By Mike Ritchie for Xombiewoof Magazine
Story Originally Published Covering The Scene : http://coveringthescene.com/jason-becker-dead-yet
The following story is one of Inspiration, that when it seems as though everything is or may be lost, when sudden illness can take down the strongest , when one’s own body is against them, the true nature of Music can enliven the very essence of ones soul to rise up and become, simply amazing. Thank you Mike for re-sharing this great story with us, the issues with ALS are still prevalent, in a time when “Ice Bucket” Challenges embed the web, we must remember, it’s not about the bucket, or the ice, but the cause.
Contact your local charity or service and see what you can do to help.
Joseph Timmons: Xombiewoof Magazine
Not Dead Yet is an incredible odds defying inspiring story of one man’s true dedication, passion and drive to create incredible music despite insurmountable life obstacles, and dire circumstances. Jason Becker personifies the sheer driving force and spirit of the human artistic will to enjoy life, persevere and make music.
Becker, a future guitar prodigy, was born in 1969 in Richmond California and exposed to music early by his family becoming proficient on acoustic guitar, harmonica and xylophone at age five. By his early teens he was playing Bob Dylan, Clapton and Van Halen note for note, blowing away local talent contests and variety shows. Becker was very inspired by classical music which influenced his style cranking Bach while friends cranked Slayer. He also had a comical side doing yoyo tricks with one hand while playing with the other.
In his teens Becker replied to an ad, submitting a tape to Shrapnel Records founder Mike Varney who was looking for the ten best guitar players at the time. Subsequently future Megadeth guitarist Marty Friedman had come to LA to work on his solo record. Varney suggested a duet to Friedman who after initial reluctance was won over by Becker’s playing and personality becoming fast friends. Their playing so complemented and inspired each other Friedman often said Becker could play his material better than he could. They formed the band Cacophony. His father concerned about his education told the principal Jason had a record deal and was going on tour and asked if he could finish high-school early. He finished six months early with straight A’s.
After touring with Cacophony he returned to Japan supporting his first solo CD Perpetual Burn, doing guitar clinics between gigs. One particular clinic drew 800-1000 people validating his rising momentum.
In 1989 at age 20 he auditioned for David Lee Roth, the most sought after high profile gig at the time, earned his spot and recorded A Little Ain’t Enough, released in 1991. During recording he started feeling a ‘lazy limp’ in his left leg and was diagnosed with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) aka Lou Gehrig’s disease, a debilitating condition that rapidly weakens muscle mobility and use of tongue and speech causing permanent paralysis. Becker was given 3-5 years to live. Undergoing uncomfortable and painful therapy while recording and rehearsing his condition progressed to where he could barely play notes or hold the guitar. He told Roth who reluctantly got a replacement.
They tried alternate forms of therapy but nothing worked. Becker went from using canes to a wheelchair in months. In 1992 he met his former fiancé and main caregiver Serrana Pilar. Though he had moments of hopelessness and darkness they believe he never hit the point of giving up. He still had music and ideas in his head he needed to get out somehow.
To accomplish this, a computer program was invented using a visor equipped with sensors that would move the cursor on the screen according to his head movements. He slowed down music in his head hitting the mouse with his chin entering intricate and complex melodies note by note adjusting the phrasing and velocity of each one until everything played the way he internally heard it at speed.
After a near death experience his speech failed and his father invented an eye movement sign language/geometry system so Becker could communicate based on angles. A clear six squared grid with four letters in each square allows him to spell out words and have conversations. First movement is the square, second is the letter in the square. His father’s learned to guess the word after the first couple letters and Becker doesn’t ‘dull’ conversations with filler words, everything he says is important.
Becker’s longevity is attributed by his family and friends 20 year care and commitment to keeping his drive, passion and love for music and life alive with a custom made healthy diet and dark rooted sense of humor.
To make music his father plays guitar notes into a computer then Becker organizes them, giving instructions on any needed changes. Though they’re no longer together Serrana is his inspiration and taught him what true love is and makes him want to be a better person.
Becker is a global inspiration encompassing the true, unflinching spirit of the human will to never give up.
“I have Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis. It has crippled my body and speech, but not my mind.”
Becker’s discography includes Perpetual Burn 1988, Perspective 1995, The Raspberry Jams 1999, The Blackberry Jams 2003, Collection 2008 and Boy Meets Guitar Volume 1 of Youngster Tapes 2012. He also performed on Cacophony’s Speed Metal 1987, Go Off 1988 and David Lee Roth’s A Little Ain’t Enough 1991. Along with two tribute CD’s Warmth in the Wilderness I and II, featuring guitarist’s Steve Vai, Paul Gilbert, Marty Friedman, Joe Becker, Rusty Cooley, and Mattias Eklundh. The album profits were sent to Becker to help with medical expenses. In 2008 Paradise Guitars worked with Becker to design a Jason Becker signature guitar. In 2012 Carvin worked with Becker to design a Jason Becker Tribute guitar that is modeled after the original DC-series guitar he used toward the latter part of his career. In 2011 the inaugural Jason Becker Not Dead Yet Festival was held in San Francisco promoting ALS awareness and the love of the guitar featuring Joe Satriani, Marty Friedman, Richie Kotzen and many others.
Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) (Lou Gehrig’s disease) is a relentlessly progressive degenerative disease targeting the motor nerves and muscles, effecting how the bodies lower and upper neurons communicate and function. When the neurons connected to the muscles from the spinal cord die, the brain loses ability to communicate thus the muscles become inactive. ALS is described as the ‘worst’ disease due to its relatively short window of mortality. Long term symptoms include the break down and eventual loss of mobility, ability to speak and swallow leading to permanent paralysis and death. Scientist Stephen Hawking has had ALS for over 50 years. The ALS Association has committed more than $67 million to find effective treatments and a cure for Lou Gehrig’s Disease, including the discovery of two ALS genes (SOD1 and ALS 6) responsible for 25% of all inherited cases and the trial of a new drug that targets SOD1.
Today, Jason Becker, a former guitarist for David Lee Roth who has lived with Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) for 25 years, is thrilled to see what the ice-bucket challenge is doing in the fight against the disease.“I love it. It is amazing,” Becker told reporters via phone from his home in Richmond, California during recent interviews, such as this comment from Billboard Magazine. “At first I didn’t get it, but man, the awareness and money it has raised is incredible. I hope something great comes out of it for ALS patients.”
ALS has robbed Becker of his ability to speak or move. He communicates with a system designed by his father, Gary, where Becker uses his eyes to “spell out” what he wants to say by looking at letters on a letter board, and a caregiver says the words for him. He is still very close to his former band members, David Lee Roth, Eddie Van Halen and Others. Recently several Guitar companies have worked with him to release signature equipment, sale of said lines profits go directly to ALS Treatment services.
Visit his Jason Becker’s Web Site for more about him, his incredible story and what’s next for this amazing human being – http://jasonbeckerguitar.com
***Pictures from Jason Becker’s Website and Internet Search
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