The road to excess leads not to rock longevity

MY dad was always keen to introduce his kids to the music of his youth. But he made an exception of The Doors.

When I first discovered their brand of freaky psychedelic gloom as a teenager, my dad, who never liked them first time around, made no secret of his disapproval, dismissing Jim Morrison as a 'weirdo'.

Recently I caught a documentary about The Doors on BBC4's Classic Albums series, and was reminded of why I found them so exciting.

In the concert footage in particular, you could see what made their improvised performances so compelling and frightening.

You never knew what Morrison was going to do next. It was punk with superior musicianship. And Morrison had a wonderfully creepy voice, veering from crooner to bellowing madman within the space of a line.

A weirdo? Certainly.

The surviving members looked back on their debut album and tried to nail down what made it so great.

Now in their 60s, they looked like lean, pampered beach bums, the sort of men who got plenty of outdoor exercise and California sunshine - but who never forgot to moisturise.

Whereas their frontman, of course, died aged six years younger than me, wasted on heroin and whisky.

As the survivors discussed their singer, one question was unavoidable: Was Morrison's self-destructiveness a symptom of his talent or unrelated to it?

John Densmore, the Doors drummer, had a message for 'the kids', as relevant as ever today, when Pete Doherty and Amy Winehouse perpetuate the link between musical creativity and inebriation: You don't have to destroy yourself to be creative. Picasso, he pointed out, lived into his nineties.

Furthermore, "It's not enough to just wear some leather pants and drink."

Very true.

But one of his bandmates suggested that people like Morrison came with the whole package, the mad genius for pushing boundaries of an art form was inextricably tied to his offensive behaviour and self-poisoning.

It's people like Jim Morrison who give drugs a good name - a better name than drugs deserve.

Morrison was a devotee of William Blake's notion that 'the road to excess leads to the palace of wisdom', which is, among other things, a fantastic excuse to have yet another drink.

It's undeniable that there were plenty of rock stars who were innovators and died young. To pick three, Morrison, Hendrix and Cobain all died aged 27.

But there are those who are still going strong in their 60s - Dylan, Springsteen and the Rolling Stones.

(The Stones' longevity is particularly inspiring. As Martin Scorcese's concert film, Shine A Light demonstrated with snapshots of archive footage, almost from the start of their careers the Stones were asked how long they thought they could keep going.)

Ah, yes, you might think. But those three on my first list were the more radical innovators, while those on the second, however talented, did not transform music so much as produce a lot of great stuff.

When it comes to being a rock star, apparently it's healthier to be relatively predictable than it is to be a trail-blazing innovator.

In his suicide note, Kurt Cobain quoted Neil Young's lyric: "It's better to burn out than fade away."

I'm not so sure.