Thursday, August 21, 2014

Jason Becker, ALS, and Humility

While out for a walk tonight, I heard a man screaming from behind a backyard fence. It took me a moment before I realized why it was he was screaming. Like seemingly everyone else on this planet, he was having cold water poured over him in the name of ALS.

I don’t claim to be an expert on Lou Gehrig’s disease, but I have been ahead of the fad this time. My newest novel, The Association, due out in September, involves a character with ALS. While only appearing in the final chapter, it is her disease that drives the action of the entire story. In a desperate attempt to find a cure for her illness, her boyfriend ends up dragging himself and others into a trap with seemingly no exit.
While I’ve always been aware of Lou Gehrig’s disease since seeing The Lou Gehrig Story as a small child, it really hit home for me when I chanced upon the documentary, Jason Becker: Not Dead Yet.

Did you ever feel jealousy towards another human being only to feel horrible about yourself afterwards? Years ago, I was driving home from a job I hated in my beat up old car, only to be passed by a shiny new convertible. I cursed my luck, wondering why I should work so hard and yet this person had more than I. 
And then I spotted it, the wheelchair in the back seat. And then I felt horrible for wishing I had what this other person had rather than being thankful for what was given to me.

It was a similar situation with Jason Becker. When I was in my early twenties, my dad brought home an old guitar he had bought from a garage sale. I took it as a sign that I should learn how to play it. I practiced a good deal at it, but never got very good. A big part of my learning involved picking up copies of Guitar Players Magazine, where they would have the sheet music for a lot of classic rock songs. Being a reader, I read all the articles on all of the guitarists as well.

And that’s how I heard about Jason Becker. He was the wiz kid, younger than me but already being heralded as a major new talent and playing for the likes of David Lee Roth. I hated him, which is to say I was immensely jealous of him. Already older than him, I had no direction in life, had achieved nothing. Here he was already a better guitarist than I could ever hope to be, was making truckloads of money, and assuredly had his pick of women. And hair. Did I mention he had hair? This was the era of hair bands, of outrageously long hair. And I, I was already well on my way to baldness. The eighties was not a good era to lose your hair.

So I harbored a good deal of jealousy towards this rock star I had never met, disliked his music which I had never heard. But like all petty grudges, it faded after time.

Fast forward to 2013. I was flipping through channels on the TV when I came across the name of Jason Becker, and took a closer look. The old jealousy resumed as I wondered whatever came of him. Perhaps he, like Joe Satriani and myself, had lost his hair too. A petty thought for sure, but not the greatest of my sins by a long shot. But then I turned to the channel, and I watched the documentary, and then my smallness hit me full-on. ALS had taken more from him than any human being should have to stand, and yet I cruelly had wished for some kind of cosmic justice to level the playing field between him and me. More humbling still was that Jason Becker still had the courage to continue with his life and his music despite the hand he had been dealt. I am a very small man indeed.

But that’s when ALS truly caught my attention. I’ve been watching videos on YouTube and reading up on it since then. And somehow it wove its way into my story about a group of priests who had been healers centuries ago. And through a story that involves ghosts and faith and murder, a love story is woven about a man who wanted to save his beloved from a horrible disease and prove to her the healing power of faith. It will be available in a couple of weeks, as soon as my beta-readers and my cover artist have done their jobs. In the meantime, you can read my first book for free by clicking on the picture of the cover of The Amazing Morse on your right. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to check out videos of people dumping cold water on themselves on Facebook.

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