Movie Review: World Premiere of Jason Becker: Not Dead Yet

| March 6, 2012

March 3, 2012 marked the world premiere of the feature film, Jason Becker: Not Dead Yet from director Jesse Vile. The film chronicles the amazing life of Jason Becker—child prodigy, genius musician, and 20-year survivor of ALS.

Vile did a great job of covering Becker's childhood, helped by lots of home movie footage shot by Jason's folks and his uncle Ron. There are great shots of a young Jason with an acoustic guitar and a harmonica around his neck playing Bob Dylan tunes. You get classic footage of a teenage Jason shredding his adolescent brains out at his high school talent show. Interviews with Mike Varney, lifelong friend and Flipsyde guitarist Dave Lopez, and others shed light on how astounding Jason's playing was even at that young age.

The film moves on to the Cacophony years, with great quotes from Marty Friedman about what Jason's playing means to him. Then there's the lead up to Jason's David Lee Roth audition. (Factoid not in the film: Jason ran into the shop where I taught guitar,  Music Works in El Cerrito, CA, on his way to the audition to buy an Alesis Quadraverb. His dad came into the store a week later and informed us that Jason had indeed gotten the gig.)

With the Roth gig, Becker was unquestionably on the cusp of superstardom. "That," recalls his mom, "is when the troubles began." A nagging pain in his leg was diagnosed as ALS, or Lou Gherig's Disease, and he was given three to five years to live.

The rest of the movie deals with how Jason, his family, and his friends responded to that diagnosis. Spoiler Alert: It's the most incredible, uplifting, inspiring story you're likely to ever hear.

Jason was in attendance at the screening and got a prolonged standing ovation at the beginning and the end of the film. He did a Q & A session afterwards that was funny and enlightening as he fielded questions about his advice to aspiring guitarists ("Stay open to all kinds of inspiration, not just from music."), what guitarist he'd like to meet ("Jeff Beck, but I think he's afraid of me, the punk ass!"), and how people can support him ("Buy my crap!"). Those lines drew big laughs from the crowd and that sense of humor definitely comes through in the film, as well.

This isn't a movie for guitarists, although guitarists will love it. It's for anyone who has ever realized a dream or fallen short of one. It's for anyone who has gotten really good news or incredibly bad news. This is a flat-out great movie about one of the coolest guys of all time and you should see it as soon as you can.

Another factoid not in the film: The last time I spoke to Jason where he could actually speak back (he can still communicate today, though, make no mistake) was at a NAMM show right after the David Lee Roth album had come out. He was walking with a cane at that point and I went up to him and reminded him about the Music Works connection and told him how great he sounded on the DLR record. At the time I knew a thing or two about bitterness in the music biz and had been known to bitch a little about gigs that I didn't get or opportunities that I thought had been screwed out of. If there was one guy on the planet who had the right to be bitter, to feel like he had been screwed over, to think that even after doing everything right he still didn't get what was coming to him, it was Jason Becker. And you know what? He was completely cool, totally humble, and seemed genuinely surprised and pleased that anyone would go out of their way to tell him that they liked his music. Right then a young kid came up and asked him for an autograph and he reacted the exact same way. It's fair to say that that moment made an impact on the way I looked at things.

In closing I will add this: GP family member Jude Gold was at the premiere and he was wearing a shirt that he had made that said simply "WWJBD?"

When in doubt, think about that. —Matt Blackett
To see the film's trailer, click here.
Watch Jason blaze through his version of the "Hot for Teacher" intro (plus some killer tapping) here.

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