This profile of a hair metal prodigy who was struck down with a debilitating illness in his prime is a moving ode to human endurance.
Short of being a keen enthusiast of hair metal or pounding electric guitars, it is pretty unlikely that you’ll know the name Jason Becker, let alone the fact that he’s apparently not dead yet.
The eponymous hero of Jesse Vile's heartfelt documentary profile is a much feted, guitar wunderkind, whose unique style of shredding led to much popularity and attention in the American heavy metal scene of the mid-'80s. Becker’s breakthrough, while still in his teens, was likened by some to that of Mozart, as indeed he created epic, complex music that was more akin to classical movements than the rock anthems of the day.
Coming from humble roots in the Northern California town of Richmond, his reputation as a musician gradually rose until he formed the band Cacophony with future Megadeth guitarist Marty Friedman. Following the band’s split after several tours, Becker was offered the chance to play guitar on a solo album by former Van Halen vocalist, Dave Lee Roth. For Becker this was a dream come true, with guitarist Eddie Van Halen being among his major influences. Unfortunately, this waking dream was to be short lived.
Returning home from a tour, he began to start walking with a limp and upon seeking medical advice was diagnosed with Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, a disease which causes the body’s muscles to rapidly waste away. Aged only 19, he was given three years to live and told that due to the nature of the condition he would never be able to make music again.
Made up of beautifully shot home movies, interviews with his parents, friends and fellow big guitar names such as Steve Vai and Joe Satriani, Not Dead Yet is that rare thing: an extremely moving rockumentary. What makes it all the more engrossing is that, even though paralysed from the neck down, Becker himself – now 43 – remains ever defiant of the restraints dictated to him by his condition. Having been cared for by his parents and several girlfriends for most of his adult life, he has managed to create and release four solo albums and has devised a unique method of communication, all with the use of his eyes.
Jesse Vile’s documentary may initially appear to be quite a dour tale, as we witness the emergence of a genuine prodigy, only to then see him struck down in his prime. Yet the film stands as a positive, affirming portrait of a man refusing to take the cards life has dealt him, and who – with the love and support of his family – has continued to create the one thing that he was born to do.
Another ‘rock star lost /redeemed’ documentary for the pile.
An engrossing tale that's beautifully told.
A poignant subversion of your boilerplate rockumentary .