Heavy metal is no stranger to the Hot Docs festival. In fact, I’ve been to a pair of gala openings in past years where a suit and tie would make you stand out–namely Anvil: The Story of Anvil and Rush: Beyond the Lighted Stage. This year’s metallic installment wasn’t front-and-centre, but that’s not to take anything away from Jason Becker: Not Dead Yet–it’s still quite the story!
Becker, if you didn’t know, was a teenaged guitar prodigy who played with Marty Friedman on a pair of Cacophony records in the late 80’s, then was chosen to replace Steve Vai as the guitarist in David Lee Roth’s solo band–before he even turned 20. Tragically, he was stricken with ALS (aka Lou Gehrig’s Disease) after his audition for Diamond Dave, and while he was able to finish recording the album A Little Ain’t Enough, the disease had gotten to the point where he couldn’t even hold a guitar when it came time to tour.
But from tragedy, hope emerges. Despite only being given three years to live back in 1990, Becker has been living with ALS for over 20 years now, and though he can only communicate through eye movements, he’s still able to compose music using computer software and a special visor. Not Dead Yet tells Becker’s story, past and present, complete with dazzling clips of flaming fretwork and interviews with those close to him–including his parents, who’ve been supporting him all along the way.
Though he’s been robbed of his greatest gift, Becker is an inspiration, showing that life doesn’t end with ALS. In fact, he’s right up there after Stephen Hawking as far as people who’ve lived the longest with the disease. Even if you’re not a fan of shred guitar (or David Lee Roth), it’s hard not to be touched by this film. Here’s hoping it gets a more widespread release.