Monday, March 7, 2011

Sympathy for the Angel

I started the day reading a book about psychotherapy with infants and young children, which referenced Selma Fraiberg's phrase "ghosts in the nursery" to describe the "intergenerational transmission from parent to infant of unresolved psychological conflicts originating in the parent's childhood experiences."  The authors, Alicia F. Lieberman and Patricia Van Horn, also introduce the idea of "angels in the nursery"--"moments of intensely shared affect [between parent and child] that are internalized and become an integral component of the child's identity."

Later this afternoon I picked up Keith Richards' Life, and happened upon the section in which he describes a whole new universe opening under his fingers after discovering open G tuning and getting rid of the 6th string on his Telecaster.

"The beauty, the majesty of the five-string open G tuning for an electric guitar is that you've got only three notes--the other two are repetitions of each other an octave apart....Only three notes, but because of these different octaves, it fills the whole gap between bass and top notes with sound....there's a million places you don't need to put your fingers.  It's finding the spaces in between  that makes open tuning work.  And if you're working the right chord, you can hear this other chord going on behind it, which you're actually not playing.  It's there.  It defies logic.  And it's just lying there saying 'Fuck me'....It's what you leave out that counts.  Let it go so that one note harmonizes off the other." 

Keith goes on to write that, "We exist on a rhythm of seventy-two beats a minute....The human body will feel rhythms even when there's not one.  Rhythm only has to be suggested.  Doesn't have to be pronounced....It's got nothing to do with rock.  It's to do with roll."

Out of the mouth of the guitar hero.  This reminds me of pediatrician/psychoanalyst D.W. Winnicott's (1896 - 1971) concept of the good-enough mother--one who is sufficiently attuned to her baby to create a holding environment, adapt to her child, and facilitate transition.  In other words, less really is more.  And when the ghost notes and the angel chords can exist in harmony, that's when we have what Winnicott saw as the space between the inner and outer worlds, that transition space where play and creativity are possible.

I believe, like Winnicott, that psychotherapy aims to create that space in which to play.  And so does rock 'n' roll.  I recall running into a clinical supervisor of mine at a Bruce Springsteen concert.  At the clinic the next day, we were still giddy with the experience, and he declared to his supervisees, "Forget about therapy.  Just go to a Springsteen concert!"

Thank you, Keef, for reminding us that it's all about the roll.


  1. There is space between. We meet at the boundary. One tone says little. Notes interacting in time and space, become more than the sum of the individual notes. As Mick sang, "I know, it's only rock and roll, but I like it, like it, yes I do."