Watch this space for the latest from GWD HQ, and keep your FOMO to a BM (that means Bare Minimum).

Fail Mail (formerly Errorogenous Zone): Carol Intentions

Published December 16, 2022

We write nearly 20,000 quiz questions a year, and despite our best writerly, editorial, and fact-checker-y efforts, sometimes we screw up. For that, we’ve got the Errorogenous Zone: a place for quizzers to write in and let us know how badly we’ve boned it. You may even be right! Every EZ gets a response, and we’re bringing some of the juicier ones to you, here. Enjoy!

On Thursday, December 15, we ran an audio round for Emperor Nero’s birthday featuring fiddle covers of popular songs. (Get it?) And, because it’s the holiday season, we couldn’t resist chucking in a Christmas classic, “Carol of the Bells.”

Except, as quizzer Mary wrote in to tell us, it wasn’t quite that at all:

“The answer should be Christmas Eve (Sarajevo 12/24). The selection chosen was indeed part of Carol of the Bells, but that is part of that song (meaning Christmas Eve Sarajevo) – it is not known as Carol of the Bells.”

Editor-in-Chief, Aaron Retka, responds:

Dear Mary,

We put Trans-Siberian Orchestra out there, so I don’t know why I should be surprised that a quizzer came back to us with some TSO lore. Let’s get into it!

The clip we used is from TikTok fiddle guy Phillip Bowen (who’s rad, by the way, and you should check him out), and the video itself is titled “Carol of the Bells.”

@philipbowenmusic In the Christmas Fiddle shirt no less!!! #transsiberianorchestra #philipbowenmusic #carolofthebells #fypシ #viral ♬ original sound – Philip Bowen Music

Buuuuut, Bowen is clearly performing the TSO version, which according to the track listing on their seminal 1996 album Christmas Eve and Other Stories, is indeed titled “Christmas Eve/Sarajevo 12/24.” Cue up that track, and you’re treated to a totally extreme medley of “God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen” and yes, “Carol of the Bells,” just under a totally different title. Why the hell can those Guitar Center dweebs do that? Because TSO wailed up their own arrangement of that well-known Christmas carol, which is itself an adaptation of a Ukrainian folk song by Mykola Leontovych called “Shchedryk” … and those tunes are all public domain, letting our Trans-Siberian friends do whatever they want to with it, up to and including changing the title. (They can also apparently make it a story about a cello player during the Bosnian War, but that’s a whole other story.) And get this: it’s not even originally a TSO song! It was originally released a year earlier by the prog-metal band Savatage as part of a Bosnian War concept album, and then was roundly ganked for re-use when some of Savatage’s members went on to form TSO.

Anyway, you’re right. We didn’t accept the actual, credited title of the song, and we should have. But that also would have been a dick move for all the folks who rightly answered “Carol of the Bells,” because: just listen, it’s freakin’ “Carol of the Bells” he’s playing. We could have listed the answer as the proper “Christmas Eve/Sarajevo 12/24” and then just have quietly accepted “Carol of the Bells” to stave off the inevitable riots. But that doesn’t sit right with me either, because the song has an agreed-upon title and it’s more or less using “Carol of the Bells” as a melodic jumping-off point. It’s not exactly a sample, it’s not a quote, it’s not an interpolation. It’s not exactly “Carol of the Bells” at all. You can tell because the song starts off by playing a totally different song.

So what’s the solution here? Never fear, I’ve got a terrific one: Don’t use the stupid song in the first place, sidestep this whole jingly landmine entirely, and stuff Trans-Siberian Orchestra back into their holly jolly Christmas hole until next year. 

Featured image courtesy of: Trans-Siberian Orchestra