[Editor's Note: Longtime concert photographer and fellow Weekling Andrew Youssef found out almost two years ago that he had Stage IV colon cancer. In that time, he has continued to shoot tons of music events for us on top of other freelance work and holding a day job at a hospital, of all places. As he continues to fight for his life, this series, Last Shot, allows him to tell his story in his own words.]
The last couple of weeks have been extremely difficult in managing my pain and new side effects from my clinical study medication. My anxiety levels grew to new heights as the Outside Lands Festival in San Francisco quickly approached. Was I physically healthy enough to carry two camera bodies and weave through a festival crowd?
Even though my bags were packed and the flights were booked, I almost pulled the plug on the whole weekend as I was going to let cancer scare me into not accomplishing a goal that I had set. Since my diagnosis of Stage IV colon cancer in February of 2011, I've managed to photograph 331 concerts. I refused to let cancer get the better of me and proceeded to head to the airport on Thursday night.
My main objective for Outside Lands this year was to photograph and absorb a full set by Nine Inch Nails. So I needed to conserve as much energy as possible. Friday gave me a primer boost of energy though with some outstanding sets by Band of Horses, and The National. The real treat came though when I found out I was one of ten photographers approved to photograph Paul McCartney. While I was fortunate enough to document his performance at the Hollywood Bowl back in 2010, I never thought I would be so lucky to photograph a legend again.
After a full day of activity on Friday, I was not nearly as spry on Saturday. Some aches and pains had developed over night and it seemed like the narcotic patches that I am on weren't as effective which forced me to rely on Dilaudid pills every two hours until I could reapply a higher strength narcotic patch. Saturday's line up was just as impressive with a blistering set by guitar virtuoso Gary Clark Jr., a huge crowd showing up for OC's Young The Giant, and a fiery performance by the Yeah Yeah Yeahs who are bound for FYF Fest next week.
My adrenaline levels soon would spike upon hearing the opening pulsating synthesizer notes of "Copy of A" from Nine Inch Nails. Bandleader Trent Reznor has mentioned that these Nine Inch Nails festival shows would be different from their fall arena tour which provided me with even more incentive to attend. I admittedly cheated and had watched their prior performance at Lollapalooza in order to study the light patterns and how they correlated with the songs in order to get the best photos as possible.
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Since I was able to only shoot three songs, I made the most of my time by capturing twelve hundred images. Those songs went by in seconds as I ran back to meet up with a friend in order to take in the whole set. While I was tired from the activities of the day, I quickly forgot about the two heavy cameras I was carrying as well as anything related to my cancer as I was immersed in the moment. The crushing synthesizer bass line of "March Of The Pigs" transported me away as the eye popping visuals bombarded your senses.
I was holding back tears for "Something I Can Never Have", as I so badly want to have my cancer cured. Even the bleak instrumental "Help Me I Am In Hell" resonated within me. The watershed moment came to me during "Head Like A Hole." Reznor repeatedly chants "I'd rather die than give you control". I was immediately overwhelmed with emotion and couldn't hold back my tears as I'd rather die than give my cancer control.