Out of the Woods; or, How the New Yorker, Just This Once, We Swear, Is Wrong

Published:May 31, 2012 by Brendan Wolfe

That’s Johnny Lydon up there. You might remember him as Johnny Rotten of the Sex Pistols. With his band Public Image Ltd., he’s got a new album out, This Is PiL—all of which is neither here nor there except for the fact that said album ends with an epic, nine-minute trance titled “Out of the Woods,” in which Lydon, as is his modus operandi, does not so much sing as monosyllabically shouts:

Jackson stood
’cause he could
because he should
looking good
to the wood, to the wood, to the wood, understood
here we are
near and far
as you are
here we are
here we are, here we are, here we are, here we are
into the wood, as we should, through the wood
secret wood, secret should
secret wood, understood
through the wood

Calling Lydon’s band “a steady beacon for more than three decades,” the New Yorker‘s Ben Greenman gives high marks to the new effort. “Throughout, Lydon steers with a steady hand, wailing wisely, clearly happy to be back at the helm.” But Greenman errs in his judgment of “Out of the Woods,” calling it “a hypnotic tale of war that seems, upon closer inspection, to be about Stonewall Jackson and the Battle of Bull Run.” I added those links, by the way, although wouldn’t it be nice if the New Yorker, or at least Ben Greenman, read Encyclopedia Virginia—because then he would not make this kind of rookie mistake. I mean, honestly!

While it’s true, as our entry attests, that Stonewall Jackson “stood / ’cause he could” at the First Battle of Manassas (Bull Run), thus earning his famous nickname, you’ll notice, in the first image above, that the trees at Henry House Hill (where Stonewall stood) are noticeably absent, especially when compared to the next photograph, which was taken at Chancellorsville.

Ah, remember Chancellorsville? That’s where Jackson, in May of 1863, took an entire corps and secretly marched it into the woods—known locally as the Wilderness—twelve miles past an old iron furnace, through the wood, the secret wood, and around the Union right flank. Then, at dusk, he charged his screaming men out of the woods and through the Union lines.

This, I think, is what Johnny is singing about. And if that’s not convincing enough, then at the 6:59 mark Lydon actually “sings”:

Into red
on the green
of Chancellor(s)ville

So to recap:

Johnny Lydon: awesome.
Encyclopedia Virginia: correct.
New Yorker: wrong.

This will probably never happen again (Lydon singing about Stonewall Jackson, the New Yorker being flat wrong), so pardon us while we savor the occasion.

IMAGES: Johnny Lydon; Manassas BattlefieldChancellorsville by Stacey Purdy