Told by doctors he wouldn't live to see 25, Jason Becker plans to celebrate his 43rd birthday Sunday in his hometown of Richmond, attending two screenings of the critically acclaimed documentary about his life.
Diagnosed with ALS (Lou Gehrig's Disease) when he was 19, the young rock guitarist has defied the odds. Although he can no longer slay the guitar and uses a wheelchair because he has almost no muscle movements, Becker has continued composing music by using his eyes.
A documentary "Jason Becker: Not Dead Yet" by filmmaker Jesse Vile has made the film festival rounds across the globe this year. But Becker has always wanted to bring it home to Richmond.
"The Mayor of Richmond, Gayle McLaughlin, heard about the movie and my mom gave her and my mom's co-workers at Interactive Resources a private screening," Becker said in an email. "The mayor loved it. She is way into the arts, so she suggested a public screening at the East Bay Center for the Performing Arts. All of the proceeds from the screening are going to the center. I want to help the art programs for kids in Richmond. So, don't bring me birthday gifts. Instead, donate to the East Bay Center for the Performing Arts."
The center offers music, dance and theater instruction to the youth of Richmond's Iron Triangle neighborhood.
McLaughlin, who will present Becker with a plaque and certificate of appreciation at the 7 p.m. screening, helped arrange the screenings after it
"Jason is a reflection of Richmond's ever-present resiliency and ability to overcome challenges by way of creative energy and vision," McLaughlin said.
Becker was born two days after the moon landing in 1969 and has been setting his own milestones since.
After diving into the rock and roll world as a teen, Becker landed the top guitar gig at the time -- lead guitarist for David Lee Roth's post-Van Halen band. He was diagnosed with the disease shortly after his audition for Roth and quickly lost the ability to play. When he later lost the ability to speak, his father created a method by which he could communicate with his eyes.
He plans to attend both screenings Sunday and answer questions from the audience, with the help of a translator.
"I love Richmond. I think growing up here had a profound influence on my music. People often comment on the feeling and soul in my music, and I think part of that comes from the honesty and diversity of the kids I went to school with and jammed with," he said.
The film has been well received across the world.
"It has won many awards at film festivals. The most recent one was Best Documentary Grand Prize in Italy. Leonard Maltin was the head judge," he wrote. "That was exciting ... My hope is that it gets on VH1 Rock Docs."
It's been a busy month for Becker, who was the cover boy for July's Guitar Player Magazine.
"Man, it has been a dream of mine since I was a young teenager," he said. "I can't express how happy it makes me. Guitar Player was always the serious musician's magazine. They rarely catered to what was popular. They focused on innovative players. I am really honored, and to have it come out in my birthday month is extra cool. They took a great shot for the cover, too!"
He also plans to release a new CD this month called "Boy Meets Guitar -- Volume 1 of the Youngster Tapes."
"It is music that I recorded when I was 15, 16 and 17 years old. It includes seven of my own pieces, a Villa Lobos, a Paganini, and one with my high school buddy, N8 Fox," he wrote.
His documentary includes previously unseen footage of Becker, even a performance in Walnut Creek and commentary from East Bay concert promoter Jim Ocean.
"I'm looking forward to hanging with friends and fans between the two showings," he wrote. "I hope everyone has a blast."
Now that he's well into his 40s, does Becker anticipate a midlife crisis?
"Ha ha! Nah!" he wrote. "Age doesn't affect me. With ALS, I am just stoked to have another year. Besides, I already have a 20-year-old girlfriend, so I don't need a sports car."
Staff writer Robert Rogers contributed to this report. Contact Matthias Gafni at 925-952-5026. Follow him at Twitter.com/mgafni.
What: "Jason Becker: Not Dead Yet," a documentary film about Richmond's Jason Becker that chronicles the life of the world famous guitarist living with ALS (Lou Gehrig's Disease) for more than two decades
When: July 22, 4 p.m. and 7 p.m. screenings
Where: East Bay Center for the Performing Arts, 339 11th St. (at MacDonald), Richmond (Wheelchair accessible)
Tickets: $12, with proceeds going to the performing arts center. Buy at www.brownpapertickets.com/event/258339
Special guest: Jason Becker, celebrating his 43rd birthday, will hold a Q&A session at both shows
Info: Find out more about the film at the website www.jasonbeckermovie.com