Merritt, Snicket and the 'Tragic Treasury' A performance and chat with musician Stephin Merritt and author David Handler (a.k.a Lemony Snicket) about The Tragic Treasury: Songs from A Series of Unfortunate Events. Merritt, of The Magnetic Fields, contributed his talents to the soundtrack.

Merritt, Snicket and the 'Tragic Treasury'

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DEBBIE ELLIOTT, host:

There's also a new recording out that insists you face your darkest fears and anxieties, but this one takes a slightly more humorous approach, and it's for kids, sort of.

(Soundbite of music)

MAGNETIC FIELDS (Music Group): (Singing) Dreary, dreary, dreary, dreary. Gone, gone, the golden brocade. Gone...

ELLIOTT: You would have to be hiding at the bottom of an ersatz elevator shaft not to know by now that Lemony Snicket, known to the grown up world as Daniel Handler, is the author of the fabulously successful, and yes, rather depressing "Series of Unfortunate Events" books. Long before his books hit the New York Time's bestseller list, author Daniel Handler played accordion in a band called the Magnetic Fields.

Now Handler has again teamed up with the band leader of the Magnetic Fields, Stephin Merritt. They've come out with a series of songs to accompany the "Series of Unfortunate Events" books. It's called the "Tragic Treasury". Daniel Handler and Stephin Merritt have been touring the country, performing songs from the "Tragic Treasury" and distressing children everywhere. They join us today from the studios of WCPN in Cleveland, Ohio.

Hello there, welcome to the program.

Mr. DANIEL HANDLER (Author): Thank you for having us.

ELLIOTT: Daniel Handler, I understand you brought your accordion, and Stephin Merritt you have a ukulele, so you'll be playing for us some today?

Mr. HANDLER: That's true. It's not actually my accordion. Due to the airline's mistreatment of accordions everywhere, I get to rent an accordion in each I visit. So this tour has been a complete visual and auditorial history of the accordion in the United States.

ELLIOTT: So Daniel Handler, all your books start with a foreword warning readers away because the stories are just so upsetting. They follow the misadventures of the Baudelaire orphans and their villainous cousin Count Olaf, who is just a really creepy guy. And I hear that one of the audience favorites at your events is a song called "Scream and Run Away" that's about Count Olaf. And the kids in the audience have started acting the lyrics out with you?

Mr. HANDLER: It's true. When I perform the song in front of crowds, I encourage everyone's least favorite thing, which is audience participation. The chorus of the song, as we'll soon hear, contains the words run, run, run, run, run, run, run, run, or die, die, die, die, die, die, die, die, and on the part that says run, the audience and listeners at home may drum their feet on the floor as if running. And on the part that says die, they may slump over in the position they hope to find themselves in their deaths.

ELLIOTT: Now, I might get hurt...

Mr. HANDLER: I should add for anyone who's listening to NPR while driving that this is not recommended.

ELLIOTT: And I'll not try it in our studio either. It sounds too dangerous. But I would like to hear the song.

(Soundbite of accordion)

Mr. HANDLER: The first part of the song is called vamping, which simply means that you play the same thing over and over and over and it's a wonderful way to drive people crazy.

(Singing) The Count has an eye on his ankle and lives in a horrible place. He wants all your money. He's never at all funny. He wants to remove your face. And you might be thinking what a rump this is, but wait 'til you meet his accomplices. When you see Count Olaf you're suddenly full of disgust and despair and dismay. In the hall of the soul of Count Olaf there's no love. When you see Count Olaf count to zero. Then scream and run away. Scream, scream, scream and run away. Run, run, run, run, run, run, run or die, die, die, die, die, die, die, die. Run, run, run, run, run, run, run, run or die, die, die, die, die, die, die, die, die, die. Run, run, run, run, run, run, run, run, or die, die, die, die, die, die, die, die. Run, run, die, die, run, run, die, die, run, die, run, die, die.

ELLIOTT: Daniel Handler, otherwise known as Lemony Snicket singing "Scream and Run Away". You know, "Scream and Run Away" is dark, but it's funny. It's an amusing song. But some of the songs on here are even darker, plain dark and disturbing. And Stephin Merritt, I'd like you to weigh in here. I'm thinking of the song "This Abyss," which has a line, This abyss, this lightless void, this abyss of world destroyed. This doesn't exactly sound like kids music to me.

Mr. HANDLER: I think there's nothing that children might enjoy more than looking down a dark, deep hole and wondering what's at the bottom of it.

ELLIOTT: How do kids react to some of the darker themes in this music?

Mr. STEPHIN MERRITT (Lyricist): I think children are more willing to contemplate the unknown than adults are.

Mr. HANDLER: I think they probably - the younger you are, the less choice you have about contemplating the unknown because there's so much that is unknown.

ELLIOTT: Because the lyrics are also very clever. There's a line in "When You Play the Violin", I'm going to quote here: I've endured struggling and thuggery sir, physical ed and psychosis, scullery skulls and skullduggery, sir, haplessness, hype and hypnosis, but oh vey, the horrible din when you play the violin. You know, you're an acclaimed lyricist. What drew you to write for kids?

Mr. MERRITT: I don't think of it as writing for kids. I just think of it as writing, well, not being allowed to use swear words.

Mr. HANDLER: Mr. Merritt is trying to be nice about the fact that he was more or less dragged into writing songs based on "A Series of Unfortunate Events" by me after I asked him to write "Scream and Run Away," the better to play something on the accordion while I went and talked to children about these books.

ELLIOTT: Well, the final book in this series, appropriately titled "The End," just came out this fall. And the song that goes with it is I'd say the most upbeat song on this collection. It's called "Shipwrecked". Can you all take us out on "Shipwrecked"?

Mr. HANDLER: Absolutely. We would be happy to take the listeners out on a shipwreck.

Mr. MERRITT: But we might not come back.

Mr. HANDLER: (Singing) I can't think of a single I'd rather do than be cast away on an island with you. No I can't think of anything more heavenly than to have you shipwrecked on a tropical island with me. Shipwrecked with you. Shipwrecked with you. I can't think of a single thing I'd rather do than be cast away on an island with you. I can't think of a single thing I'd rather do and that's why I have to get rid of the crew. So I lopped off their heads and dropped them in the sea just to have you shipwrecked on a tropical island with me. Shipwrecked with you. Shipwrecked with you. I can't think of a single thing I'd rather do and that's why I decapitated the crew. And that's why I decapitated the crew.

ELLIOTT: Stephin Merritt and Daniel Handler joined us from WCPN in Cleveland. Their new record is "The Tragic Treasury: Songs from 'A Series of Unfortunate Events.'" Thank you both.

Mr. HANDLER: Thank you very much for having us. So few people would.

ELLIOTT: You can hear more music from "The Tragic Treasury" at our Web site, npr.org.

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