Bobby Axelrod Rocks to Metallica

Damian Lewis Noah Emmerich Brian Koppelman
Source: Damian Lewis

As we get closer to Billions becoming a reality to hit our screens come January, we learn more and more juicy bits about the show. Last week we learned that Bobby Axelrod takes a trip with his buddy to Quebec to see Metallica. We saw it all play out in the wonderful worlds of Twitter and Instagram, the best portals ever to behind the scenes goodies.

First, wonder of wonders, Damian Lewis, himself, tweeted.


Now, he makes no mention of the band of course. It could be anybody, right? “The biggest in the world” is sort of a meaningless hyperbole. So guesses in his mentions were flying. Your intrepid forensic fan and reporter, fingers poised on her keyboard, went on a search, and came up with a handful of candidates for musicians performing in Quebec that day.

At this point, I didn’t know if this was a pleasure trip or business. We’ve seen Damian hang out with his co-workers before in a number of projects. He’s obviously a friendly guy and, to me, never seemed the type to go quietly home alone after clocking out from a brutal day on set. He’s a people person. And he likes being around the people he works with. Witness him riding around on Rupert Friend’s motorcycle in the Homeland backlot while Rupert (I think) filmed him, or at the races in London with his American Buffalo cast mate John Goodman, or shooting the breeze with James Franco on a couch in the background of a video shot during some down time at Berlinale. So, like any of those times, this trip to Quebec could be work buddies taking a little midweek break to see a concert.

Then, Koppelman instagrammed a shot of the stadium with the comment: “Not an ordinary day on the shoot.” Hm, well this answers two questions: 1) this trip to Quebec is a business trip and there is to be a scene shot at this concert, and 2) the venue is an arena fit for a major name rock group.

Brian Koppelman
source: Brian Koppelman

My fingers went flying on my keyboard and it wasn’t long before the internet told me that the major name rock group performing in Quebec that night was Metallica.

A while after that, I found behind the scenes pics of the Billions shoot at the Metallica concert instagrammed by the photographer who was there, Karl Jessy.

A Note from Damianista: We shared those Instagram photos earlier; however Mr. Jessy requested we remove the photos and so we did accordingly.

In these pics, we get to see some of the Billions wardrobe again, but, this time it’s something new, outside the board rooms and pizza joints. You can see Noah Emmerich, in the role of Bobby Axelrod’s old buddy from Yonkers, dressed as a lot of Bronx average joes of a certain age dress. He has the look of one of those Yonkers Dads who shake their rakes at the crazy kids in the neighborhood as he tells them to get off his lawn. And what to make of Damian dressed as Bobby Axelrod at a Metallica concert? Well, my first response to his outfit: Really? A leather biker jacket with sneakers?

I think in Billions we’ll get to see Damian Lewis playing the role of Bobby Axelrod as he, himself, is playing a part. Bobby’s buddy from Yonkers, with a misshapen polo shirt and slacks, looks straight out of Yonkers. Bobby, on the other hand, with the pompadour and the leather jacket, looks like someone who wants to shed the Yonkers look and transform himself into a tough “made” guy, a guy who won’t ever stand in a yard in Yonkers and yell at the neighbor kids like his buddy. He wants to be a guy who has risen out of that and can now afford nice leather and good haircuts and walk around like he owns the neighborhood, which, as a hedge fund king, is highly likely.

And the sneakers? Well, they’re not just any street kicks; they’re what the cool kids wear. They have a preppy sort of look of them. Again, something that a boy from Yonkers is not by nature. The fact that Bobby has combined the two looks, tough guy leather with preppy kicks, means that he doesn’t quite have the hang of pulling off the transformation. It’s like he’s a caterpillar who came out of the caccoon slightly unfinished in his metamorphosis to a butterfly.

I know I may be reading too much into the wardrobe choices made by the Billions crew (goodness knows it wouldn’t be the first time I read too much into the details). And for all I know, what they are wearing here may be Damian and Noah’s own clothes and not Bobby’s and his buddy’s. But every indication we’ve had about the character of Bobby Axelrod makes me believe I’m not far off the mark. Bobby will be a man who is trying to get out of the hood, trying to make it in a world very different from the world he grew up in.

Afterall, Bobby Axelrod, the gazillionaire hedge fund king, takes his friend all the way from New York to Quebec to see a concert. Mind you, this is no small feat. Many residents of the outer boroughs of NYC never step foot out of their neighborhoods, let alone cross over to another country, even if that country is a neighbor. And that, just to see a concert. Also it’s not just any concert, it’s freakin Metallica. With a tour of the back stage to boot, as only a guy flush with funds can manage.

Boys of a certain class growing up in the boroughs of NYC are absolutely fans of heavy metal and have been for decades. And Metallica, as one of the most commercially successful bands of all time, personifies the zenith of American heavy metal. They’ve been a band since the 80’s and still going strong, have won multiple awards in their category of music, and have been named on several “best of” lists. No doubt, Metallica is a big freakin deal, especially for two white boys from the Bronx. It’s hard thrashing guitars and screaming lyrics about suburban rage against the establishment. It embodies the fury of the underclasses towards those who sign their paychecks. Bobby Axelrod, as a newly minted signer of paychecks, is clearly going back to his roots on the other side of that equation.

Sept 16, Quebec City, Centre Videotron, Metallica

As a catharsis that can only be expressed with a shredded guitar and pounding bass, heavy metal music is also popular among soldiers. A few years ago, when talk of the torture techniques used by military interrogators and the CIA in Iraq and Afghanistan was just starting to come to light, it was revealed that one of their “soft torture” techniques was to blast heavy metal music in the course of sleep deprivation. According to BBC News “The US’s Psychological Operations Company (Psy Ops) said the aim was to break a prisoner’s resistance through sleep deprivation and playing music that was culturally offensive to them.”  Metallica’s anthem to manic paranoia “Enter Sandman” was one of the songs used in that way by the military.

The band’s co-founder Lars Ulrich in an interview on MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow show transcribed here said:  “There is a lot of Metallica music that’s helping a lot of scared 18, 19, and 20-year-old kids out there who are out on the front lines and who are doing a hell of a job on behalf of you and me and the rest of us.” As for the music being used in interrogations, Ulrich adds, “Metallica’s music…used in these bizarre circumstances. It’s certainly not something that we in any way advocate or condone.” Arguably there are lots of worst ways to torture prisoners than to use Metallica for sleep deprivation. Ulrich notes “If there are people that are dumb enough to use Metallica to interrogate prisoners, you’re forgetting about all the music that’s to the left of us. I can name, you know, 30 Norwegian death metal bands that would make Metallica sound like Simon and Garfunkle.” Yep, death metal, black metal and grindcore or, I’m guessing, any of the myriad subgenres of metal, are much more violent and “torture-friendly” than Metallica. You all remember the sleep deprivation interrogation scene in Homeland, right? The music used there was apparently grindcore.

So, back to Bobby. Exactly what is Bobby tortured about and torturing himself over? And I don’t mean torturing himself by going to a Metallica concert with his childhood friend. His is a torture of trying to pass for something and someone he isn’t, at heart. Of course, if anyone can play internally tortured, it’s Damian Lewis.

In her interview for Metro in London, Larushka Ivan-Zaden asked Damian about his current project, and he went on to describe Billions in a way that you’d need a British English slang dictionary to fully understand: “It’s definitely got a “poppy” flavour to it. I mean that it’s written in a very badda-bing, badda-boom kind of way, not that its’ poppy-seed flavoured.” Does he mean the dialogue pops? I get the badda-bing, badda-boom reference is to the New York accent, the way of communicating we all heard and loved in Tony Soprano and his cohorts. (In fact, the strip club used by Tony as a cover for his business was called Bada Bing) He could also mean that the dialogue is like pop music: fashionable, hip, current. Or does he mean something else entirely? Maybe he can hop on the blog and translate himself for us poor Yanks. 🙂 Suffice it to say, he hears the tone of this project very specifically and he is operating within the world created by that tone.

The anticipation for Billions just gets more pronounced with every new reveal and spoiler, doesn’t it?

ETA: So much of this post is speculation so it may be wise to add a link to the NYPost article confirming that, indeed, Metallica will be making a cameo appearance on Billions. Also, Mr Koppelman fav’ed my tweet, so there’s also that. <3KoppelmanFav

3 thoughts on “Bobby Axelrod Rocks to Metallica”

  1. What a wonderful post! I am still giggling as I am reading and re-reading on your imagination of Bobby’s buddie yelling at kids in the neighborhood. And the two guys’ wardrobe choices for the concert — so spot on, so right! I have always seen Bobby as a man of two worlds, sort of stuck between them, and yes, you are so right when you say he seems to be playing a role, such a brilliant observation! LOVE it!!!!

    1. True. My mind tends to collapse Yonkers with the Bronx. And Bobby’s origins do seem closer to the Bronx than to Westchester County. 🙂

Join the conversation!

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.