Revisiting Paul Simon’s ‘One-Trick Pony’ Movie and Album
Never one to sit still and rest on his past, Paul Simon took full flight in his solo career following the split from musical partner Art Garfunkel in 1970. After three successive Top 5 albums, Simon was somewhat restless and decided to dip his toe into the world of acting. That eventually led to him write, score and star in One-Trick Pony, which was released on Oct. 3, 1980.
Simon's acting career began when he appeared as record producer Tony Lacey in Woody Allen's 1977 classic, Annie Hall. The following year he had a cameo role as himself in the Rutles' film, All You Need Is Cash. But One-Trick Pony – a movie about a once popular rock and roll singer trying to come to terms with his life in a new decade while his life, personal and professional, keep throwing roadblocks in his way – was entirely his project.
Simon's character, Jonah Levin, is the once-famous rocker trying to find his footing at the dawn of the '80s. He wants to record a new album, but a less-than sympathetic record company and producer (played by Lou Reed), aren't making things easy for him. At the same time, Levin is trying to resolve issues with his wife and child.
Though not an autobiographical film in the truest sense, you don't have to dig deep to see a connection to Simon's own experiences in the business. "It's really more a character study than it is a plot, or adventure story," Simon said in a 1980 BBC interview. "It's about people I've known, composites of people. Maybe it doesn't translate outside the world of rock and roll, or rock culture."
Watch Paul Simon Perform 'One-Trick Pony'
Simon's first intention, however, was to simply write the music for someone else's movie. "I wanted to make a film. At first I wanted to collaborate with someone and write the music to someone else's screenplay," he continued. "I never found someone to collaborate with, so I began to write myself, and as is very often the case, you write about what you know best. It seemed to me to be the simplest way to begin, to write about the world that I had gone through."
The cast of the film also features such notable names as drummer Steve Gadd, bassist Tony Levin, and comedian Harry Shearer. In addition, there are brief performances from the B-52's, Tiny Tim, and a reunited Lovin' Spoonful, all of whom tie into the past vs. future subplot the Simon character is dealing with throughout.
Famed movie critic Roger Ebert liked the movie, but felt it was "being sold in all the wrong ways to Paul Simon fans," even asking in his original review, "Does Paul Simon have fans anymore? He has lots of admirers, people who follow his music, but they're not necessarily prepared to race out into the night to see this movie."
The film performed very modestly at the box office and didn't stick around too long. The soundtrack LP, released at the same time as the movie, had a much better fate. With all songs written and performed by Simon, the album broke into the U.S. Top 20, selling over a half a million copies. The single, "Late in the Evening," made the Top 10 and was nominated for a Grammy.