It’s not just Bill and Frank: ‘Long Long Time’ is still one of Linda Ronstadt’s favorites, too
This story contains some spoilers for the third episode of HBO’s “The Last of Us.”
Linda Ronstadt has a simple and earnest message for the folks discovering her music after the latest episode of “The Last of Us”: She hopes you enjoy it.
The third installment of HBO’s post-apocalyptic drama, aptly titled “Long, Long Time” for the pivotal role that Ronstadt’s hit ballad plays in the episode, tells the story of Bill (Nick Offerman) and Frank (Murray Bartlett) and the life they lived together. Their relationship, according to “The Last of Us” co-creator and executive producer Craig Mazin, is “ultimately … the skeleton key to unlock all of this show.”
After the episode aired on Sunday, Spotify announced that streams of Ronstadt’s “Long Long Time” increased by over 4,900% from the week before. The Grammy-winning Mexican American singer was also trending on Twitter as viewers responded to the episode on social media. Google searches for Ronstadt and the song also spiked shortly after the episode aired.
In Sunday’s episode, the HBO series introduces two characters from the game, Bill and Frank — and changes their story completely. Here’s why.
Ronstadt, who admits she doesn’t “follow social media very much, or the streaming services,” told The Times in an email that she didn’t hear about the role her song played in the series until her manager, John Boylan, called to tell her about it.
“My first reaction was that I was really glad for Gary White, who will get a windfall from this,” said Ronstadt, referring to the “Long Long Time” songwriter.
“Long Long Time” is featured on Ronstadt’s second album, “Silk Purse,” which was released in 1970. The song led to her first Grammy Award nomination, for a category then known as female contemporary vocal performance, in 1971.
The song “means a lot,” said Ronstadt. It’s “still one of my favorites.”
Her earliest memory of the song is of White playing it for her in the late 1960s after a Paul Siebel show at the Café Au Go-Go in Greenwich Village, which she attended on an invitation from fellow musician David Bromberg.
“Gary White was playing guitar with Paul,” said Ronstadt. “Afterwards, Gary played me ‘Long Long Time’ and I instantly wanted to record it.”
“That same night I also heard Siebel’s great song ‘Louise,’ which I also recorded,” she added, referring to another track on “Silk Purse.” “Eliot Mazur produced them both in Nashville with musicians from the Area Code 615 band. I sang the vocal live with the track at 10 o’clock in the morning, not an ideal time of day for singing!”
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In “The Last of Us” episode, Bill and Frank meet four years after a mysterious mutant cordyceps outbreak decimates humanity — not necessarily the ideal time for a meet-cute. A gun-toting, paranoid, self-described survivalist, Bill ignored the government’s attempt to evacuate the residents of his town and stayed behind to fortify his home on his own. One day, his blissfully solitary life is interrupted by Frank, who has fallen into one of Bill’s traps.
Against his better judgment, Bill lets the weary traveler into his compound. When Frank notices the piano in Bill’s home, he shuffles through the available sheet music until he comes across a book of Ronstadt’s songs. But Frank’s attempt to play “Long Long Time” — his favorite — is interrupted by Bill, who then sits down to perform his own heartbreaking rendition of the tune, baring a bit of his soul in the process.
The episode goes on to detail how the pair fall in love and, against all odds, live a happy life together. It’s a departure from the more tragic Bill and Frank story depicted in “The Last of Us” video game.
For Mazin, the episode was “a chance to show the kind of love that we don’t often see on television.”
“I’m not speaking, actually, specifically of two gay men in a committed relationship,” said Mazin. “I’m speaking of two human beings who have been in a committed relationship for a really long time. That’s a different kind of love than we usually see.
“I’ve been married for over 25 years and there’s this other thing that happens, there’s a very different kind of love,” Mazin continued. “I wanted to show that through the lens of Frank, who loves one way, and Bill, who loves another way. ... I thought it was important to show how a relationship could endure, and then conclude in a natural way. Because death is a perfectly natural thing to do.”
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