The story behind the Simon and Garfunkel songs: “Richard Cory” with a twist

Okay, you’re Paul Simon. You and Art Garfunkel became an overnight sensation when your song “The Sound of Silence” became a number one hit on Billboard without even knowing it had been re-recorded and re-released. He rushed back from England to meet up with his partner and rushed to the studio to record a few more songs so his new hit could be made into an album. Problem: you need more songs. Solution? You use some songs that you have stored. And you write a couple more, like “Richard Cory.”

Most people don’t know this, but Simon majored in English at Queens College and earned a degree in English literature (even fewer know that he briefly attended Brooklyn Law School). So it’s only natural that he would call on his knowledge of poetry to help him find material for the album they were hastily putting together.

Given that Simon’s audience was becoming disenchanted with the Vietnam War and distrustful of the “Establishment,” the wealthy, and the older generation, it’s only natural that he would choose Edward Arlington Robinson’s poem “Richard Cory.” Written during the depression that followed the Panic of 1893, it portrays a man who seems to have it all: wealth, education, manners, and the admiration of everyone around him. And those who envy him do not have enough money for meat and curse the bread they had (many were forced to live on daily bread in those depression years). But despite all this success, Cory quietly goes home one day and kills himself with a gun. The reader is forced to see that all of Cory’s assets did not matter and that something essential was missing. Perhaps it was the folly of excessive wealth (consider the Book of Ecclesiastes “All is vanity and chasing after the wind”). Maybe it was the loneliness. Maybe it was boredom or depression. We don’t know… but we are challenged to ask.

Simon, using his background in English literature, brought “Richard Cory” into the 20th century. He starts out the same way, though Simon embellishes it a bit. Cory is not only rich, he “owns half of this entire town”. He is so rich that he can give generously to charity. He knows all the right people. He was born with a silver spoon in his mouth, the pampered only son of a wealthy banker. The press follows his every move like a modern day paparazzi. For his amusement he throws amazing parties and indulges in orgies.

However, he still kills himself with a gun.

And the singer of the song? He works in Cory’s factory, hungry and poor, furious at fate for his poverty, bitterly envious of his “boss of him.” But unlike the poem, the singer seems to have a death wish because yet i wish i was cory even after Cory has committed suicide.