23 November 2012
Currently being screened at a cinema near you, 'Jason Becker: Not Dead Yet' directed by Jason Vile, carries Independent Living messages spotted by Richard Downes
Imagine. You are a young, prodigiously gifted neo-classical rock guitarist. You are considered to be in the top 10 of the genre, if not the best. You have just landed, possibly the biggest gig on the planet at the time, playing with Dave Lee Roth. You are to supplant Eddie Van Halen and Steve Vai as lead guitarist (Metalhedz will be drooling now the rest of you are encouraged to stick with the programme.)
Then in the midst of this rock dream arrives the stuff of nightmares. Jason thinks he has pinched a nerve. Mom puts it down to the tight trousers. A doom-laden dirge on the soundtrack announces something that is much worse. Jason's gone and acquired ALS - Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis - a degenerative disease that attacks muscles and motor nerves.
He is given 5 years maximum. Guess what? 22 years on he is still amongst us - how many times do we have to experience these prognoses? How many more of us have outlived the death sentence and continue to come up smelling of roses. He becomes locked in. He does not cry out for Dr Death's needle. Instead; he's teasing mom and dad, forming long lasting relationships, discovering computer software and assistive technology that he can compose through. He continues to engage with music, musician friends and finds that the rhythm of his heart lives on. He is feted in his home town and remains admired and respected across the globe.
I had never heard of Jason Becker. The film interests me though. It could easily have become another cheap shot about courage overcoming adversity, but it is not.
Rather, the clarion calls of the Not Dead Yet Campaign are articulated clearly - classic independent living principles are adhered to. It is clear Jason is in charge of his life, he says when and how he receives care and from whom. He connects with his passions, knows there is a reason to live, works, writes, composes. In being alive he continues to learn, engage with others, changes his diet, knows love and dare I say… inspires.
Jason could be an exemplar for the Not Dead Yet crew but it transpires through Q&A’s with the director, Jesse Vile, that neither of them have heard about this ‘right to life’ group. They have no affiliation, no contact. Jesse is surprised by this - hopefully because he recognises the true values within his picture. If anything they are pro choice.
Not Dead yet in this movie is a festival of rock aristocracy paying their dues to Jason and they have better t-shirts than we do. So the only example Jason can now lay claim to is in continuing to lead the life he loves. It is an important theme to hang on to. We all know that the current fascistic tendencies within our culture include a plea to continue the advance the argument for euthanasia. Top disabled people. It’s good for the economy. Even many of us in the disability movement when pressed for a personal view on this will not be sure where to stand. The odds against survival are diminishing. We need more examples like this as the media battle is against us. Some of us may no longer be able to stand up but isn’t it good to be counted.