ALS doesn’t slow down rocker

At 20 years old, Jason Becker was on top of the world. Three years out of Kennedy High School in Richmond, the aspiring rocker landed a dream gig as lead guitarist for David Lee Roth’s band. His mom tells the CoCo Times:

“We were happier than we’ve ever been. He was going to make his dreams come true and we were really proud.”

One week later, his dreams shattered when Becker was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS — Lou Gehrig’s disease.

Doctors gave him only three years to live. But at 42, he is now among the 5 percent of ALS patients to live 20 years after diagnosis.

Becker still makes music though he can barely move. His father, Gary Becker, created a glass rectangular board with six quadrants and letters to help him communicate. Jason spells words by angling his eyes to a quadrant, with a second eye movement designating the letter.

This month “Jason Becker: Not Dead Yet,” a documentary inspired by the rocker, debuted at San Jose’s Cinequest Film Festival, winning several awards. Even rock legend Joe Satriani steps in to say a few kind words about Becker.

Audience members came from across the world to meet the guitar legend. Becker’s YouTube videos, pre- and post-ALS, and website have attracted a huge following. Becker told the CoCo Times:

“I don’t consciously think about inspiring people, it just happens. If it helps others, awesome. I guess I mostly just live in the moment. I rarely dwell on what could have been. I like my life now, so I am grateful.”

From an early age, Becker was a rock’n’roll enthusiast. At age 12 he taught himself to play all the guitar parts from Eric Clapton’s latest album. His mother Pat:

“He had a vision. He knew exactly what he wanted at a really young age.”

Nothing could deter the kid from performing riffs between bites at dinner and strumming on a mini electric guitar at stop lights. His uncle would videotape him shredding with one hand and slinging a yo-yo with the other.

During high school Becker and guitarist Marty Friedman created the duo Cacophony and toured for three years. Friedman later went on to join Megadeth, while at 18, Jason released “Perpetual Burn,” a solo album with mind-blowingly fast guitar playing.

Jesse Vile, the 31-year-old director of Jason’s documentary recalls listening to the album as a teenager:

“’Perpetual Burn’ is like the Holy Grail. It’s beautiful music with proper composition and soul, and I just fell in love with his music.”

And as quickly as it was given, it was taken away. After doctors diagnosed Becker with ALS, he began to experience numbness in his fingers and couldn’t nail his guitar parts for the upcoming record. He soon left Roth’s band and by his 27th birthday, he was paralyzed.

Becker is still passionate about music, and uses a digital music program to compose songs. In order to get the sounds he wants, Becker stares at a guitar hanging on the wall, visualizing his fingers on the frets, and directs his father to enter each guitar note into the computer to create his music.

His latest post-ALS album was released in 2008. And Becker still has big dreams and aspirations. He said:

“I am going to put out a CD of demos I did when I was a kid, and I am slowly working on a new album. But my main goal is to be on the cover of People magazine as ‘Sexiest Man Alive’.”