Jason Becker was the kid who bought flowers for motel cleaning ladies and kept his hands on his guitar while his bandmates got their instruments into groupies, the guy who fretted that he hadn’t had enough bad things happen to him to develop any real character.
Round-eyed boys with smiles of cherubs worry about these things. Boys with adoring parents who create a houseful of love, art, music, and love are grounded enough to note their good fortune. Like international success at age 19 and the era’s “most coveted gig in rock and roll” – playing guitar for David Lee Roth. (What do I know? But that cracked me up every time it was mentioned, which was a lot.)
This movie, Jason Becker: Not Dead Yet—it’s the warm pulsing viscera of the Heartland Film Festival. One of those experiences where you sit in the dark with people and feel like you’re becoming BFFs. You all laugh and gasp and aaaw together, anyway, as the goofy humor turns black while Becker’s situation goes from “holy shit” success to unbelievable lows.
He’s diagnosed with ALS while he’s recording his first album with Roth, see, and begins deteriorating so quickly that he can barely hold his guitar by the time recording’s done. He takes to feigning death, complete with cartoon lagging tongue, and before long lacks even the muscle control for that move. Soon he’s completely immobile, eating from a feeding tube and breathing through a trach.
Becker heard from docs that he wouldn’t see age 25 but celebrated his 43rd birthday a few months ago. He still makes music by communicating with an eye-movement system his dad developed.
“I’m like the assistant to a master composer,” Becker’s father says during a scene where we see the painstaking composition process. “I’m not even aware of time; it’s just so much fun to watch this guy work.”
The movie that tells Becker’s story is as loving toward its subject as the father who gave up any outside life to care for his kid when the character-building started. It’s well-built and beautiful, with—of course—talking head moments with Steve Vai and Marty Friedman but more of them with the people who make Becker’s continued life and music possible. There’s a cruel trick in the middle that I could have done without, but overall the movie manages its moments without melodrama, matching the clear charm of its subject.
He’s a twisted sonofabitch, this middle-aged man with heavy-metal hair and wasted muscles. He got character, all right, and he’s still got the smile. His eyes just don’t match it anymore.
You have four more chances to see what I mean.