The Tragic Treasury
CD, Nonesuch Records, Oct. 2006
The Tragic Treasury: Songs From A Series of Unfortunate Events, is the long-awaited CD companion to the best-selling books by prolific but publicity-shy author Lemony Snicket. The CD is "executed" by The Gothic Archies, who are-or more to the point, is-singer-songwriter Stephin Merritt, with a little musical help from Mr. Snicket himself. Until now, these tracks were only individually available on the audio book versions of the thirteen-volume Series of Unfortunate Events. Merritt's longtime followers may also recall that the Magnetic Fields founder had previously released a Gothic Archies EP on Merge Records, The New Despair, nearly a decade ago, quickly garnering a fan base that included writers Neil Gaiman and Stephen King. Defined by Merritt as his "goth-bubblegum band," The Gothic Archies are an artfully gloomy invention that anticipated the Snicket-ian sensibility with such song titles as "It's Useless To Struggle" and "The Abandoned Castle of My Soul." Snicket fans-perhaps too young to have followed Merritt's peripatetic career, though their parents may secretly harbor such knowledge-will welcome these fifteen new miserable Snicket-inspired numbers, now collected for the first time on one disc.
Merritt and Snicket were clearly made for each other, artistically speaking. Merritt's trademark sangfroid lyrics are inspired by Snicket's comically creepy narratives; "When you see Count Olaf," he writes of the books' arch villain, "Count to zero...then scream and run away! Run...or die!" According to Snicket spokesperson Daniel Handler, this collaboration was the product of practical necessity, not creative serendipity. Handler-in his own words, "an adjunct accordionist" for Magnetic Fields, having appeared with the group in concert and as a guest player on their landmark 69 Love Songs-was embarking on a book tour to promote the first installment of Snicket's epic, The Bad Beginning. The publishers told him that, as the public face of Lemony Snicket, "I needed to come up with a presentation to keep as many as 100 children quiet for 45 minutes-and the accordion is very loud. I thought I could play the accordion and sing, so I asked Stephin to write something. In fact, I have the distinct memory of going to the ATM and withdrawing enough cash and paying him directly upon commission of the song."
The first book, The Bad Beginning was, in fact, the start of a publishing industry phenomenon. In deadpan prose filled with big words that Snicket subversively encourages young readers to look up, the author chronicles the death-defying adventures of the three orphaned but resourceful Baudelaire children as they attempt to evade the clutches of their evil, many-times-removed cousin, Count Olaf, and his nefarious acting troupe. A family fortune is constantly at stake, along with their young lives. For this auspicious debut, Merritt composed "Scream and Run Away," which remains a cherished favorite among Snicket readers. However, they clearly did not heed the advice explicit in Merritt's title; they just kept reading. Since its introduction in 1999, the series, now reaching its thirteenth and final volume, has sold 28 million books in the U.S. and more than 50 million worldwide, in 38 countries. The first three installments were adapted for a popular 2004 film starring Jim Carrey and Meryl Streep.
Although the books have attracted a large pre-teen following, the work has a much wider appeal. Snicket's spoofs of the cheap, Victorian-era serialized novels are easy-to-read but surprisingly sophisticated page-turners that have kept many a parent absorbed at night long after their little ones have nodded off. They've also attracted a college-age audience that appreciates Snicket's irreverent, tongue-in-cheek misanthropy and goth-friendly attitude. (For Lemony Snicket, black will always be the new black.) Snicket's musical collaboration with Merritt, who sings and plays all instruments except for the accordion, is as smart and fiendishly funny as his prose. Each song does correspond with a specific book, but listeners need no familiarity with the series to appreciate these sardonic tunes, with titles like "The World is a Very Scary Place" and "Smile! No One Cares How You Feel."
Elsewhere on the web:
Scream and Run Away - The Gothic Archies on MySpace
The Tragic Treasury on Nonesuch.com
Lemony Snicket's Website
- Scream and Run Away (from The Bad Beginning)
- In the Reptile Room (from The Reptile Room)
- The World Is a Very Scary Place (from The Wide Window)
- Dreary, Dreary (from The Miserable Mill)
- When You Play the Violin (from The Austere Academy)
- This Abyss (from The Ersatz Elevator)
- Crows (from The Vile Village)
- Smile! No One Cares How You Feel (from The Hostile Hospital)
- Freakshow (from The Carnivorous Carnival)
- How Do You Slow This Thing Down? (from The Slippery Slope)
- A Million Mushrooms (from The Grim Grotto)
- Things Are Not What They Appear (from The Penultimate Peril)
- Shipwrecked (from The End)
- Walking My Gargoyle (original song from The Carnivorous Carnival)
- We Are the Gothic Archies