There are many things that Bobby Axelrod and I have in common: New York born and bred; working class backgrounds; very non-traditional road to Wall Street; our love of gambling lead us to our career paths. However, the one thing that has always been my favorite commonality is our love for heavy metal bands and their music. Heavy Metal is not the most well known genre of music, so let’s explore Bobby Axelrod and his music, and what it says about him.
In each season of Billions, at least one episode has featured a song and a t-shirt of a metal band that must be Axe’s favorites. The writers of Billions don’t do anything just to do it, so we know that these choices are there to tell a story, shine light on who the character is, and to set a tone.
Metal is very misunderstood: devil worship, drugs, biting the heads of bats, or just screeching guitars may come to mind if you say the words “heavy metal”. But, it is so much more than that! Last season, I used Black Sabbath lyrics to open (and in some cases close) my “From the Trader’s Desk” recaps. In most cases, if I hadn’t referenced it to Sabbath, you’d have wondered what philosopher or poet I was quoting. Metal lyrics are some of the best I have ever heard; they tell stories of pain, loss, confusion, success, etc. – lyrics that would certainly resonate with a young man from Yonkers who’s Dad has up and left, and whose home life is full of conflict.
Master of puppets I’m pulling your strings
Twisting your mind and smashing your dreams
Blinded by me, you can’t see a thing
Just call my name, ‘cause I’ll hear you scream
“Mater of Puppets” – Metallica
We get our first glimpse of Axe the metal-head in “Naming Rights” when he shows up to buy out the Eads family for the rights to put his name on a building that currently has their name with a Metallica “Master of Puppets” t-shirt on. Not only is this Axe being his most unconventional, but it’s also a way of showing that he is still that kid from Yonkers who’s made it big, and fuck you to whomever doesn’t like it! It’s also a revenge thing, as the patriarch of the Eads family fired a 16 year old Axe as a caddy at a golf club, (I’m sure that kid cracked up Metallica nice and loud after that!) and he’s here to remind them of what happens when you screw Axe!
In “Short Squeeze” we see Axe and his love for Metallica in action when he and his childhood friends take his private jet to Canada to see the band live.
I can just imagine a 16 year old Axe: Ginger mullet, black motorcycle jacket, very faded Metallica t-shirt, jeans ripped at the knees, and black high top Chuck Taylor All-Stars sneakers, hanging out with his buds in a friend’s Yonkers basement, playing cards and listening to metal music on cassette tapes. How can I get that detailed? Well, that was me and my friends (except we were in a basement in Brooklyn, playing darts). We were all metal-heads (still are). And I know how exciting it is to see your favorite band 30 years later with your best mates. Our old group got together in the spring of 2014 and we all went to see Black Sabbath at the Barclay’s Center in Brooklyn. (Alas, we didn’t fly private – most of us got there by subway!) It’s a chance you just don’t miss.
The song Metallica is singing during the concert is “Master of Puppets” (hello again!) which is a song about addiction (and a damn fine song if you ask me). If you read the lyrics, it is about something controlling you and making your life miserable. This song would totally resonate with Axe: all the pressure, and the deals, always having to come out on top of every trade – has the desire, the rush, the need to always win become his master? Yes, he has a private jet, beautiful homes, billions of dollars, but at what cost? It’s a very powerful song (http://www.lyricsfreak.com/m/metallica/master+of+puppets_20092140.html) and the lyrics are fitting for this episode and for the path Axe has taken in general.
S2: Episode 4 “The Oath”
What do you mean, “I hurt your feelings”?
I didn’t know you had any feelings.
What do you mean, “I ain’t kind”?
I’m just not your kind.
“Peace Sells” – Megadeth
In this episode, Axe wants to buy an NFL team, but needs to spruce up his image in order to be accepted by the powers that be that will be making the decision to grant him that privilege. In order to do that, he agrees to sign “The Giving Oath” to look more philanthropic. All the while, Axe is battling Chuck (who would have guessed?) in a class action suit. Chuck and Axe will meet for a deposition at Axe Capital and face off.
As Axe readies for battle, Megadeth’s “Peace Sells” plays in the background. I remember my best friend Brenda and I listening to this album (yes, we listened to it on a turntable) in my room in 1986. So, when the song plays, I’m 16 again. But back to Axe: it is interesting that when picking his “battle armor” this is the shirt he chooses. As much as the message is “I’d like peace, but really…” it also brings him back to his roots. He’s that Yonkers kid again and here is someone trying to challenge him. I notice that every time Axe is challenged in one way or another, he becomes that tough boy again. He literally transforms. The way he talks, the way he moves. Here is where the brilliance of Damian Lewis shines. Just those little differences and he is not Axe the hedge fund king, he is Axe, the kid who worked for everything he has ever gotten, and will fight tooth and nail to keep it!
S3: Episode 5 “All the Wilburys”
There’s no need to have a reason
There’s no need to wonder why
It’s a part of me that tells you
Oh, don’t you ever, don’t ever say die
Never, never, never say die again
“Never Say Die” – Black Sabbath
Axe showing his metal side in this episode was very personal for me, since it has been something I had dreamed of that finally came to fruition!
Back in March 2017, earlier this year in our “What we are looking forward to (and not so much) in Billions Season 3”, and in various tweets, I wished for Bobby Axelrod to show some love to my favorite band of all time, Black Sabbath. I even photo shopped Axe in the shirt I’d like to see him in (it’s one of the many I own).
When I found out (thank you GingerSnap!) that Axe was going to finally be in a Sabbath shirt, I was beyond excited! And to have the creator of the show, Brian Koppelman say he was waiting for me to see it, well, I just about cried!!
The cherry on top of my Black Sabbath sundae? A chance to talk to (and thank) Brian Koppelman about our mutual love of Sabbath (he likes Sabbath with Ronnie James Dio, me not as much!!), at the Super Fan screening of the S3 finale (while poor Damianista looked on having no clue as to what we were talking about!). I told him how listening to Sabbath during my chemo sessions really helped get me through the hours of sitting there while all these chemicals were being pumped through my body, and that seeing that Sabbath shirt on Axe was really emotional for me. He totally got it! It was so great to express my gratitude to him. Thank you again, Mr. Koppelman!
A triumphant Axe parades into Axe Cap to the tune of “Never Say Die” by Black Sabbath! What else would a victorious kid from Yonkers wear but a Black Sabbath “Master of Reality” t-shirt to confirm his bad-ass self is back! Of course Axe is a Sabbath fan; it’s the natural progression from his love for Metallica and his appreciation for Megadeth. He’s now going old-school, as Sabbath is considered by many the fathers of heavy metal (don’t come at me with the Led Zeppelin or Deep Purple argument!) Axe has lived to fight another day, because the boy from Yonkers is always a fighter, and will never give an inch – he’ll never say die! It’s nothing but high-fives and cheers for the returning King.
Once again, we see how Axe chooses to be viewed while triumphantly returning to his domain – something from his childhood. No matter what age Axe is, no matter how successful, he will always be the rebel who has a chip on his shoulder when he looks in the mirror.
What metal shirt will Axe reveal in Season 4? I’d love to see an Iron Maiden classic (The Trooper, or Piece of Mind), but would be happy with Led Zeppelin, Anthrax, or even Slayer. I doubt we’ll ever see a Motley Crue or a W.A.S.P. shirt, as I just don’t see young Bobby as a hair-band kind of guy. But, the one thing we can count on in Billions is surprises, so you never know.
Rock on, Axe!