This 2012 documentary explores the life of prodigious guitar talent Jason Becker, who was in his early 40s when the film was made.
A guitar genius on his way to superstardom, Becker was diagnosed with ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis) in 1991 and doctors told him he had three-five years to live.
Becker turned 52 in July 2021 and is still producing music. And this documentary is a fitting tribute to the guy’s indomitable spirit.
Jason Becker: Not Dead Yet
Directed by Jesse Vile, Not Dead Yet has an opening 20 minutes fairly standard for a rock music documentary, celebrating and exploring Jason Becker’s talent as a young guitar prodigy.
By 1989, aged 20, he was clearly a genius player and showed remarkable abilities with his nimble playing as a heavy metal guitarist.
He was already touring by the late ’80s and joined David Lee Roth Band in 1991. During this time he helped record one album—A Little Ain’t Enough.
As this clip below from 1987 shows, it’s understandable why he was picked up.
It’s actually a rendition of Paganini’s Caprice No. 5, one of 24 pieces by the famed 19th century violinist.
Heavy metal isn’t music we follow at all, but it surprises us it’s often grounded in classical music. Both are quite melodic as a focus, even if metal is much louder.
But they’re both very complex—listen to a squealing heavy metal guitar solo and you can’t help think of Vivaldi’s nimble fingers.
In fact, there was a study in 2008 at Heriot-Watt University near Edinburgh that spoke to 36,000 people from six countries. The idea was to reveal the truth behind musical stereotypes.
Behind the study was professor Adrian North, who explained:
“The general public has held a stereotype of heavy metal fans being suicidally depressed and a danger to themselves and society in general. But they are quite delicate things …
Metal fans, like classical listeners, tend to be creative, gentle people, at ease with themselves. ‘We think the answer is that both types of music, classical and heavy metal, have something of the spiritual about them — they’re very dramatic — a lot happens.’ North said”
And the virtuosity of classical musicians appears to be a major allure for guitarists in the world of head banging.
For comparison, here’s a violinist dude (Alexander Markov) with rock and roll hair showing how to play the composition with some serious verve.
After recording the album with the David Lee Roth Band, Becker was set to tour.
But it was during recording of the album, when not even 23, he began suffering health issues with his legs.
Eventually, he was convinced by friends to see a doctor. It wasn’t long before he received his ALS diagnosis.
Becker wasn’t expected to make it to much further, especially as his illness rapidly cost him virtually all movement. It cost him his career with the band as he couldn’t tour, but soon lost all ability to even hold his guitar.
By 1996 he could no longer speak and is now permanently confined to a wheelchair and 24/7 care from his family.
Although this cost Becker a shot at global superstardom, he certainly didn’t let his illness stop his creativity.
And with the help of friends and family, plus modern technology, he’s kept himself busy by recording several albums using computer software.
Here’s a news item about him from 2008 showing his methodical work process.
His last record was in 2018 and was called Triumphant Hearts.
And whilst much of this story sounds very sombre and bleak, the reality of the documentary is it sets a positive tone—one of defiance against the odds.
This is often due to Becker’s sense of humour.
His father, Gary, invented an eye pattern chart to help his son communicate. He scans his eyes over the chart and his father is quickly able to tell what his son is intending to say.
And for Not Dead Yet, what often comes out is Jason’s absurd, amusingly crass sense of humour.
At one point he cracks a joke to his father about lusting after “dick”, to Gary Becker’s exasperated expression at his son’s humour.
That’s what helps lift Not Dead Yet (defiant, again, in its title) to a high standard, as it’s got a real sense of humanity and charm to the story.
Of course, it serves as an inspiration to us all whenever we’re having a bad day and bemoaning our situations (such as the UK’s prime minister whining about his £250k wage, just to get a relevant dig in there).
So, Not Dead Yet is inspirational in every sense with its examination of dealing with major disability. Which is accomplished through the close knit Becker family, who’ve given everything for him to ensure some quality of life.
Almost a decade on from the documentary (it launched in March 2012), Jason is now 52.
He has occasional health scares, but is otherwise active on social media and with his music projects. Naturally, he often focusses on new technology that helps to improve the lives of those with disabilities.
“Great new @Google project for people with limited speech and movement. I am touched that it was inspired by me and that they used my music. Thank you my dear friends at Google. I know it will help a lot of people.” –Jasonhttps://t.co/w9x29TYkx2#CameraSwitches #ALS #Android https://t.co/iEI2Dg8BKT
— Jason Becker (@jasonelibecker) September 30, 2021
So, yes, we recommend you give him a follow. And to watch the documentary. As, frankly, we think a sequel is in order.