“I don’t think I’m special, I think I’m lucky.” — Jason Becker
Known to the layman as Lou Gehrig’s disease, Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, or ALS is a relentlessly progressive condition that causes the degeneration of the motor nerves and the paralysis of muscles; weakening a persons’ ability to speak, swallow and breathe — it almost always leads to death in a matter of 2 to 5 years. But guitarist Jason Becker has been living with the disease for over 20, and not only that, he’s still composing music. Jason Becker: Not Dead Yet, is a documentary on the life of a man who had every reason in the world to give up hope and cash it in. Instead, with his dreams of rock stardom put on hold, Jason not only beats the odds, but keeps his passion for music alive and is a positive force to everyone who knows him.
The 1980s are best remembered for big hair, and even bigger rock stars. From Ozzy to Van Halen, a resurgent Aerosmith to the purty Bon Jovi, that decade saw rock and roll hit the heights of excess. On the verge of his own trajectory to the top was Jason Becker, a 22-year-old phenom just hired by David Lee Roth to play on his 1991 album “A Little Ain’t Enough.” But even before the album is in the can, Jason Becker begins showing signs that something is wrong; in that same year he is diagnosed with ALS and the dreams of music stardom and a major tour are over even before they begin.
Gary and Pat Becker say their son Jason was always a good kid, respectful and loving towards the people he met, and they insist he has remained a warm and funny young man even after his ALS diagnosis. This says as much about Gary and Pat as it does about Jason himself. In Jason Becker: Not Dead Yet, filmmaker Jesse Vile shows through snapshots, old home movies, and interviews with the people who know him best just what a strong and courageous young man Jason Becker is.
The documentary demonstrates the determination of a young Jason, who seemed destined to become a musician, almost from birth. Once he honed his craft, he set out with a steely determination. And he did just that at the tender age of 16, forming a band called ‘Cacophony’ with future Megadeth guitarist Marty Friedman. After the band split amicably, Jason was hired by David Lee Roth to replace the irreplaceable Steve Vai. This is where the dream turns sour, and for most of us this might’ve been a death blow, but for Jason Becker, it was just the beginning.
In addition to Jason’s own internal strength, a huge part of his survival is due to a core group of friends and family that help in his day-to day-care. That group includes Mom and dad, Jason’s brother Ehren, and former fiancé Serrana, who is now Jason’s best friend and credited with how well Jason is thriving due to an herbal recipe she created that’s given to him through a feeding tube. Usually tube fed patients are given a canned white liquid made from oil, sugar and synthetic vitamins, but Serrana makes Jason a meal that contains Flax seeds, pumpkin seeds, dandelion greens, garlic extract, black plums, essential fatty acids, vitamin C and a multi vitamin blend that helps him have a wonderful quality of life. Also part of his crew is another former girlfriend, Marilyn; the fact that Jason’s exes have devoted a good deal of their lives to help in his care is another testament to the type of person Jason is: a man who inspires people enough to stay on and help even after the end of an intimate relationship.
Jason Becker: Not Dead Yet, shows the toll ALS takes on Jason physically. It attacks the body’s ability to eat, breathe, and also speak. As the disease progressed, dad Greg was concerned that Jason wouldn’t be able to communicate any longer, which would make it impossible for Jason to tell them if he were in any discomfort. So Greg developed an eye sign language, like eye geometry, where every letter of the alphabet has a specific angle, making it possible for Jason to talk with his family and friends. This is just another sign of the amazing support he has, and the devotion that his loved ones have for him. I think Jason is so right when he exclaims just how lucky he is.
Jason Becker: Not Dead Yet is a nice 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation that does include some old grainy home videos from Jason’s youth. That is easy to overlook, and in no way interferes in the enjoyment of the documentary. The screechy mono recordings of Jason’s original music are a bit hard on the ears even with the Dolby 5.1 audio, but the dialogue is clear and easy to understand.
Extras include in depth interviews with guitarists Steve Vai, Marty Friedman, and Joe Satriani. Although I enjoy hearing from these talented musicians, the interviews went on far too long, and almost became more about those individual artists than Jason Becker. The archived performances are phenomenal, and even with the poor recording quality it’s easy to see that this man would’ve become a guitar legend. There’s an in depth look at ALS with Doctor Robert G. Miller of the Forbes Research Center in San Francisco. He is concise, honest and helpful for those of us unfamiliar with the disease. Also included is the film’s trailer.
I had never heard of Jason Becker until I saw this DVD, and I was a big rock n’ roll dork back in the day. Jason Becker: Not Dead Yet left me with a great amount of admiration for Jason and the family and friends who have never given up on him. It’s amazing to see how Jason has maintained his strength of character, and never lost his passion for life or music.
Shred it Dude! Not Guilty.
Jason Becker: Not Dead Yet (DVD)
2013, Kino Lorber, 87 minutes, NR (2012)
VIDEO: 1.85:1 AUDIO: Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English) SUBTITLES: English (SDH)
EXTRAS: Extended Interviews, Performances, Featurette, Trailer ACCOMPLICES: IMDB