing but shills and hucksters: a sterile cluttered world of endless self-promotions and pretentious posers. Although there’s great stuff to be found, it’s an unpleasant journey to pull the wheat from the overwhelming chaff it’s buried in…

In comparison, the Blogging world of muckrakers seemed a little more interesting as sites such as TalkingPointsMemo and the brilliant weekly commentary of James Howard Kunstler demonstrated that intelligence and rationality still existed and could flourish in the do-it-yourself digital realm.

David may not have taken down Goliath but at least the slingshot was armed with potent capsules of well-researched thinking—not brutish blobs of junk thought, pseudo science or shilling from the Exxon-worshipping, money-grubbing, Bible-thumping backwoods.

The Knowledge Tree

KnowledgeTreeAlthough the Blogosphere was already overcrowded with zealots from every persuasion, I joined the digital din of disillusionment a few years back and began my trek of research, deconstruction and documentation by organizing and posting a "knowledge bank" of perspectives and interactive narratives on topical issues that perplexed or intrigued me. A lyric to a Tower of Power tune became the underlying catch phrase for all the projects I set out to do: "A little knowledge is a dangerous thing..."

Sometimes I've nailed it. The Peak Oil Project has garnered strong interest; rides high in Google ranking and—with prices at the pump going through the roof—both the quick overview animation and in-depth analysis I've posted have become ever-more sought after by the Average Joe in California, Canada or Croatia...

Other times admittedly I've missed the boat. The metaphor of the corporate boardroom mahogany table in the Income Gap in-depth analysis failed to resonate as well as the trimmed-down version or even the in-depth Peak Oil long narrative. (I believe this was due to—in some ways—the excess amount of clickable, but buried, lower level text)

But there's an analogy in all of this. I just finished the "Age of American Unreason" and found the premise and subject matter of the book fascinating but it's presentation elitist in nature and in many ways unbalanced. Its inadequacies motivated me to publish an alternative. Not everything is shiny and perfect—there's Pintos as well as Mercedes out there and—as the saying goes: "One man's meat is another man's poison."

Nevertheless, both the book and my interactive narratives on the Knowledge Tree aren't the "last word" on anything, but instead should serve as a catalyst for reflection and discussion.

"Wake Up and Wise Up" is the simple gospel I'm preaching—I hope the sermon will reach out and make a difference to any and all who visit.

- rich coffey ~ july 2008

A little knowledge is a dangerous thing...


kt << Visit the Knowledge Tree