I’ve just finished reading Pete Townshend’s brutally honest autobiography Who I Am, and one section struck me as good Valentines Day fodder. Which may be a little ironic, given that Townshend and The Who are not known for making terribly romantic music. But by way of context, the end of the 70s found Pete in a pretty low place. The Who had suffered the death of drummer Keith Moon (and would soon endure an incredibly tragic riot at one of their concerts in Cincinnati), Pete’s drinking and drug use was off the charts, and that, combined with his philandering, had left his marriage in shambles. In 1979 the following interaction ensues:

80EG-LP-PST-PTOne evening, by some miracle, [my wife Karen and I] were in bed at the same time. Before she dozed off I asked her a question. ‘Do you still love me?’

‘I don’t think so.’

‘Not even a little?’

‘Maybe a little,’ she replied. ‘Now please go to sleep, or go down and work. I’ve got to be up early.’

You may know that in spite of–or probably because of–his well-documented shortcomings, Townshend is deeply religious, and his ardent belief in God, filtered through his life-long devotion to the Hindu guru Meher Baba (of “Baba O’Reily” fame), is a large part of the book. “Let My Love Open the Door”, for example, was not written as a message from a human lover but from God. Anyway, after his wife Karen drops that bomb so nonchalantly, Townshend decides to consult his spiritual authority. The answer he gets is surprising, and a bit reminiscent of Luke 17:6.

Meher Baba’s secretary Adi Irani made a visit to London around this time. I tried to get his advice.

‘My wife doesn’t love me any more,’ I said. ‘What should I do?’

‘She doesn’t love you at all?’ He wobbled his head as he spoke.

‘She said she loved me a little.’

‘Ah!’ Adi clapped his hands and smiled. ‘A little! That’s good. Love is universal. Limitless. So even a little is enough.’

I wrote a song called ‘A Little Is Enough’, and recorded it using the same system as I’d used on ‘Let My Love Open the Door’. Although I’d always thought my love songs were terrible, I think this is one of the best songs I’ve written.

“A Little Is Enough” can be found on Townshend’s Empty Glass solo record from 1980, and it really is quite something. There are very few good or honest rock songs written about romantic commitment in any kind of hopeful way, but this is one. That it works as a comment on religious commitment too–i.e., what devotion to God often feels like amidst the storms of lived experience–I’m sure was not lost on Townshend. By the way, I highly doubt he’s endorsing a love-by-percentages kind of thinking (a la what Sansbury so bravely took to task earlier this week). To a person flailing for some miniscule basis of hope in a failing relationship, the word that “a little is enough” is profoundly gracious.

We are so often convinced that love, for it to be real or valuable, has to be this all-consuming, Hollywood-like passionate obsession with another person (or Heavenly Father). But such thinking quickly becomes a law unto itself, a recipe for alienation that allows no room for anything less than emotional perfection. When it comes to things we can’t manufacture like faith, hope and love, Townshend (and Jesus) are on to something. And barring that, there’s always the limitlessness of John 4:10.

Anyways, here’s Pete performing a blistering version of the tune with the enormous (and well-coiffed) Deep End band in 1985, which apparently includes someone named Dave Gilmour on guitar.: