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RICHMOND (KPIX 5) — The paralyzing condition ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, cut short the rise of a young guitarist living in Richmond. But it didn’t end his love of music or the inspiration he gives to others.
Lying in a living room in Richmond, you might think a man who can’t lift a hand or even speak is helpless. But you don’t know Jason Becker. Thirty years ago, he was a teenaged guitar prodigy who burst on to the scene, redefining a furious style of music known as “fast metal.” His friend and fellow guitarist Dave Lopez says among guitar players, Jason is considered a giant.
“When you’re playing guitar, you have to go through your Jason Becker phase,” Lopez said “You have to know that in order to, to…it’s part of the chapter of the book.”
At 19, Jason helped create a gold album for David Lee Roth’s “A Little Ain’t Enough,” but before he could tour with the band, the crippling cruelty of ALS took that dream away.
“That would tend to just have you be frustrated and just lay there and wait to die,” said his father Gary.
The grid pattern on the plexiglass sheet that helps Becker communicate his musical thoughts (CBS)
But Jason says it never occurred to him to give up. So, Gary invented a grid-pattern on a plexiglass sheet that allowed his son to communicate just by reading his eye movements. And his friend and music producer Mike Bemesderfer coupled that with technology to create a way for Jason to compose music, one painstaking note at a time.
The result is a new album called “Triumphant Hearts,” which is being considered for a Grammy award in five different categories and features the work of thirty guitarists from some of the biggest bands in the world.
“That says to anyone out there, if you’re inspired and you have something you want to say, want to express, ultimately you can get it done and get it done really, really well if you’ve got the talent, the inspiration and the people around you to make it happen,” said Bemederfer.
But as much help as Jason has gotten, his mother Pat says he has given far more. “He’s like a love magnet. He magnetizes the world with an energy, that you just want to hover around him and take care of him.”
With his father translating his eye movements, Jason says, “I would be happy if some people’s lives were better with my influence.”
ALS may have taken the guitar from his hands, but he can still deliver the music inside him with just a sideways glance. When famed physicist Steven Hawking died last year, Jason became the longest-living survivor of ALS in the world.
“What he means to the world may be bigger than all of the little things that go on in life,” said his mother Pat. “And maybe that’s the reason that this happened to him.”
Jason Becker is now 50 years old and he attributes his survival to music and the people around him who help him create it. He cannot move, but he’s moved others and they all say their lives are richer for it.