by Warren Buchholz –
There is a film starring George Clooney called Up in the Air that asks the question “what do you do when the most important things in your life are taken?” How does a person recover from such great losses? Where does a person go from the very bottom? Think about it. Take some time and let it stew in your mind. Go get some coffee. Sip it. Let it simmer in the back of your head and let it hit you. Then come back.
Jesse Vile’s stylistic documentary Not Dead Yet is the story—so far—of Jason Becker, and it takes us on an emotional roller-coaster throughout his life by using collages of photographs, home movies, and intimate re-enactments that make us feel like we’re sitting in the Becker living room. In 30 minutes, we watch genius unfold and take the stage using hands that 99 percent of the population wish they had. He found his gift early, and he nursed it, playing music every chance he got. He fed himself through music. He bled through Bach. Deep in obsession for making a cacophony of beauty, which led to an album with David Lee Roth, life suddenly kicked his ass with a diagnosis of ALS. Ill fate was quick to snatch away the gift from a genius of talent, passion, and commitment; and we are left with a long winding road that doesn’t seem to go anywhere but into a dismal abyss no one wants to accept exists.
But this story is not about the gift Becker had. It’s about the gift he still has. This film creates an argument that genius never fades despite what happens to the human body. The mind and soul are not perfect, and genius is not perfect. Genius is not supposed to be perfect. Look around in history and point to a figure with genius and tell me they’re perfect. They do not exist.
While Becker seems like the hero to his own story, he’s not. It’s his parents. His father. His mother. They saw his talent and let him grow. They supported his decisions and let him become the man he is today. Passion is why this family functions the way it does–it is the will to succeed against shit odds and dim outcomes. Look closely in any of their eyes, and you will find a drive that is so unworldly human it humbles.
What do you do when you lose the things you love? You carry on the best you can, and you continue to create things and encourage other people to do the same. That’s all there is to life.
It’s not about fame. It’s not about money. It’s not about popularity. It’s not about ego. It’s not about things. It’s not about what society wants or perceives a person to be. It’s about art. It’s about passion. It’s about inspiring other people through creativity. And it’s about love and about empathy and about imagination. It’s about a man who saw the very top of his dreams and crashed to the very bottom against his own will, and in that resentment and depression and anger and bitterness he realized his will for life through his music, and he found his gift again. Human intuition is strange and wondrous and drives the meaning of why we need to exist.
Let his passion for the work he does take hold and inspire; he’s a catalyst for finding the best in a person’s soul and allowing the music to flow like blood in the veins. Jason Becker is our modern Beethoven, proving our bodies are merely here to make sense of the reality around us while our minds are what can transcend ideas and put forth leaps in logic and art that allow the soul to find acceptance and reach a state of Zen. It’s absurdly powerful, and it’s a state of being that, in the long run, is what makes Jason Becker richer than all of us combined, and I can only hope to one day be lucky enough to find peace within myself and allow the art to flow through my body without becoming distracted by the static of the world around.
And now, as Bill Hicks used to say, let’s pull our cords and float on down to dick-joke island together.
MAAF Box Film Rating: ****
I played Perspective while writing this article. If you haven’t listened to it yet, then take a listen. Let the music absorb into your being and allow it to shape the ideas that flow through your body. It’s worth it.
MAAF Box listening pleasure: Blue, Rain, Serrana, Meet Me in the Morning, Life & Death, End of the Beginning.