Back in the dayglo, stone-washed eighties, Californian guitar prodigy Jason Becker was about to become one of heavy metal's hottest axe heroes. He played a flashy brand of neo-classical rock which valued technique and virtuosity over actual feel - at the age of 16, when the rest of the kids were blaring Slayer, Becker was perfecting Bach fugues, picking out Paganini on his fret board, and tweaking his machine head to Mozart.
These were the comical but heady days of hair metal and Becker was a young prince among shredders and whammy bar surfers; the young pretender to Yngwie Malmsteen and Steve Vai. Aged just 20, he signed with Dave Lee Roth’s band and, yup, he was already big in Japan. But like a lightning-quick arpeggio building to a power chord blow-out, something was about to give. Just as this nice guy prodigy was preparing to cut his first album with Roth, he began to feel what he called a "lazy limp" in his left leg . . .
He shrugged it off as destiny came calling but Becker’s body began to give way limb by limb until he was eventually diagnosed with ALS, (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis), a particularly horrendous wasting disease leading to paralysis and a lingering death.
He was given five years to live but here we are 22 years later and Becker is still with us and he's now the subject of this stylish and lovingly-made documentary by first-time film maker Jesse Vile. Not Dead Yet tells the moving story of a sweet, goofy kid using extensive home movies, camcorder footage, and interviews with ex-girlfriends, family members (Jason’s parents Pat and Gary are utter saints) and friends, including childhood pal Marty Friedman who went on to play with Megadeth.
It is part tragedy, part triumph and all heart. Becker, now totally paralysed and only able to communicate by using his eyes, is a real presence; a smiling, silent metal guru who is still making music by entering notes via movements of his chin. Vile’s touching film ducks sentimentality but you will wonder at just how cruel life can be as shots of the young rock god in waiting are intercut with Becker’s current “locked-in” existence.
A couple of years ago, Anvil told the heart breaking and warming story of a hangdog metal act who just won’t give up. Not Dead Yet is a different kind of tale but it is no less moving. It doesn't matter if Becker's brand of flamboyant axemanship is to your taste. This fine film is not about the music; it's about the man.
Watch the trailerhere.
Jason Becker: Not Dead Yet is at The Lighthouse in Dublin