I had forgotten how much I like the Grateful Dead. I had also forgotten that I was a high-schooler shooting the peace sign in the audience at the Freedom Hall Louisville show on June 18, 1974. And hey! Here's that show on the friggin' radio! SiriusXM friggin' radio!
Like a vault of musical bullion beamed down from an astral disc jockey, Sirius Radio was implanted (free!) (temporarily!) inside the dashboard of our new Subaru. During the first weeks of owning the car, my fascination with it interfered with my ability to drive safely.
As we drove off the car lot in January, I couldn't control my saliva. I cranked through the 130-plus channels with the same expression on my face as that darling boy had the first time he saw the alien in E.T.
The choices were sick. Forty-five sports channels, including one devoted to nothing but Canadian sports. There are eight other Canadian channels and five channels devoted to Latin programs.
There are 17 yap radio channels - talk programs devoted to politics, mostly focused on the extremes. You can get your God on 24/7 with two religious talk channels, one devoted to the Catholic Church, the other to all other churches on Earth (mostly Christian).
All things queer are compressed into one gay talk channel. If you want traffic reports in cities you're not in, have at it. There are traffic channels for Boston, Miami, Detroit, Chicago and other towns. Maybe they're designed for people to listen to on their way home so as not to feel stuck by comparison.
But those are diversions from the main course. Music. The music channels have names ranging from the utterly literal to the utterly incomprehensible.
There's Elvis of all sizes on Elvis Radio. The Chairman of the Board is forever in charge on the tragically spelled Siriusly Sinatra. The Boss of you is working up a sweat on E Street Radio. There's great gobs of grunge on Pearl Jam Radio. And you'll scream and scream when you enter Ozzy's Boneyard.
Then there are the incomprehensible channel names, which remind me of the names they give to men's and women's boots on Zappos.com. What would you guess is on Faction? Nine Inch Nails, of course. The Bridge? Any guesses? James Taylor. How about a hit of Lithium? Wash it down with Everclear. Head to the Spa for, what else, uh, jazz. Deep Tracks is now playing "Dear Mr. Fantasy," from a frantic-sounding Graham Nash.
No matter how much or how little of this you want to listen to, Chanhassen, Minn.-based SiriusXM is riding high on the crest of a techno-entertainment wave. Since the start of the year, Sirius stock has risen nearly 21%. In 2011 the company posted net income of $427 million on revenue of $3 billion.
In this business, it's subscriber rates that get investors horny. Sirius added 1.7 million of them last year, for a total subscriber base of 21.8 million. Critics say Sirius cheats these numbers, since the company counts owners (like me) of new cars that came with a free trial among their numbers.
The pony-up letter from Sirius arrived, just as Ryan at the Subaru dealer said it would, last week. Almost exactly eight weeks post-purchase. I'm opening it right now.
"Dear Andrew Moore," it says. "Welcome to SiriusXM!" Which is a nutty greeting given that the letter goes on to say: Pay up or see ya. A yearly subscription is $184.64.
So now it's time to make a decision. We have three in college. That's the kind of thing that gives weird relevance to specific sums of money. $184.64 is almost exactly what I paid last September for my daughter's Spanish textbook. My final analysis of the service is not working out to Sirius' advantage. Here's how it goes.
I use four channels. Willie's Roadhouse is old-school country, and it delighted me at first. But dagnabbit. Willie's was the first place I realized, after hearing the same Johnny Paycheck song three times in one week, that Sirius has a seriously short playlist. There's all the country music in the world. Hell, there's all the Johnny Paycheck in the world. The same Johnny Paycheck song three times in a week?
I crossed the fields to the Outlaw Country channel. But for every Old 97's song over there, you get cracked with a Kid Rock number.
My devotion to Bluegrass Junction reminds me of Cubs fans I know. No matter how many times I'm disappointed, I always go back for more. It's not individual artists who bum me out there. It's that the channel showcases new bluegrass artists - which is fine, as long as you play a few standards.
But no. New bluegrass, not to be confused with Newgrass, which is old, is tooth-rotting sweet. None of the danger and recklessness of its forebears. Bill Monroe would not listen to this. Why should I? So disappointing; enough to send me over to the Message music channel, which is Christian.
That leaves the Grateful Dead Channel, where the honeymoon is also over. I remember now why I stopped listening to them in 1990. Bob Weir still can't sing, and curiously, "St. Stephen" never gets better no matter how many times it's played live.
In the rearview mirror of our new Subaru, there's a little square of backup video camera. This feature excited me at first. Now it seems dumb.
Kind of like SiriusXM radio.