[Editor's Note: Long-time concert photographer Andrew Youssef found out two years ago that he had stage IV colon cancer. In that time, he has continued to shoot tons of music events, on top of other freelance work and working a day job at a hospital, of all places. As he continues to fight for his life, this series allows him to tell his story in his own words.]
As a DJ at my college radio station at the University of the Pacific back in the mid '90s, I used to always play a Juliana Hatfield song during my show. The combination of Hatfield's honey-sweet vocals and chunky Gibson SG guitar riffs easily won me over when I first saw her videos on MTV's Alternative Nation. She had been on my radar previously with her swooning background vocals and rollicking bass work on the Lemonheads album It's a Shame About Ray.
She toured sporadically back in the day, and I remembered doing whatever I could to catch her live shows when she came to town. Hatfield is responsible for igniting my interest in concert photography, as I snuck in my brand-new five megapixel Sony camera into her show and taking a slew of blurry photos. I had no idea what I was doing but luckily scored a few good shots due to the sheer volume of shutter actuations.
I follow Hatfield on Twitter and was intrigued when she announced a Pledge Music campaign for fans to fund her new album of cover songs. One of the limited packages was a fifteen-minute phone call with Hatfield for $50. I immediately got out my Visa card and made the donation, as I knew it would sell out. The chance to speak with one of my favorite artists and guitar heroes was a no-brainer.
Ironically, the time she was supposed to call was the day my chemotherapy ran later than usual. So I have a voicemail on my phone from Hatfield saying she would try back later. When I finally did talk to her, my anxieties melted away. It was effortless talking to her about guitar pedals, working with Josh Freese on her album Only Everything and how Nada Surf was criminally underrated.
During the conversation, she mentioned she was going to do two sets (acoustic and electric) at Q Division studios in Massachusetts in a couple weeks. Understanding that Hatfield rarely plays shows, I made the rare exception to postpone my chemotherapy treatment and take a red-eye flight to Boston to photograph her performances. It was surreal to see Hatfield sitting on a stool and politely greeting everyone at the door of the studio as you entered.
Hatfield remembered our conversation, knew about my current battle with cancer and was happy I made the trip cross-country. I didn't want to take up too much of her time but mentioned she should have covered a Nada Surf song for her album. Hatfield coyly agreed and said that would have been a good idea. While Hatfield was performing her acoustic set, she would give small anecdotes about the songs prior to performing them. Then it happened. Hatfield dedicated Nada Surf's "Fruit Fly" to me and thanked me for coming across the country to see the show. I failed miserably in holding back the tears.
I would never have dreamed that one of my favorite artists would dedicate a song to me. It was a moment I will never forget and was worth every penny of flying out and postponing my chemotherapy. The evening continued to amaze me with a rocking electric set which featured some songs I hadn't heard live in years. Hatfield was super nice, giving me an autographed vinyl copy of My Sister as well as posing for a few portraits for my post on Stereogum.
It was a huge check off my bucket list, and I'm almost convinced that it boosted my immune system, as I was on cloud nine for months after and still automatically smile when I think of how fortunate I was for everything to work out perfectly. I felt like a normal person for that day and forgot I had cancer. Priceless in so many ways and a treasured life moment.
See Also: - Last Shot: A Concert Photographer's Battle With Cancer - Last Shot: Helplessness Blues at a Fleet Foxes Concert - Last Shot: Chemical Warfare Takes Its Toll - Last Shot: Photographing Coachella with Cancer is Like Running an Ultramarathon - Last Shot: Time Is Running Out - Last Shot: Chemotherapy Leaves Me Seeing "Stars" With Hum - Last Shot: Battling Cancer to Shoot the Red Hot Chili Peppers - Last Shot: Telling Your Friends You Have Cancer Follow RFT Music on Twitter or Facebook. But go with Twitter. Facebook blows.
Support Local Journalism.
Join the Riverfront Times Press Club
Local journalism is information. Information is power. And we believe everyone deserves access to accurate independent coverage of their community and state. Our readers helped us continue this coverage in 2020, and we are so grateful for the support.
Help us keep this coverage going in 2021. Whether it's a one-time acknowledgement of this article or an ongoing membership pledge, your support goes to local-based reporting from our small but mighty team.
Join the Riverfront Times Club for as little as $5 a month.