Jason Becker’s Mother On His ALS Diagnosis: ‘ It Was Almost Like A Fellini Movie ‘

Jason Becker, the much-vaunted composer in the musical community, started showcasing his proficiency in guitar at a fairly young age. Born on July 22, 1969, the guitarist, who had trouble speaking in the earlier years of his life, would later continue to elevate his musical vocabulary to an entirely different level. 

At the age of 16, Becker had already started working with the guitar prodigy Marty Friedman, both of whom formed the band Cacophony and produced virtuosic guitar-centric records like Speed Metal Symphony and Go Off! through Shrapnel Records. The duo disbanded in 1989 and Becker started working on his first solo album Perpetual Burn,  also through Shrapnel.

Shortly, he got to join the David Lee Roth band replacing Steve Vai, who joined the tour with Whitesnake. The guitarist contributed to the band’s new album A Little Ain’t Enough with his dandy riffs and tasty solos. While things were seemingly going great for Jason, he was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS; Lou Gehrig’s disease) and was given only three to five years to live. 

Even during the recording sessions for the band’s upcoming album, he had to use lighter gauge strings to be able to play comfortably. Although he managed to finish the album, his dream of touring was shattered, and had to pull back because of his deteriorating health. However, Jason neither gave up on life nor on his music. Only back in 2018, he released his much-awaited album Triumphant Hearts,  giving all his fans across the world a reason to celebrate.

Jason’s Illness, First Symptoms, And Health Update

The guitarist was all set for glory with his A Little Ain’t Enough tour coming about until he felt a nagging pain in his left leg, which was diagnosed as the fatal Lou Gehrig’s Disease. The agonizing diagnosis processes like MRI, extraction of the spinal fluid as well as cutting chunks of muscles out of his leg added more to the distress that his family was going through. Jason’s mother spoke on how the entire experience felt like a Fellini movie. 

They hooked him up to things, prodded, took spinal fluid, MRI’s, cut chunks of muscle out of his leg. The pain of seeing your son go through something like that is beyond belief. It was almost like a Fellini movie, waiting for Jason to come out of the submarine-like machine that he had to go into and stay perfectly still for an hour.

And the scenario indeed went on to end up like movies of Legend Federico Fellini whose stories are filled with sad, tragic characters and consequences but with glimmers of hope towards the end.

Remember the climax of Nights Of Cabiria where Maria almost loses hope in everything due to the struggles she faces? Well, she ends up keeping her head held high and a smile on her face. Well, Beckers life turned out to become no different with bittersweet elements as he moved on.

The singer was having a hard time with muscle movement since it had stopped and it was becoming difficult for him to communicate. 

Jason with dad Gary and mother Pat Becker ( Source: Instagram )

Amidst this, instead of simply doing nothing, his father Gary Becker wanted to quickly find a way for Jason to communicate without having to put limitations on what he wanted to express. Since there was also the fear of him being left out of conversations, he devised a way for his son to communicate with the two-eye movement. 

And Becker became like a butterfly that came out of his nest. He continued to pour his musical talent by releasing songs he made on his mind and composed with help of the system his father build.

Love And Family Support

The love Jason got from his loved ones was what kept him alive and strong-willed. In the thick of all chaos and suffering, he found equanimity in God and the love of his family and friends including Serrana Piller and Marilyn White, both of whom he used to date.

I talk a lot about doing things myself, but I am slowly seeing God does everything. And I could do nothing without my parents, brother Ehren, former girlfriend and best friend Serrana, girlfriend Marilyn, and a huge team of family and friends. 

Serrana is the reason I’m alive. She’s taught me what real love is and even we weren’t a couple anymore, she stayed to take care of me and makes me want to be a better person. 

Serrana and Jason used to be romantically affiliated in the past ( Source: Twitter )

His admiration for ex-girlfriend Serrana, who now he considers his best friend, can also be heard in the sublime piece ‘Serrana’ that he composed for the album Perspective. 

At the start of 2021, the composer was hospitalized due to a very serious bacterial infection that was affecting his heart rate and ability to breathe. Thankfully, on 12th April, Becker finally returned home after undergoing treatment.  

Becker’s Netflix Documentary

Becker’s life in itself is transcendental to anyone who gets to know about it.  Despite all the suffering, the composer, with love from his family and friends, his spiritual evolution, and sheer willpower to go on making music, has inspired a lot of people in their daily ventures.

The life story of this amazing human being was presented in the documentary “Jason Becker: Not Dead Yet.” which won the Special Jury Prize for Documentary and the Audience Award for Best Documentary at San Jose”s Cinequest Film Festival back in 2012. 

An inspiring clip where you can see Jason Becker’s music-making process now after ALS ( Source: YouTube )

Also, while you’re at it, take a look at this heartwarming clip from the documentary showing how Jason pours the music he creates in mind and brings it to life with help of his producer and his father.

Latest Album & Jason On Challeneges Disabled People Face In Music Scenario

The maestro is still creating magic, which in his case is his music. The breathtakingly beautiful album Triumphant Hearts, which was released in 2018, consists of 14 songs featuring many musicians including guitar players like Marty Friedman, Joe Satriani, Jeff Loomis, Richie Kotzen, Gus G. and Steve Vai.

The making of this album, however, has unquestionably not been an easy task for the composer. 

It is overwhelming. So, other than having to be totally patient because I cannot go at the speed I would like as far as producing and mixing, not to mention composing, it is pretty much the same. Don’t get me wrong, composing with eye movements, one note at a time, then doing all of the intricate details and additions takes years of hard work and major patience. I’m not sure anyone has done it. 

Despite all the love and support that he gets from his fans, the music industry has yet to provide a spot for people coping with disabilities. For instance, in a recent interview at Grammys, he shed a light on the limitations he has to put up with due to his illness. 

 I can’t tour, or even perform in any conventional sense, so the usual ways to promote music are closed to me. I believe my music would have a profound effect on a lot of people if it had even a little of the exposure given to popular music.

The scenario is not so different for other musicians as well who are coping with some sort of disability. A new survey suggests disabled musicians face significant barriers in UK venues. Of the nearly 100 deaf and disabled performers surveyed by Attitude Is Everything, two-thirds said they had to “compromise their health or wellbeing” in order to play live.

Twenty percent said they had been forced to cancel gigs altogether due to a lack of access. Nearly 100 deaf and disabled performers said that they had to compromise their health or wellbeing to play live gigs in a survey held by Attitude Is Everything. About twenty percent of them spoke on how they had to cancel the gigs due to lack of access. 

The musical phenomenon produces his albums from the money he receives from merchandise sales, virtual fundraisers, and guitar auctions. This includes aid from various musicians and bands, one of them being Metallica, who made time out of their busy schedule to support Jason.

Steve Vai, Joe Satriani, Steve Lukather, Mark Tremonti, Albert Lee, Matt Heafy, Zoltan Bathory, Ron ‘Bumblefoot’ Thal, Andy Timmons, Jeff Loomis, Nili Brosh, Chris Broderick, and Alex Lee (Holy Grail) are some of the other artists who aided him.

Jason’s Peavey ‘Numbers’ model guitar, which the guitarist Nita Strauss played at the Leader Bank Pavilion in Boston, Massachusetts, was recently sold at auction for $65,000.

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Atif Abidi
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