One-Trick Pony concerns a musician who made it big in the ‘60s with a protest song, and is now traveling the country playing whatever gigs he can get for his band, from driving between small clubs in a van to flying out to open up for the B-52s on a bigger bill. His character is stubbornly holding on to his integrity as a working musician, which causes friction with his estranged wife and son, and prevents him from getting much sympathy from record executives. (Along with the band members playing versions of themselves, Lou Reed is the only other musical actor in the film, in a hilarious role as a smarmy promo guy with AM radio ears.) Our Hero is alternately sarcastic and depressed, not exactly likable, a little stiff, but lean and swarthy, with possibly the best toupee of his career.
The film isn’t exactly a thinly veiled autobiography, but it would become a self-fulfilling prophecy when its failure to wow the public relegated the once all-powerful Simon to the “where are they now” file. The accompanying album didn’t help much. Save the toe-tapping opener “Late In The Evening”, “God Bless The Amputee”, the title track, and “Ace In The Hole” (the latter two recorded live), most of the tracks are middling jazzy pop, with lyrics that serve to reflect the malaise running through the film. Thus, the album is equally dour, demonstrating the lack of enthusiasm the music receives onscreen, and doesn’t resonate much without the visuals.
In a further demonstration of the character’s stubborn nature, the fictional protest song “Soft Parachutes” wasn’t included on the album, but did finally appear on this century’s expanded reissue, along with two early versions of “Oh, Marion” and “How The Heart Approaches What It Yearns”, plus “Stranded In A Limousine”, which had been MIA since Greatest Hits Etc. was deleted. (No sign of the “AM radio” version of “Ace In The Hole”, however.) So it’s a little more complete now, but not exactly better.
Paul Simon One-Trick Pony (1980)—2½
2004 CD reissue: same as 1980, plus 4 extra tracks