How Rock Photographer Andrew Youssef Became Nine Inch Nails’ Most Famous Fan

By Scott Lapatine / November 19, 2013 - 11:12 am

You can help Andrew and his family pay medical expenses by donating to this account set up by Andrew’s brother.

Stereogum staff photographer Andrew Youssef has shot 294 concerts for this website over the past five years. Starting with the Walkmen on the You & Me tour, his dynamic pictures and reviews of bands like Radiohead, U2, Springsteen, and the Rolling Stones have combined an exacting eye with a fan’s perspective on some of the most memorable rock tours of the past half decade. He’s a true pro who files his photos well ahead of deadline, always with a setlist and detailed notes. Bands and venues love his shots and seek him out to provide special access. We’ve been fortunate to have Andrew as our man in the photo pit at festivals like Austin City Limits, Outside Lands, and most recently Coachella. For the past two and a half years, he’s done all this while battling stage IV colon cancer.

This summer, Andrew’s Last Shot column in OC Weekly detailed his experience shooting his favorite band Nine Inch Nails (he’s seen them 44 times) at Outside Lands while fighting for his life:

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.” [Trent] 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.

Trent, presumably having seen the article via social media, started following Andrew on Twitter at the end of August. The next day the rock star direct messaged Andrew to invite him to the intimate Hesitation Marks release show at L.A.’s Troubadour. It was at this show where NIN’s manager introduced himself to Andrew and extended Trent and NIN art director Rob Sheridan’s offer to attend the band’s arena tour rehearsals. Not long after, doctors determined the investigational drug Andrew had been taking was not working and the disease had worsened. They gave him weeks to months to live. Hospice care was not far behind.

In late September, at the Tension Tour rehearsals in LA Sports Arena, Andrew was given an exclusive first look at Nine Inch Nails’ new touring lineup and got to see Trent’s perfectionism at play as they worked out kinks on rarely performed album cuts like “Even Deeper” and “A Warm Place.” He also acquired a DSI Prophet 12 synth signed by the entire band. As he relayed to me at the time, Andrew was somewhat bemused to find himself eating lunch and dinner with the band and crew. I have no doubt they viewed him as a peer, and not a charity case. By the end of the week of rehearsals, Trent and Andrew were texting regularly.

With Ritalin helping him stay alert and a friend helping to carry gear for his Nikon D4, Andrew made his most recent post on Stereogum — Depeche Mode at Staples Center — the following week. His strength was waning, but when Nine Inch Nails were back in town to make their network television debut on Jimmy Kimmel Live!, Andrew was able to attend. He watched the five song set from the best seat in the house, on a couch with Jimmy and Trent’s wife Mariqueen. The next night, Andrew attended Nine Inch Nails’ show at Staples Center and Trent dedicated Year Zero‘s “In This Twilight” to him during the encore.

Sadly, a medical emergency forced Andrew to cancel his plans to attend NIN’s concert in Las Vegas this past weekend. But from his hospital bed and hooked to an oxygen machine, he had an experience no other Nine Inch Nails fan has had: During the band’s encore at Hard Rock Hotel, Trent took out his iPhone and messaged Andrew with a FaceTime request. “I want to have a Bono moment and try to FaceTime [Andrew] for a second,” Trent told the crowd. “I know some of you saw me on my phone when I walked out for the encore and went, ‘What the fuck is he up to?'” … Let’s see if this works.” He then directed the house lights be turned on. Watch:

Yeah, that’s 4,000 Nine Inch Nails fans chanting Andrew’s name.

My favorite Andrew story is when he covered a Smiths/Morrissey Convention for Stereogum last year. It’s one of the most affecting photo sets he’s shot for us. I think I know why. Check out this Late Late Show clip from about ten years ago; start at 3m30s and look for the guy in the blue sweatshirt and glasses…

Earlier this month, the Observatory in Santa Ana held an event in celebration of Andrew and his work for publications like this one, OC Weekly, and his personal blog Amateur Chemist. Big Black Delta and Nightmare Air performed, friends and colleagues shared stories, and Andrew’s brother Pat screened a moving Smiths-soundtracked slideshow tracing Andrew’s musical history. We’ve put it online so everyone can see it. Watch below.

Thanks, Andrew. You are an inspiration.