Well before the pandemic hit, 2020 got off to an extremely momentous start for Craig Finn. The series of events began on January 1st and felt more like a bad omen than any random resolutions, from the discovery of a dead mouse sacrificed by his cat Tanti in his New York City apartment on New Year’s Day to the Discovered just a few hours later that a friend’s mother died in a drunk car accident. “The year got off to a strange and brutal start,” Finn said. And it kept coming.
In March, while touring with The Hold Steady, Finn learned that his close friend Bryan Dilworth had died suddenly at the age of 51. Then the pandemic hit and he was forced to move into a friend’s apartment in Brooklyn while his fiancée, a nurse, worked endless hours with COVID patients. And then Finn witnessed from afar the tragic murder of George Floyd in his hometown of Minneapolis. “I saw faces that I recognized in the crowd,” says Finn. “I was angry at the injustice, but I also grieved for a part of Minneapolis that I once knew.” After reviewing a series of ominous events, Finn began writing his fifth solo album A legacy of rental.
Co-produced with Josh Kaufman, who also worked on Finn’s previous three albums, and recorded in May 2021. A legacy of rental Written at the onset of the pandemic, filters the narrative of a year that triggered an awakening – the realization that all the worldly possessions end up having little value and that all the important moments are often short-lived, and of paramount importance is to document the stories of people who left too soon.
“After the devastation of the past few years, I believe that every single living action brings joy, no matter how mundane — going to the kitchen, missing a train, spilling coffee, cleaning it up, meeting a friend for dinner,” says Finn. “We all want to be remembered. We all want our time here to be meaningful. By taking these daily actions, we champion hope and guarantee our unique place in history.”
A legacy of rental is filled with Finn’s own vivid memories and solitary messages that, in one way or another, speak to everyone’s experiences. Told around a cinematic soundboard, with a mix of guitars and synths and the dusting of a 14-piece string orchestra and cooler drizzle of backing vocals from Annie Nero and Cassandra Jenkins, Finn muses on the loss of family ties and the annual celebration after Birthdays a desperate couple in The Years We Fell Behind and his brother’s need for speed and life flashes in Due to Depart.
“This record is about memory, how we remember friends who have gone, places that have changed, important events that are part of our past,” says Finn. “The songs are memorials, incantations, affirmations, legends and prayers. Like all stories, they are subject to the imperfections and limitations of memory, the distortion that befalls our own story as it is stretched by time and distance. These small adjustments become part of the stories themselves.”
Although he had a year to sit with the songs A legacy of rental Since recording, the songs have barely strayed from the core of their meaning for Finn.
“When you make a record, there’s a part that comes out,” says Finn. “A lot of the songs were written about how we remember people when they’ve gone, or how we remember places that’ve gone, how we remember things.”
Opener “Messing with the Settings” is Finn’s opening speech before the lighter “Amarillo Kid”. “It’s the legend of ‘Amarillo Kid’ and the way we can tell stories about people when they’re gone to try to remember them,” says Finn. “I think it has to do with the time it was written, in the pandemic.” At the time, The Hold Steady flew home from London after playing one of their last shows before the pandemic brought everything to a halt. As Finn flew home on March 9, 2020, he learned that his childhood friend, Bryan Dilworth, had died.
“At that point, there was no way we could have a funeral or a service or anything — it was all on hold,” says Finn. “Looking back, I wonder if that got me thinking about how we remember people when they’re gone, because there seemed to be no closure, and there wasn’t for a while.”
carbon copy A legacy of rental helped Finn process everything that had happened and the importance of storytelling to keep someone’s memory alive.
“It’s so important to write things down so we don’t forget them,” says Finn. “In terms of songwriting or writing novels, storytelling – whatever – you mine your own memories to create your own experiences and your own memories of those experiences, to write those stories, to write songs. Then you release something, be it an album, a film or a book, and that becomes the basis of memory for yourself and other people. It’s going to be a milestone.”
Songwriting is a “one-way street,” adds Finn. “You’re building this thing from your own memory,” he says, “so hopefully you can try to create memories for other people, too.”
The rhythmic heartbeat of “Curtis & Shepard” came from remotely watching the murder of George Floyd. “Obviously I was very upset about the actual event, but watching the events I was tuned into these streams of news from local people,” says Finn, “and one of the weird things was that I knew my hometowns were doing it would be changed forever. Then I met people I knew during the protests.”
Through heavier burdens and lost people, the old friend named “Jessamine” who had dreams but never spoke about them, and the deepened narrative of opposite loves in “A Break from the Barrage”, A legacy of rental ends with a positive final statement, “This Is What It Looks Like.”
“I felt like it was a tough record and I wanted to leave with hope,” says Finn. “When you talk about memory, you’re talking about remembering things that have passed. It’s just an inherent reminder to enjoy things while you’re here.”
Adds Finn, “Our living moments are inherently hopeful and sacred, and however mundane they are, they are filled with joy. Our lives, as we live them, are guaranteed to create a unique place in history that will be largely forgotten on the one hand, but will make a huge difference to those around us on the other and will not be forgotten.”
Photos: D James Goodwin / Big Hassle PR