For Photojournalist Andrew Youssef, Life Was Music. Then Came Cancer

Categories: Last Shot

To understand Youssef's love for concert photography, you have to know about Judas Priest's Defenders of the Faith tour stop at the Long Beach Arena in 1984. It was the height of the '80s metal scene, crusty Sunset Boulevard types, with Viking hair, black leather and forearm spikes, roamed the pit like Mad Max extras. It was on this sweat-drenched, beer-splattered floor that a nine-year-old Youssef found himself at his first concert, tagging along with his fourteen-year-old brother, Pat, and their father, Art (an Americanized take on his Arabic name, Atef). The trio couldn't have looked any more out of place.

By the time he hit his teenage years, the skinny, fair-skinned, Brillo-haired boy was addicted to concerts of the metal and grunge variety -- the sounds that dominated his adolescence. Even his parents, both retired librarians, bucked just about every vocational stereotype, allowing their sons to blast KISS and the Scorpions as they drove to hockey games with the windows of the family's Chevrolet Caprice Classic down.

After graduating high school, Youssef left home to study pharmacy at University of the Pacific, a career he picked on a whim in high school but had a knack for, thanks in part to his father's stark change in professions from library science to perfumery. With an animated charm and passion for business, Art opened his own perfume/cologne stores in the mid-'90s, one in Downey and another in Torrance.

Andrew Youssef
Shooting Atoms for Peace at Club AMOK.
Day after day, Youssef would work for his dad, sorting various classifications, compounds and chemical ingredients of various scents. Even today, the inventory of the business they ran for fifteen years lingers in the Youssef home, a glass display case filled with boxes of Yves St. Laurent, Liz Claiborne and Dior collecting dust in a corner of the family room. Art still hawks some of it on eBay when he can.

Since moving back home with his parents, Youssef now keeps his strength up by practicing his chops on one of two Marshall half stacks and a multicolored arsenal of pedals and electric guitars. But the initial buzz he got in the local music scene was with a point-and-shoot camera, not a guitar. He'd snuck it into a Juliana Hatfield show at the Knitting Factory in 2006. Youssef has been enamored by her "honey-sweet vocals and chunky Gibson SG guitar riffs," he says, since his days as a college DJ. Most of the photos he snapped were embarrassingly blurry. But the few good ones provided enough excitement to inspire his devotion to the lens. He started a grassroots indie-music blog, Amateur Chemist, in 2006 -- it was not only his outlet, but also an excuse to photograph and review as many shows as he could get to.

It was then, in the heyday of the Detroit Bar's musical reign, that Youssef met Dave Segal, the Weekly's wiry, eclectic, then-music editor. At the time, Segal was looking for more vigorous live coverage of OC's music scene, and after a brief introduction and a few drinks, Segal recruited Youssef to join the freelance pool, where he garnered a reputation as a tireless photojournalism beast.

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