Leonard Cohen: Bird on a Wire
Palmer's film is that rare concert doc that isn't for established fans only.
“One-Trick Pony” is a wonderful movie, an affectionate character study with a lot of good music in it, and it's being sold in all the wrong ways to Paul Simon "fans." True, you'll like it if you are a Paul Simon fan, but 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, as fans of, say, Bruce Springsteen might be willing to do. And that's sort of the point of “One-Trick Pony,” which tells the story of a folk singer who used to have a lot more fans than he does today.
It's ironic, the way the movie's ad campaign seemed to have exactly missed the point of the movie. Ironic, but not unusual. And never mind: This movie was one of a lousy film year's few good films, a work that knows exactly what it's like to be a musician on tour. Jonah, the character Paul Simon wrote and plays, is a person drawn from life. If you are or ever have been a regular at a marginal local folk club, you've seen singers like Jonah many times.
He was very big in the 1960s. He wrote one of the songs that became an anthem for that decade. His music was an anti-war rallying point. But the sixties are long ago. And Jonah has continued to perform more or less in the same vein. He still travels the country by van, working with a small band. He still writes and arranges his own songs. He is still very good, for that matter, but he's out of date. He plays smaller and smaller clubs, and back home, in New York, his wife and child are both growing up without him.
There is a point, this movie argues, when a singer like Jonah stops being a brave individualist and becomes merely a middle-aged man hanging onto an obsolete self-image. That's the opinion held by Jonah's wife (Blair Brown), who loves him but wants a divorce. Jonah is sort of willing to try a change. He begins to deal with a "hitmaker" (Rip Torn) who sets him up with an arranger (Lou Reed) who can almost guarantee a Top 40 sound.