Last Shot: The Time Juliana Hatfield Made Me Forget I Have Cancer
[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 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 at the Knitting Factory 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 fifty dollars. 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, at the time she was supposed to call was the day my chemotherapy ran later than usual. So I have a voice mail on my phone from Hatfield saying she would try back later. When I finally did talk to her, my anxieties melted away as it was effortless talking to her about guitar pedals, working with Josh Freese on her album "Only Everything" and how Nada Surf were criminally underrated.
During the conversation, she mentioned she was going to do two sets (acoustic and electric) at Q Division studios in Massachusettes in a couple weeks. Understanding that Hatfield rarely plays shows, I made the rare exception to postpone my chemotherapy treatment and take a redeye 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 from 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.
*Last Shot: Helplessness Blues at a Fleet Foxes Concert *Last Shot: Chemical Warfare *Last Shot: Time Is Running Out *Last Shot: Helmet Doesn't Let My Dedication Go Unsung *Last Shot: Struggling to Shoot Coachella *Last Shot: Photographing Coachella is Like Running an Ultramarathon *Last Shot: Coachella 1 Cancer 0 *Last Shot: Coachella 2 Cancer 0 *Last Shot: Seeing "Stars" with Hum *Last Shot: Battling Cancer to Shoot the Red Hot Chili Peppers *Last Shot: Telling Your Friends You Have Cancer
Get the ICYMI: Today's Top Stories Newsletter Our daily newsletter delivers quick clicks to keep you in the know
Catch up on the day's news and stay informed with our daily digest of the most popular news, music, food and arts stories in Orange County, delivered to your inbox Monday through Friday.