Reflecting On: The Ataris – So Long, Astoria

The summer of 2003 is the last year that I consider ‘normal’ from my youth. It’s the first time I was aware of the ticking clock over the heads of my high school friends when we hung out, as they would head to the four corners for college in a couple years. It’s also the last year before the fractures in my parents’ marriage began showing true depth, which would eventually lead to their divorce.

You can buy So Long, Astoria on iTunes.

Ten years later, I packed up my car and drove north for the last time as I moved to Chicago in early 2013. I was leaving my family and everyone I had grown up with. As I hit the interstate, I turned on an album to make sense of the hope I had for my future. The first track defines that moment to me as I drove towards unknown potential – “So Long, Astoria”.

So Long, Astoria by The Ataris lived and died by the era it was written in. Early 2003 saw an epidemic of generic pop punk bands, the likes of which would prove to be the ruin of the genre from mainstream radio. However, it is because of this deluge that allowed a record like this to truly stand out as something special, even if it also got lost in the shuffle without the credit it deserved.

So Long, Astoria is an album about specific moments in life. Each song is a short story littered with tiny details from real points in vocalist/guitarist Kris Roe’s life. That, or he’s a better fiction writer than anyone has given him credit for. Personal memories, such as playing a guitar alone in a bedroom and dreaming of the future (“So Long, Astoria”), or having someone tell you that their best friend likes you (“Summer ‘79”) is what makes life so special and memorable. It’s arguable that The Ataris are responsible for the first album I had ever heard that wrote about the best of memories instead of broken relationships.

Each song focuses on a defining moment while growing up. Whether it be about reflection on life, childhood memories or just taking in the beauty of Americana, the details are astoundingly poignant. Standing on the edge of the Mississippi River in Dubuque, Iowa, it’s hard not to think of Roe singing, “The sunrise over smoke stacks in the Midwest / The beauty of this abandoned factory / Christmas lights blinking on and off, all out of time / In what used to be / Your pink house dreams of a middle class America” (“All You Can Ever Learn Is What You Already Know”).

The theme of specific moments has always stuck with me. Whether I was aware of it or not, I have always played songs from this album in the background on days or during moments I thought might be important. High school graduation (“Summer ’79″), my first flight in a decade (“Takeoffs And Landings”), and after every romantic breakup, when I didn’t know what else to do but just sit and stare into the middle distance (“A Beautiful Mistake”).

Even so, I can’t claim to be the biggest fan of The Ataris. I’ve never heard another record they have released, and I don’t listen to So Long, Astoria that often. I can’t even claim to know the lyrics of most of the songs, or why I listened to those specific ones until I re-read the lyrics while writing this article and remembered why they meant so much to me.

What is important is the message of the album. Don’t take life for granted. Enjoy the happy times and look back fondly on them and how they made you into who you are today. Nostalgia is great, but what is the point if those cherished memories don’t make you smile each time you think of them?

I don’t see my high school friends very often, and it is hard to imagine my parents together anymore after both have moved on to different and better lives. But I remember the moment I made peace with their divorce and saw how happy they were afterwards (“The Hero Dies In This One”). But I still laugh at the thought of some of the things we got into as my generation became adults. Unintentionally, So Long, Astoria is a diary to a specific moment in my life before things started to fall apart, often for the better. It is a record of youth and the acceptance that something better is always just around the corner. In the end, that is the best legacy it could have left on anyone willing to listen.

by Kyle Schultz

kyle_catKyle Schultz is the Senior Editor at It’s All Dead and has worked as a gaming journalist at Structure Gaming. He lives in Chicago and took two multi-hour walks listening to this album before writing about it. He did not realize how often it came up in his life until that point, because he is a dunce. If you see him, ‘BOO’ him to his face until he cries. He will know why.

The Ataris pay tribute to Astoria on anniversary tour

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There’s no denying that the scene has been awash in a sea of nostalgia in recent months. It’s nearly impossible to avoid the slew of anniversary tours and reunion shows that have come down the pike, celebrating a decade since the pop-punk/emo boon of the early 2000s.

It’s hard to believe that it’s been over a decade since the music we love went from the comfort and privacy of our dorm rooms and car rides to late night MTV rotation, seemingly in the blink of an eye. That windfall of mainstream airplay not only grew the audience, but, for better or worse, shone a spotlight on an entire subculture that was secretly begging for attention.

For many, this transition took place during the most confusing and formative of life transitions – that of adolescence to maturity. For that reason, this music, these songs, hold extra weight and make the wistfulness to relive those moments somewhat appropriate.

Partaking in this opportunity to relive the halcyon days are none other than The Ataris, touring in celebration of the 10th anniversary of their album So Long, Astoria. However, this experience holds an extra poignancy – the estranged members of the band who recorded the album have reunited with lead vocalist and guitarist Kris Roe for just this tour.

The real question is, does any of this matter?

The band has famously failed to follow-up Astoria with any sort of gusto, releasing the dark, ill-received Welcome the Night in 2007 followed by continual promises of new music and a litany of lineup changes. The announcement of this particular reunion may have felt suspect to some, but it’s hard to ignore the intrigue.

The band’s stop in Indianapolis landed them at The Vogue, one of the premier mid-sized venues in the city’s artsy Broad Ripple district. Coincidentally, this is also a homecoming of sorts, as the band’s origins lie in Anderson, In., just over 30 miles northeast of Indianapolis.

The venue isn’t completely packed, but it’s certainly abuzz. The openers, including punk band Authority Zero, do well at setting the table for the main act. Before The Ataris take the stage, I chat with a couple of fans reminiscing about So Long, Astoria and its impact on their high school years.

This nostalgia is more than a fleeting romantic thought or idea. This night provides the opportunity to once again sing and dance to the songs that made sense of growing up – a chance to step away from the reality of adulthood and remember the journey that got them there.

As The Ataris take the stage with friends and family in attendance, it’s clear that the fans are not the only ones remembering that journey.

The band’s set is one filled with joy, smiles and excitement. Considering that this lineup hasn’t played together for a lengthy period, it’s impressive how tight the band sounds and how much energy they bring to the songs. So Long, Astoria is played in its entirety with little need for lengthy dialogue or stage banter.

Astoria has always lent itself well to sing-a-longs, and although Roe sounds just as good as he ever has, it’s just as fun to listen to the crowd belt out every line of “In This Diary”. The line “Being grown up isn’t half as fun as growing up” clearly holds an extra weight in this setting.

When the opening notes of “The Boys of Summer” sound, even those standing at the back with their arms crossed jog forward to join the masses. The sight of grown men and women smiling and dancing to the sound of a pop-punk cover of an 80s classic might seem odd in theory, but it’s a delight on this night.

The set moves quickly, flowing with the anticipation of the crowd. Though there are a few explanations given before certain songs, these tracks tell most of the stories themselves. When Roe talks about “Summer of ‘79” it’s clear that he knows his own story is one of many that now associate with the song.

It’s corny, but this is one of those shared human experiences you hear about – and it’s wonderful to watch, whether you’re a fan of the band or not. When those connections take place, you often feel good about just being in the room.

The Ataris may have failed to capitalize on the promise left in the wake of Astoria’s release, but it’s clear that their impact is an appropriately lasting one. When these anniversary tours and reunions begin to feel worn out or hackneyed, it’s important to remember the moments and lives that allow them to exist.

To answer the earlier question, this does matter. It matters because there’s clearly an audience that still connects to these songs and lives that still feel the ripple effects from those days a decade past. Yes, it’s nostalgic. But it’s also therapeutic and a part of our story. It never hurts to stop and reflect on the moments that make our story a good one.

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by Kiel Hauck

kiel_hauckKiel Hauck is the editor in chief at It’s All Dead. Over the past decade, he has been a contributor for multiple online and print publications and was most recently an editor at PopMatters. Kiel currently resides in Indianapolis, IN with his wife and their imaginary pet, Hand Dog. You can follow him on Twitter.

The Ataris announce So Long, Astoria 10th anniversary tour dates

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It appears that The Ataris have re-assembled the lineup that recorded their 2003 classic album So Long, Astoria and will be hitting the road to play the album in its entirety. Frontman Kristopher Roe will once again be joined with guitarist John Collura, bassist Mike Davenport and drummer Chris Knapp.

Kris Roe has been the longstanding original member of The Ataris through a slew of lineup changes through the years. The band’s last official release came in 2007 in the form of Welcome the Night.

It also appears that the band will be releasing their entire back catalogue of albums in an upcoming box set vinyl release. More details to come.

In the meantime, check out the tour dates for the So Long, Astoria 10th Anniversary tour!

Feb. 28: Scottsdale, AZ (Pub Rock)
March 1: Las Vegas, NV (Backstage Bar)
March 2: Fresno, CA (Strummer’s)
March 3: San Luis Obispo, CA (SLO Brewing Company)
March 5: Los Angeles, CA (House of Blues)
March 6: Anaheim, CA (House of Blues)
March 7: San Diego, CA (House of Blues)
March 8: San Francisco, CA (Bottom of the Hill)
March 11: Portland, OR (Hawthorne Theatre)
March 12: Seattle, WA (The Showbox at the Market)
March 13: Boise, ID (Knitting Factory)
March 14: Salt Lake City, UT (In The Venue [Club Sound])
March 15: Denver, CO (The Summit Music Hall)
March 16: Kansas City, MO (Riot Room)
March 18: St. Louis, MO (Old Rock House)
March 20: Minneapolis, MN (Mill City Nights)
March 21: Chicago, IL (House of Blues)
March 22: Indianapolis, IN (The Vogue)
March 23: Detroit, MI (The Shelter)
March 24: Cleveland, OH (Agora Ballroom)
March 25: Pittsburgh, PA (Altar Bar)