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Vile, Jesse (Director)
Jason Becker:Not Dead Yet (DVD)
Released: 2012, Kino Lorber
It was in early June of 2013 that I happened to get three documentaries about three different metal artists. I watched them all in a row and recognized a theme; a similar story arc that exists between all three players. All three young men had enormous talent, all were very innovative but all of them had their careers tragically cut short by various circumstances. All of them are still revered today. The artists are of course Bob Liebling (Pentagram), Randy Rhoads (Quiet Riot/Ozzy) and Jason Backer (Cacophony/David Lee Roth). There is a connection between these three movies, probably more coincidence than anything, but I drew some comparisons between these three films, which were all released within 12 months of each other. Please enjoy the other two films in this feature, LAST DAYS HERE and RANDY RHOADS:THE QUIET RIOT YEARS.
Of the three docs in this feature, this was the one I was most looking forward to. Becker is my favourite of the three performers and the Rhoads story has been told so many times, it held less interest for me. The disc itself is decent, no booklet but the DVD does come with some bonus material, extended interviews and over 30 minutes of extra archival footage and a brief introductory educational film on ALS. The production value is quite good and even the archived footage from the 80’s was pretty clear.
NOT DEAD YET tells the life story of Guitarist Jason Becker. It follows his life story from his birth through his solo career to his gig with David Lee Roth and through his medical challenges to present day. In case you are not familiar, Becker had just started to work with David Lee Roth when at age 19 he was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s Disease (ALS) . Given only a few years to live, Becker condition deteriorated until he was virtually paralyzed but survived against all odds. With the support of his parents and the Metal music community his family developed a computerized system where he can still compose music.
As cliché as it sounds it is a story of tragedy and triumph as Jason not only survived his terminal diagnosis, but overcame adversity and still makes music to this day. The narrative winds along at a leisurely pace with tons of interviews with musicians and industry people alike, as well as friends, family and fans. I found the interviews with Mike Varney of Shrapnel Records especially interesting. There was quite a lot of interview firepower in the documentary but it was never about the people being interviewed it was all about Jason. From Steve Vai, Richie Kotzen, and Joe Satriani to Gregg Bissonette to Marty Friedman, everyone was so humble and respectful. The highlight for me was the segment describing how Becker got the job in David Lee Roth. I recall that part of rock history so vividly as it happened. The big questions was, who was going to replace Steve Vai in David Lee Roth’s band? It was the gig of the century following up not only Vai but Eddie Van Halen and Becker could easily hold his own with those two titans of Metal guitar. I wasn’t especially rooting for him personally (because I didn’t know who were the short-listed candidates of course) but there was plenty of friendly debate about who would or should be the successor. I was pleased when he got the gig and felt it was a great decision based on this work on the Cacophony albums.
The DVD ends on a high note with the establishment of the Jason Becker Not Dead Yet Fest, where many fans and luminaries gather to celebrate the life and music of Jason and of course he is in attendance. I can’t recommend NOT DEAD YET enough. It is a story of the triumph of human spirit. By a bizarre coincidence, the same say that I wrote this review (November 6th, 2013) it was announced that Eddie Van Halen has donated his original 1982 Kramer ‘Frankenstrat’ guitar to public auction with the proceeds going to Jason Becker. The guitar is expected to bring at least $100,000.
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