ASPEN - On his 2003 album "Recycle," Aspen singer-songwriter Dan Sheridan included a song of his, "Big Money," that took aim at the damaging effects that wealth has had on Aspen: mini-castles protected by impenetrable fences, the pushing out of the working class.
The song builds to the ultimate point that the loose, spontaneous sense of fun associated with Old Aspen is being squeezed out in favor of a more sterile, artificial social environment.
"Down in the graves you can hear the miners sing/ 'Big money ruins everything,'" Sheridan sings in the repeated climactic line.
Now Sheridan - whose initial observations on Aspen came while he worked as a bellman at the Hotel Jerome - has material for a sequel to "Big Money." On Monday Sheridan was dismissed from his job as an apres-ski entertainer at Sneaky's Tavern, a Snowmass Village spot owned by the Aspen Skiing Co., for singing "Big Money."
According to the 44-year-old Sheridan, he played the song on Jan. 1 at the request of a table full of Sneaky's patrons.
Sheridan, who has been cautious about performing the song in the past, hesitated. But the request was echoed by other listeners, and he sang his critique of overpriced boutiques, plastic surgery and nostalgia-mongering. A Skico vice president was in attendance with his children and complained to the company's director of food and beverage. Three days later, the plug was pulled on Sheridan's weekly Friday gig at Sneaky's.
"He decided to sing a song that we felt was inappropriate to the venue and the audience," Jeff Hanle, the Skico's spokesman, said Tuesday. "An artist can express himself how he wants. But that doesn't mean we have to provide him the stage."
Hanle said he has listened to and enjoyed Sheridan's music for some 20 years. But he said that the setting for "Big Money" - a song Hanle was not familiar with - was inappropriate.
"It's a better song to sing in the offseason in the J-Bar than Christmas week in a venue full of visitors," he said.
At Sneaky's, Hanle sees it as "insulting and downright rude to tourists and visitors. We didn't feel it was the appropriate venue. So he was not asked to come back.
"Our job here is to be hospitable to everyone."
Hanle said that he doesn't believe that musicians hired by the Skico are advised in advance what the parameters are for appropriate material.
"It's common sense," he said.
Hanle noted there was precedent for the Skico expressing displeasure with a performer. In that instance, it was a punk band at Buttermilk "that was off-the-wall with foul language. We went, 'Uh oh, we've got to get up there.'"
Sheridan said did not intend to insult the audience. "Big Money," he said, is probably his most requested song, and he has played it at Sneaky's before, with no repercussions. The song, while pointed, ends as more of an assertion that Sheridan will fight to maintain the values he believes in.
"I got the feeling that everyone wanted to hear it, from the customers to the staff," Sheridan said. (Obligatory disclosure: Sheridan is a friend of this reporter.) "I didn't want a conflict or a war. I just wanted to be funny.
"My 4-year-old thinks it's a great song. She loves it. It's an anthem for working local people."
To Sheridan, the incident is a matter of life imitating art.
"Ironically, it's a song about the shift we've all seen, from a small-town local feel to a more corporate atmosphere," he said. "And that's what got me fired."
On another point, though, the episode disproves Sheridan's words. In "Big Money," Sheridan sings about playing at corporate events, where he is little more than background noise, getting attention only when he plays a recognizable John Denver song: "They don't listen to my words, the words I've been singing/ I'm here to fill the void between cell phones ringing."
"The good news is, I didn't think anyone was actually listening to my songs," Sheridan said. "How flattering that somebody was so touched by my song that they had me fired. I must have hit a sensitive spot."
Sheridan said he was surprised by the firing.
"They could have said, 'Hey, don't play that song.' And I wouldn't have," he said. "I wrote 100 songs, and one is a silly poke at the glitzy side of Aspen. So yes, I am sensitive about playing that song."
He was even more surprised to find it was a Skico exec who complained. Sheridan assumed it was a couple of gentlemen he saw in Sneaky's that day: "Dudes in full-length fur coats and cowboy boots. I figured they were the ones offended," he said.