It’s a line of Pete Townshend’s from his 1980 album Empty Glass. He was echoing the point he had already made back in 1971 on Who’s Next with Too Much of Anything. How many times in the 1980s must I have listened to A Little is Enough, whose lyrics made it clear that the author himself couldn’t stop at enough, let alone leave well enough alone? But his message continues to resonate through the decades.
We learned self-restraint as children, when it was a special treat to have two—and only two—pieces of candy from the biscuit tin where our mother kept it. The moment we waited for, when she would open the tin and allow us to pick out any two pieces of our choice, we called Reprise Time, after the segment on the weekly talent show Opportunity Knocks, hosted by the delightfully smarmy Hughie Green (whose unabashed sleaziness in the role out-sleazed Monty Python’s Michael Palin). While we must surely have wanted more, I honestly can’t remember even entertaining the thought that it was possible, let alone asking for it. But then, we knew what happened to Oliver Twist when he dared to ask for more.
It doesn’t really count, though, if you have self-restraint imposed upon you. Pete Townshend’s point is that a little can actually be better than a lot, that a person of discernment prefers it, for sheer pleasure as well as for self-preservation.
I’ll always remember Eve, the consummate artist in the kitchen, giving me this advice about cooking with herbs:
A little oregano goes a long way; don’t be heavy-handed with it.
(Thyme, she said, was different; you could never use too much thyme. )
The same principle applies to basil—it should be used sparingly. In an apartment a group of us shared in our twenties, we had a housemate who added basil (her favorite) by the fistful to everything she made, thereby rendering it inedible for everyone else. With condiments, of course, while a pinch of salt is the stuff of life, too much is an utter disaster. And to my mind, in the case of hing, or asafoetida, even a little can be too much.
It was Bob Marley and the Wailers who made the point most powerfully for me. In the mid-seventies, when the band retired after a long and wholly satisfying set, when the audiences would go wild, calling for more as if they hadn’t already been given plenty, Bob Marley, in a brilliant move, would deliver up an encore of Want More:
Now that you’ve got
What you want
Do you want more? (Want More? echoed the I-Threes).
I was always chastened by this gesture. The band had just given the audience their all; how much more could we demand of them? It was now our turn to carry their positive vibrations back out into the world, and to discover for ourselves, by doing, when enough was as good as a feast.