Eric Clapton, Steve Winwood and How People Like James Dolan Are Ruining New York City

However unfair it may seem, I am blaming Madison Square Garden owner James Dolan for making NYC unlivable, unless you've got mad money or no conscience whatsoever.
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My plan was to write about Eric Clapton & Steve Winwood's performance at Madison Square Garden last night. And how Clapton, at 63 years old, is playing guitar better than ever. And how Steve Winwood, at 60 years old, still has that 19-year-old voice that gave us chills on "Gimme Some Lovin" nearly 40 years ago. And how for the same cost as my mother's monthly rent controlled apartment, you could have had a pair of decent seats. And how even though the cost was ludicrous, you really can't put a price on the joy and experience one gets from music. And how I would have paid twice that amount of money to relive certain concert moments of my lifetime.

Since you asked, a few examples.

Elvis Costello & Rosanne Cash performing "Unwanted Number," Costello's original tune written for the film Grace Of My Heart, but never recorded, in front of less than 100 people at the Rubin Museum in New York. (one of the toughest tickets ever)

The Black Crowes & Wilco on two separate nights, just a few weeks after 9/11. They were the first concerts I went to after thinking I would never see live music again, and both bands were visibly moved by the turnout, the emotion, and just being alive. So was I.

New Orleans pianist and R&B artist Jon Cleary with some of New Orleans R&B legends including Dave Bartholomew & Earl Palmer performing rock 'n' roll classics at Preservation Hall from midnight to 3:A.M..

Elvis Costello & Allen Toussaint performing Paul Simon's "American Tune," at New York's Beacon Theatre, not long after Katrina. (man, did I lose it that night)

Just about anytime Bruce Springsteen plays "Jungleland" or "Rosalita."

I wanted to write about how seeing Eric Clapton & Steve Winwood perform one of my favorite songs of all time, "Can't Find My Way Home," last night at Madison Square Garden has made it into my top 10 live performances.

But I can't. I can't write about any of that. I am too distracted. Not by the fact that at last night's concert at MSG, a cup of room temperature Stella Artois beer cost $8.25, the same as a cold six pack. (No one was under any obligation to purchase any.) Or that a foot long, undercooked phallus of encased baloney in a damp roll that MSG loosely referred to as a hot dog was $6.75. (I didn't want one, but someone did.)

I was distracted by James Dolan, that lovable philanthropist and CEO of Madison Square Garden, Radio City Music Hall and the once beloved Beacon Theatre, and how he has not only turned the New York Knicks into the laughing stock of the NBA, but has also turned some of New York City's best concert venues into the worst. (Especially on those nights when his band, J.D. & The Straight Shot, a third-rate bar band of wealthy businessmen who sinfully play "A Change Is Gonna Come" in their set, opens the show. There is NOTHING more offensive)

I guess you can't blame the mogul for the cost of the ticket. The same way Bruce Springsteen keeps his ticket below $100, Clapton & Winwood could have opted for the same, instead of the $250 per that they were asking. But all three shows sold out. So, I guess that's not Dolan's fault. And, like the beer and hot dog, no one was obligated to buy. (Although before J.D. took over the Beacon Theatre, shows were regularly priced between $40-$60. Now, even Frank Caliendo, comedian and John Madden impersonator, gets to charge $65. That's funnier than anything in Caliendo's act.)

But here is what really got under my skin.

A 12 ounce bottle of water was $4.25! Not $4.00. $4.25!! Every convenience store in the USA can afford to sell a bottle of water for $1.25. Is it really necessary for James Dolan and Madison Square Garden to charge 4 times that amount? For water. Which is free. And to add insult to thirst, the vendors won't give you the cap for the bottle. You're getting an incomplete bottle of water for $4.25.

I, along with 20,000 other fans, attended a great concert event last night. Why am I going on about an overpriced bottle of water? Because this is what NYC has become, thanks to people like James Dolan. Yes, that's right. However unfair it may seem, I am blaming James Dolan for making NYC unlivable unless you've got mad money or no conscience whatsoever. I've known this for a long time, as long as I've never had mad money, which is forever. But it really didn't hit home until my wife asked me to leave our $269.70 (with service charge -- HA!) seat and get her some water.

Eric Alterman often files items on his blog Altercation, under the heading "My City Kicks Your City's Ass." He boasts about all the wonderful events that take place here on a regular basis, some of the time free, but most of the time, definitely not priced to move. Born and raised in NYC, I've always felt that same way as Eric. NYC kicks every other city's ass! I'm not feeling it anymore. I can't be the only one who feels this way.

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