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“We didn’t start the fire”: 10 songs to use as your presidential farewell track

Graphic: Nick Wanserski
AVQ&AWelcome back to AVQ&A, where we throw out a question for discussion among the staff and readers. Consider this a prompt to compare notes on your interface with pop culture, to reveal your embarrassing tastes and experiences.

This week’s question pays tribute to the end of the Obama era, by asking the question many of us have pondered at one time or another:

If you ever became president, after serving your four to eight years, what would your final walk-off song be?


Nathan Rabin

This may seem like a bit of a cheat, as I’m pretty sure this has also been my answer for at least one other question before. But if I really wanted people to feel my impending absence (which I imagine I would, being a crazed narcissist), I would choose Warren Zevon’s “Keep Me In Your Heart.” The song was written as a farewell. Zevon knew that his death was imminent when he wrote and recorded the song, and in one of his final masterpieces, he spends the song tenderly, poignantly trying to attain some measure of permanence in a world where all things pass, and all things are transitory, by seeking his final resting place not in a cold plot of land in the ground, but in the hearts and memories of the people who loved him, and the people he left behind. Part of the song’s poignance comes in the knowledge that memory is as transient and ephemeral as everything else, and that the people who remember him will die themselves, and those memories with them. So, yeah, I want to go out on this song after a scandal-ridden eight years in office—where I devote most of my presidency to trying to extend voting rights to dogs—so that my constituents will begin to miss and mourn me even before I’m gone.

Sean O’Neal

As my final executive order, I would force Billy Joel to amend “We Didn’t Start The Fire” so that every verse ends with an addendum that all preceding people and historical events aren’t nearly as cool nor interesting as me. (“Harry Truman, Doris Day, Red China, Johnnie Ray / South Pacific, Walter Winchell / Not as cool as Sean O’Neal!” “Pope Paul, Malcolm X / British Politician sex / J.F.K. blown away / Compared to Sean these things are lame!” etc.) I would then have Billy Joel draft four to five additional verses detailing my numerous amazing accomplishments as president, as well as listing—by name and home address—the many detractors whose false, wrong criticisms I’ve nobly suffered throughout my tremendous life. Also, I might have him change the chorus to “We Didn’t Truly Start Living Until Sean O’Neal Took Office.” It’s just a lot more positive that way, don’t you think? Sure, it might be difficult to work all that stuff into the song’s meter, but I’m certain a musician as talented as Billy Joel can figure it out during his downtime inside the small salon I’ll have prepared for him in the White House, a truly beautiful room where he can work, sleep, and eat, and I can visit him whenever I want to hear “Movin’ Out.” Besides, isn’t being a spoiled, self-aggrandizing tyrant with questionable taste and zero respect for history or the body politic what we look for in our presidents now? I think you know, and I think you’re gonna love this song. You’ll be singing it forever—believe me.


Gwen Ihnat

I’d like to think I’d be a populist president, which is why I’d like my swan song to be Big Star’s “Thank You Friends.” At the end of my term, I would switch the spotlight off of me and onto my many supporters: “wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for you / I’m so grateful / for all the things you helped me do.” After all, that’s the mark of a great leader: Not to make everyone think you’re important, but to make everything believe that they’re important. (A lesson that completely escapes Mr. Trump.) So my song would be an ode to “all you ladies and gentlemen / who made this all so probable.” Even better, the song ends with the almost-throwaway line: “Never too late to start,” which would hopefully send the message that anyone can become president in this country. And it’s never too late to start. In fact, now might be the perfect time for some future president to start thinking about it.


William Hughes

I’m comfortable admitting I’d be a terrible president. If I didn’t get assassinated Day One for trying to ban concussion-inducing bloodsports like football from the public airwaves, I’d presumably go mad with power, forcing video game companies to remove modes I didn’t like from online shooters. (“Dear Respawn: Take Pilot Vs. Pilot out of Titanfall 2, or else.”) Still, if there’s one thing America’s second openly nerdy tyrant—shoutout to my man John Adams, the boy from Braintree—could nail, it’s finding an obscure Mystery Science Theater 3000 reference to exit on. So strike the set, wipe off the greasepaint, and cue up “A Clown In The Sky,” (from Experiment 303, “Pod People”) please, maestro, as I prepare to saunter out into the ruined wasteland my nationally bad life choices have created. (And if you don’t include the bit where Servo goes all Anthony Newley on the lyrics, I’ll spend my last day in office hounding you and your family into my mandatory Farscape-watching camps. You’ve been warned.)


Nick Wanserski

I have no idea of what four years of my administration would look like beyond whatever money I could siphon off from the defense budget and corporate tax aid into federal art grants, leaving behind the legacy of a third season of Pirates Of Dark Water and a Deadwood movie that wraps up a few of those loose ends. But when I do step down, it will be to the synth-dirge of Devo’s instrumental piece, “Booji Boy’s Funeral.” The track was originally written to accompany a video of band mascot Booji Boy recovering from his head getting squeezed off by a hydraulic press, which the band would play at live shows. The piece is mournful and low tempo, but overlaid with a staccato bubbliness that offers a counterpoint of hope to the somber foundation. Which is the exact kind of mood I think would best summarize my exit from the federal seat of power. Comparisons to suffering massive head trauma are probably appropriate as well.


Esther Zuckerman

Naturaly, I’m going to go out on a big, corny musical theater note, but anything from Hamilton or 1776 is too on the nose. “Don’t Cry For Me Argentina” with “America” subbed in for “Argentina” is a no-go as well since it’s positively Trumpian. So I choose “What I Did For Love” from A Chorus Line (original broadway cast recording version, naturally). In context, the song is about dance, but its lyrics about completely giving yourself over to something are easily applicable to a variety of topics. I’d like to think that I’d be a president who’d act out of genuine compassion and belief that I could do some good. That’s a schmaltzy sentiment, and this is a schmaltzy tune to go with it.


Jesse Hassenger

By the end of my term, whatever my accomplishments, I would be revealed as a total poser. (I’m imagining that my administration would be milquetoast enough overall that the investigative press would immediately start looking into off-the-cuff remarks I made about certain movies or albums.) So if I played “If I Should Fall From Grace With God” by The Pogues, it wouldn’t matter so much that I’m only about 12-percent Irish, or that I have relatively little knowledge of The Pogues overall. I’ve just long thought “If I Should Fall” would make an great end-credits song. It’s also short and snappy, which I think people would want after four to eight years (let’s be real: four years) of shameless Star Wars prequel boosterism, sanctions against Fleetwood Mac, federal funding for a Girls reunion season, and demonstrable ignorance of the Pogues catalog apart from this song or “Fairytale Of New York.” Clearly mine would be a dangerously culture-obsessed term, but I maintain that it would probably be less dangerous than any given week of Trump in office.


Will Harris

While it’s tempting to take a page from noted sanitation commissioner Ray Patterson by both walking onstage and offstage to Quincy Jones’ “The Streetbeater,” the reality of the situation is that my four-year term—and rest assured, that’s all it’s going to be—will conclude with America collectively shuffling quietly toward my successor and just trying to put the past behind them. I’ll be typically blindsided by their reaction, which will make my choice of walk-off song go down in history as all the more ironic: Boston’s “I Had A Good Time.”


Alex McCown-Levy

I’m not sure why everyone is talking about what awful presidents they would make. I’d be a fantastic leader of the free world, especially once I finished building my array of permanent, real-world Stars Hollows in every state in the country. The point being, I’d want a song that both conveys how utterly impossible and thankless the job is while also warning everyone how much worse it’s going to get once my successor takes over. (This may or may not be somewhat influenced by seeing the non-stop coverage of the Trump inauguration planning this past week.) Which is why my walk-off song would definitely be “Totally Fucked,” from the soundtrack to Broadway hit Spring Awakening. It’s a big family-friendly musical, so it’ll go over smooth, but it still conveys everything about how how terrible things will get in the coming years after I’ve left the national stage, while still paying tribute to the rank futility of running the ship of state and expecting thanks. (“You’re fucked if you speak your mind, and you know—uh-huh—you will.”) It’s a smooth way for one of the best presidents inn history to bid adieu, and hey, if an actual president wants to borrow it today, it’s still available.


Clayton Purdom

As The A.V. Club’s resident Soulja Boy apologist, there is only one option for my presidential exit: Soulja Boy’s 2009 masterpiece “Turn My Swag On,” on which the ever-ebullient emcee almost accidentally found himself graced with a lofty, synthesizer-fueled instrumental, and, rather than rap, elected to atonally croon for the track’s entire 3:31 runtime. It’s a logic-defying oddity beloved by a small but devoted cadre of rap nerds, too slow to dance to, too amateurish to sing along with. But I could bounce around one last time to it before the American people, riding around on a Segway and tossing money in the air exactly as Soulja Boy himself does in the song’s inimitably joyous video. And just as I choose to view Soulja Boy’s extended existence on the fringes of mainstream rap as some sort of longform piece of outsider performance art, so, too, would I ask the American people to view my four disastrous years in office as a joyous riff on the foibles of the American democratic system. As the track fades out, I would roll around in a pile of money, hopefully to the appreciative applause of assembled lawmakers, but perhaps not. At the very least, Chief Of Staff Soulja Boy would fucking love it.


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