Musician Jason Becker has one hell of a story. Despite having a musical father, the largely self-taught guitar virtuoso picked up most of his lightning fast fingering and plucking of the strings from classical music unlike most of his metal head peers. Before he was out of his teens he would be collaborating on music with soon to be Megadeth shredder Marty Friedman and would be tapped to fill in for the departing and equally legendary Steve Vai in David Lee Roth’s solo touring band. Did I mention this is all going on around the time that he’s about to leave high school? The sweet smiling kid strapped to a rising star was on the way up, but a tragic illness would cut short his still enormous fame before it had a chance to get any bigger.
Director Jesse Vile takes a look at the life and music that makes the man who he is in the sadly only adequate documentary Jason Becker: Not Dead Yet. It’s the kind of film that ultimately does well by the man and the legend he’s created for himself, but it’s also like almost any hour long music television special blown up and dragged out somewhat needlessly to full length. The beats here are pretty standard and the story can honestly be summed up in far less time.
Often thought of as being dead for several years, Becker was forced to bow out of the David Lee Roth touring gig after only completing and album with him and being forced to put down his axe for good. A battle with ALS cut short the career of a young man who was still learning, but was already considered one of the best in the world at what he did. Today, Becker can only move his eyes and mouth somewhat, but he’s unable to speak. He communicates largely with the help of his father and former fiancé and still makes electronic music with the help of computer programmes one painstaking note at a time.
While a great primer for a terrifically gifted musician, the story listed above is really the entire movie, making it feel almost needlessly dry. It runs out of any major momentum about 50 minutes in, and when compared to some of the stellar rock documentaries audiences have been given in recent years, a simple VH-1 looking talking heads documentary robs the film of a real sense of personal intimacy. It’s the kind of film where everyone comments on what’s being seen instead of allowing a lot of introspection on the part of Jason and those around him. The few fleeting moments where people do open up make it easy to wish there was more of that going on. It kind of feels a bit like a book report, but Vile’s done his research and Becker still deserves the recognition that was once so painfully within his grasp.