In Hear This, A.V. Club writers sing the praises of songs they know well. This week, we’re picking our favorite unlikely collaborations.
The Baudelaire orphans would have had it so much easier had they heard this song before meeting Count Olaf, the first of a 15-song collaboration between The Magnetic Fields’ frontman Stephin Merritt and Daniel Handler, a.k.a. Lemony Snicket, author of A Series Of Unfortunate Events. Each audiobook in the series came with a song, performed by the appropriately dreary-voiced Merritt describing the Baudelaire’s misfortune. “Scream And Run Away” is part expository, part rueful commentary on The Bad Beginning, the story in which the Baudelaires first the meet the unhygienic, wheezy-voiced Olaf. Much like Snicket’s narration, the real charm of “Scream And Run Away” is not in the story but in the deadpan, comic delivery detailing sad and scary things that children experience. Lines include describing how Count Olaf “wants to remove your face” and, “When you see Count Olaf count to zero / Then scream and run away / Run run run run run run run run, or die die die die die die die die die die die.” Repeating the word “die” over and over may give a parent pause, but the song is in keeping with the straightforward black comedy of Handler’s series.
Handler, meanwhile, carries his knack for melancholy off the page by accompanying Merritt on the accordion. It infuses the song with a mournful atmosphere, and what instrument better represents a writer tasked with documenting the lives of the Baudelaires? Handler is not technically part of the band, though; The Gothic Archies existed before The Tragic Treasury, most notably lending The Adventures Of Pete And Pete “Your Long White Fingers.” Give that earlier song a listen and it becomes a little less weird that Merritt would later collaborate with Handler on songs for the series’ audiobooks. Neither artist is interested in sugar-coating life, be it on love or on growing up.