Jason Becker talked about his battle with ALS during a recent interview with Grammy while remembering his past experiences at the hospital.
An inspirational and successful guitarist, Jason Becker, has been living with ALS for over 30 years. He has collaborated with various musicians during his prolific career such as Joe Satriani, David Lee Roth, and Bob Dylan. He also formed a band with his friend Marty Friedman named Cacophony and became the guitarist of Roth at the age of 19.
Due to his disease, Becker cannot walk, talk, or breathe on his own. Although he has been struggling with an illness that restricts most of his abilities, he continues to make music. Using a system developed by his father, Becker uses his eyes as a way of communication. In this way, he works on producing albums like his latest, ‘Triumphant Hearts.’
Speaking to Grammy, Becker talked about his music and his communication system while commenting on his ongoing battle with ALS. He said that he was operated in a hospital to get a trach and stomach tube 24 years ago, and he was not able to talk. He added that upon noticing this, his father wanted him to be a part of conversations better and developed a system that relies on Becker’s eye movements.
Becker then described the system and said it helped him to carry on conversations way more quickly. He said this system is the best that he can use, and making music with the help of it is easier than it appears. Becker also claimed that he can do most of the things on his own without the help of other musicians.
Jason Becker told Grammy that:
“When I was in the hospital, getting my trach and stomach tube operation 24 years ago, my dad knew I was not going to be able to talk. It was already hard to understand what I was trying to say because my voice was so weak. A speech therapist brought in what they had in the way of communication, which was very complicated and impersonal. For instance, there were sentences like, ‘I am cold, I am angry, bring me some water.’
It was based on shortcuts for standard needs and issues. My dad didn’t think that would work and was a bit terrified about thinking I wouldn’t be able to quickly communicate what it was I wanted to say – even if it was just to make a joke, or be part of a conversation.
He went to his studio and devised a grid with the letters of the alphabet, divided into six squares. Each letter requires two eye movements. As we all got used to it, we could see that we could make our own shortcuts, like raised eyebrows for yes and lip up for no, and things like that. And, we all have memorized it now and we can all carry on conversations at a pretty fast speed. I can tell long stories, make jokes and be a part of the conversation. I have heard from others that they have tried the system and like it.”
He went on to say:
“At one of my movie screenings, I met a woman from Texas who said she was able to speak to her father for the last time, and she was very grateful. I still haven’t found anything better for me, including computer systems; they just aren’t personal or fast enough for me.
With music, it is fairly simple. I don’t even need a musician when I am composing. I use LogicPro and I have a lot of great instrument samples. I direct my caregiver where to put notes. I rearrange the notes, instrument by instrument, and track by track.
I usually know what I am going for and what harmonies and counterpoints will sound cool. I can adjust the velocity and volume of each note. I spell to my caregivers, for example, ‘Make the third note longer,’ or ‘Turn down the velocity.’
When recording musicians it is easy to explain what I want. I also had a great co-producer, Dan Alvarez, who gets what I say and can explain things with his voice and hum if necessary.”
Below is a video showing how Becker uses his eye movements as a means of communication.