Jason Becker had so much great stuff to say in his cover story that we couldn't possibly fit it all. Here are some of the extra quotes.
1. Some of the first tunes you learned on guitar were Dylan tunes. What did you like about them?
My parents and uncle were way into Dylan, so they brainwashed me! I was eight when my dad showed me the four chords to Dylan’s song “As I Went Out One Morning.” It didn’t take me long to play it, because I had been playing blues chords with my uncle Ron. I played and sang it, which was like a magic key to the universe. I started going through our Dylan music book and learning every song using the chord diagrams. I became a Dylan snob. My friends wouldn’t tell me if they ever liked any pop music besides Dylan.
Everybody these days talks about how he is a fantastic songwriter, but not a very good singer. I always thought he was a brilliant singer. Give me his passionate voice of the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s over some of the soulless “quality” singers of today. I also loved his poetic words. He could make important points about society and injustice in such a beautiful way. He could also get abstract and make you just get lost in one line. In some songs, each line could be a whole story in itself. He also told some funny and visual stories. He is the reason why I rarely tried to write lyrics. I could never compare to him, so why even try?
The thing I loved most about Dylan, though, was his melodies and chords. They were simple, but so effective in pulling at my emotions. Music shouldn’t make a five-year-old cry, but his did. I didn’t know much about the world except for what my parents taught me, but his music alone affected my little naïve soul. His music taught me something indefinable, something divine.
2. Walk me through the composition process these days. Pick a tune off Perspective or Collection and tell how you begin.
These two albums used different methods. I could still barely play keyboard with my right hand during Perspective. I would slow the tempo down while playing the parts if I needed to. I used something called a Proteus, which has a bunch of orchestral sounds in it. In "End of the Beginning," for example, I would take one section at a time, and put every track and instrument down that I had written. Sometimes I would have to figure out what was in my head. I don’t have perfect pitch, thank God! Dan Alvarez does, and it can make him crazy. Once I finished the basic structure of the song, I always wanted to add sections, or embellish things. For me, it is never finished until it is mastered.
The last part I wrote was the guitar solo right before the minor section. I was going to have the guitarist improvise it, but I had had a couple of great players try it, and it just didn’t kick my ass. I decided I better write it if I wanted it to give me goosebumps.
For "Electric Prayer for Peace," I had started writing it with a chin mouse before getting my trache. (Again, I go into more detail in my Collection words). I had to wait ten years to finish it because I stopped making music due to lack of technology, trying to stay alive, and too many girlfriends. I got 99 problems but a girl ain’t one, HA HA! I finally couldn’t take being away from music. My head was full of ideas, and it was driving me nuts. The California Department of Rehab got me a computer and some music tools. I decided to try spelling every musical direction to my peeps. Dan had to teach me how to use Logic. We would get stuck, and Dan would come back for another lesson. First we set the tempo, then laid down the Om sound throughout the song. I then put in the chords for the main melody section. I used a soft girl choir sound. I had my dad play a couple random chords, then I edited the crap out of them, and copied, pasted, and edited more chords. Then I added harp, bells, and a temporary melody, which would be sung later.
Then I wrote the orchestral part in this same fashion. I would work as long as my caregiver could. It was tedious but incredibly invigorating. People wonder how I can do it, and think I am positive. I am not always positive. I think having passion and feeling a sense of purpose is what we all need to live. We all want to be happy and feel loved, appreciated and somewhat important. I couldn’t feel any of this in my situation without constant physical help. My peeps often get strength from me, but I am just lucky to be surrounded by incredible people. I wish more people with ALS had the support that I have.
3. At what point will you bring in Michael Lee Firkins or whoever is playing guitar on it? How much direction will you give him on his parts?
I usually have the whole structure and the basic sounds done before bringing in the guitarist. That was the case with "End of the Beginning." Hmm… not for "River of Longing" though. We just sent Hunter and Howe my clean guitar part along with a solo idea that I had played. I told them the feel that I wanted, knowing what I love about their styles. I didn’t tell them what notes to play.
I wasn’t planning on having a reprise, but I played what I was working on for Marty, and he asked to play on it. I couldn’t make a song out of one solo, so I asked Steve Vai, who was happy to do it. I told Marty what kind of feel and tone that I wanted, but I didn’t tell Steve anything except do whatever you feel. Same with Satriani on "Electric Prayer for Peace." I told him about the song, what the words meant, and that I wanted some soulful Satch guitar to start and end the piece. Firkins lives nearby, so I direct the hell out of him. He has plenty of ideas, usually fantastic, and I love getting everyone’s input. We have a blast. It was his idea to play dobro at the end of "Electric Prayer for Peace." Why would I use brilliant players if I didn’t want their interpretations?
4. How much editing do you do to his tracks? How does that process work?
I’d rather not do much editing. We didn’t edit anything on "End of the Beginning." For Firkins dobro part, he just played for a while over the Om, and then Dan picked his favorite parts and made it the length we needed. We edited the end solo of Satriani just to make it fit, but not his intro solo. Hunter and Howe sent two solos, so we had more choices. We changed the chord at the end of Howe’s solo, so we had to change his last couple of notes. Dan is pretty picky, so I think he makes some minute edits.
5. Which scenes in the movie were your favorites and why?
I liked the funny scenes, like my uncle and me singing Mr. Tambourine Man. My Uncle Ron is the funniest person I know. He was hoping Jesse wouldn’t use that goofy footage, but I am so glad he did. Ron’s personality is one of the reasons I rarely took myself seriously on stage or in the studio. He was a fearless goof, and that rubbed off on me. It also keeps me happy these days.
I loved my high school buddy, Nate. He told stories no one else could and cracked everyone up. I liked when he told how he thought I had died from ALS, and when I wrote him recently, he thought I was someone impersonating me, and he got pissed.
I love the touching scenes with Marty, Hunter, and my folks. My brother Ehren was the best story teller. Every one was so eloquent and wonderful, except for that pesky Matt Blackett! HA HA! Jesse just made a beautiful, hilarious, and moving film. I am honored and grateful.
6. Which scenes were difficult for you to watch?
It is always tough to see myself right before I got my trache. I had gotten down to 80 pounds from my normal 150. I could hardly breathe, and you can see on my face how much I was struggling. It was also hard to watch myself cry. These scenes were tough, but they needed to be in the movie. I’m able to let go of my vanity about that now, but it took me back to those difficult times. My family and Serrana could barely understand me. They would hold a jar of water up to my mouth with a straw for hours because I couldn’t suck very well. I would recline in my chair and have them poke food in my cheek. They would put me in the bath tub, and once I almost drowned. I was slowly sinking, but couldn’t yell for help. The water was up to my nose before someone came back in. I would pray for yawns because they gave the only real breath I ever had. I couldn’t sleep and neither could poor Serrana.
7. Between the Not Dead Yet fest in San Francisco and the one in the Netherlands, there were some ridiculously talented guitarists. You attended the SF show. What was that like for you?
Man, you said it: ridiculously talented players! I can’t tell you how touched and honored I was. Everyone was so gracious, sweet and humble. The whole club, including these monsters of guitar, was full of love. My buddy, Dave Lopez who I have known since high school, did a beautiful job. I love that guy! It was a blast meeting Satriani, and my new bestest friend, the amazing Gretchen Menn. She is a guitarist who can also compose. It was awesome seeing my old friends, Marty, Howe, Lukather and Kotzen. Richie and I became really close when we were teens, and I produced his first album. He is too talented. It was fun seeing Jude Gold play my guitar and do "Showtime." Ben Woods kicked ass on flamenco guitar with his band Flametal. I want to take lessons from him. It was wonderful when Satriani brought up Steve Hunter to jam on "Goin’ Down."
I got to say “Hi” to old friends from the audience. It was just a magical evening.