WASHINGTON- AUGUST 11. 2013 — Jason Becker became a guitarist at the age of five. At the age of 16, he started a band called Cacaphony with lifelong friend and future guitarist for Megadeth, Marty Friedman. At age 19, Becker cut an album with David Lee Roth of Van Halen fame. Also at 19, Becker was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. Becker was given three to five years to live.
ALS slowly robs every aspect of your physicality piece by piece until the only moveable parts are your eyes. For most, death happens within three to five years from diagnosis because ALS is a neurodegenerative disease that is very aggressive. ALS affects the nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord but does not affect what is known as the involuntary body functions such as the heart and digestive system but may cause death from respiratory failure. Complete paralysis is unavoidable.
The cause of ALS in unknown and the experience with this disease varies from one person to the next and there are clinical trials that hold promise yet there are 5,600 new cases of ALS every year and can strike anyone at any time. Becker is among the five percent that lives beyond 20 years with this disease.
Today, Becker is 44 years old. He recently released a documentary called Not Dead Yet and currently writes music with his eyes on a system developed by his Father. The Washington Times caught up with the busy Becker who took time to discuss his life with ALS:
Paul Mountjoy: You noticed your first symptom at age 19. What as it?
Jason Becker: My folks had gone away for Mother’s Day. I was sleeping with my girlfriend and a really painful cramp in my left leg woke me up. I jumped out of bed and tried to work it out. It never quite went away no matter how much I exercised it. It became a lazy feeling in my leg.
PM: What was the progression and time frame?
JB: That’s a little tough to remember. I went on tour with Cacaphony the following summer (1989) and I was feeling a little bit tired. Yet I thought it would go away. Sometimes my left toes would drag the ground. I did not go to the hospital to check it out until I moved to LA in November to play with David Lee Roth. I was getting tired of tripping on myself. I was diagnosed with ALS that same month.
I started feeling the weakness in my left hand while recording “A Little Ain’t Enough” with Roth in Vancouver I was having trouble with an easy part. I looked at my hand and noticed the muscle between my thumb and first finger was practically gone. I was able to finish the album but I could not go on tour because I was getting too weak in my whole body.
PM: What did you think when the doctors told you of ALS and your 3-5 year prognosis?
JB: I didn’t think much. I thought “Can I go now?” I have to go play guitar and practice with Roth now. You must understand how strong I am. I will get rid of this annoying little inconvenience.
PM: Had you heard of ALS before?
JB: No, I hadn’t and I didn’t even look it up. My folks did but I told them not to tell me anything when the doctors told me I had three to five years to live, I didn’t believe them at all.
PM: Were you frightened?
JB: I don’t remember being frightened, but I’m sure I was scared somewhere inside me. I just tried to keep it out of my mind. I had music to make! Also, I didn’t want my family to worry. I wanted them to see me happy. I was very happy, but if I got sad, I hid it.
PM: How did those around you act?
JB: My parents freaked out. They tried to hide it from me but whenever I was out, they constantly cried. They helped me with everything but they were dying inside. My friends were great. They were chill (sic) yet supportive. I think my Mom cried every day for ten years. Steve Hunter (Alice Cooper guitarist) had my back in Vancouver. He would give me B-12 shots between joking around, recording and having a blast. Roth offered his Dad, who was a doctor, to do anything I needed. Everyone was awesome; even the stripper I was hanging out with offered to be ‘on the bottom’.
PM: What point are you at now and what are your expectations?
JB: I am relatively stable. Can’t move S**t except for some of my face and a couple other muscles and my sex life is fine! I try to not get sick because it could make me weaker.
I don’t have any expectations. I just want to do my best with whatever I am given. If they find a cure, awesome but if not, that is OK. I have had a great life.
Hey, when I finally do croak, I forbid anyone to be sad. Everyone should celebrate a cool life! I had a blast!
PM: Being that Steven hawking has had ALS for 50 ears, does this give you hope?
JB: Oh, I guess. I don’t think about that much. I am too busy doing other stuff.
PM: Do you sleep alright?
JB: Usually great.
PM: As many do with such when struck by such disease, do you dream of walking or running?
JB: Yes. I never dream I am sick. I am always totally healthy. All of my family, friends and ladies always dream I am healthy or at least becoming healthy. Only one woman dreamed she was having sex with me in this situation. That was really cool, actually.
PM: You are musician with unlimited potential. Do you feel more fortunate than those without such potential and do you advise folks to find a potential and work it?
JB: HMMMMM- Good question. I don’t think like that. I feel very lucky to be passionate about music but that isn’t everyone’s thing. It is definitely awesome having a passion and I wish that for everyone. I don’t feel qualified to give much advice but if I did, that would be great advice.
PM: Aside from your limitations, would you say you are happy?
JB: Mostly, definitely yes, even with my limitations. I get depressed, sad and angry sometimes, too.
PM: What would you advise others in your situation?
JB: Well, there is more to life than just moving, but it depends on how much help and love you get. I couldn’t continue if I didn’t have help form people no matter how much I wanted to. People who know someone with ALS should help them as much as they can.
PM: Any stem cell hope?
JB: Sure! Fans often send me updates of possible treatments from all over the world.
Jason Becker is a remarkable man. His personality is a primary reason he is so popular among his loved ones and fans. His parents are devoted and give Jason all they can. He is surrounded by love and appreciates every minute of it and takes nothing for granted. It seems these traits were constructs of his personality before he contracted ALS.
Any time anyone has a reason to be lazy and unproductive, just think: “I know Jason would love to able to do this chore, goal or whatever,” then get to it. He inspires and motivates us all.
For more on Jason Becker, go to jasonbeckerguitar.com
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