Jonah Levi (Paul Simon) has been a musician since the nineteen-sixties, when aside from popular albums he also had one huge hit with the anti-war protest song Soft Parachutes. Still on the road, he is finding the music business is changing around him, with his record company keen to have him secure another hit with new material - a new album would be welcome as well. But life on tour has become the norm for him, he gets along with his band (who he would like to play on any fresh recordings he may or may not make), he can meet the occasional groupie and spend the night at her place, and the audience are appreciative. It's just that when he sees the up-and-comers, he feels a million years old...
Those up-and-comers represented by The B-52s here, as an example of the New Wave music that was rendering artistes like Paul Simon dangerously close to looking like rock dinosaurs. This film was designed to promote the One-Trick Pony album, a disc that did significantly better than this project, as part of the drawback to watching it was that it came across like a very seventies movie, whereas it was being released in the brave new world of the eighties where there was a sense of a changing of the guard. If The Village People couldn't cut it on celluloid with Can't Stop the Music (au contraire), then what hope did a far less zeitgeist-y singer-songwriter like the one headlining this effort?
Well, Simon had been part of the zeitgeist in the previous couple of decades, it was true, but now he was looking as if he would have to stick with the fans he had picked up back then, since eighties kids preferred something a lot more flashy and/or relevant to the politics of the day. Naturally, Simon was not to know that on embracing African styles of music he would enjoy one of the biggest successes of his career halfway through the eighties with the Graceland album, a work many consider one of the masterpieces of that decade, so his sad sack persona as portrayed in his self-penned screenplay for this film was, it was safe to say, not one he could have usefully pursued to any profit.
Financially or artistically, and the drama he concocted, presumably drawn from his life, set his character as an ageing rebel wrestling with the notions of what he should do with his time now middle age is approaching. His ex-wife Marion (Blair Brown) believes his profession to be adolescent and something he should have grown out of years ago (he doesn't agree, indeed this irritates him no end that she doesn't take his work seriously), but at least he can hold a torch for her as his love for her has never died completely. The record company, led by Rip Torn in "reasonable as long as you do everything I say" mode, is another matter, dead set on commercialising his sound in a way that he feels is a betrayal of both his principles and his audience, along with his touring band who he has loyalty to.
This is leading up to a final shot of Jonah, and by extension Simon, sticking it to the man, thus proving his rock 'n' roll credentials to an audience who perhaps were not that interested, they simply wanted something to tap the steering wheel along with in the car. It was a curious beast for that reason, was One-Trick Pony, very sorry for itself which you might think was a bit rich coming from a musician of the calibre and hit rate of Simon, but one supposed inside every rock megastar was a whiny teenager complaining that nobody understands him struggling to get out. They secured the services of an interesting cast at least, so though the star was nobody's idea of an accomplished thespian, we could be distracted by a proper actor like Allen Garfield who was memorable as a boo-hiss exec, or stunt casting like Lou Reed as the integrity-ruining producer mogul Torn insists Jonah uses. Nevertheless, this was strictly for the fans, or industry types and frustrated musicians who could sympathise.