Two years ago to this very day, Seth Rudetsky, the Broadway composer, musician, podcaster, host of a show on SiriusXM radio, fundraiser, musical cruise host, conveyer of pop culture trivia and, now, “source music consultant,” received a text from Craig Mazin, the screenwriter, director and producer. Mazin was friends with Ted Griffin, who is married to Sutton Foster, who knows, as does seemingly everybody else in musical theater, Rudetsky.
“I get this text,” Sudetsky remembers, “in all capital letters, saying IT’S EMMY AND GOLDEN GLOBE AWARD WINNING CRAIG MAZIN. STOP WHAT YOU’RE DOING. I NEED YOUR HELP.”
Specifically, Mazin needed a song for a TV episode he was working on, a show tune along the lines of “I Miss The Music” from the 2006 Kander & Ebb musical Curtains, only older.
If you’ve seen the third episode of HBO’s The Last Of Us, the post-apocalyptic drama created by Mazin and Neil Druckmann (based on a 2013 video game), you’ll know where this is headed. (If you haven’t seen it yet, stop reading.)
On January 29, the episode titled “Long, Long Time” debuted. Named after the heartbreaker of a song recorded by Linda Ronstadt back in 1970, the ballad played an integral part in a very unusual, very moving change-of-pace episode that largely shifted away from the main characters’ derring-do storyline to introduce a survivalist named Bill (Nick Offerman) and a stranger, at first, named Frank (Murray Bartlett). In a twist that’s fair to say few saw coming, the two men fall in love and live out their lives together, far away from the decimated and deadly outside world.
In one early scene, the two men, having just met, discover a shared love of the old Ronstadt song (written by Gary White). As the episode unspools over a span of years, to an inevitable and poignant end, Ronstadt’s “Long, Long Time” plays us out. Within an hour, Spotify says, streams of the song jumped a massive 4,900%. Ronstadt, who retired from performing and, largely, the public spotlight in 2011 due to a diagnosis of progressive supranuclear palsy, a Parkinson’s-like disease for which there is no known cure, told Billboard, “I still love the song and I’m very glad that Gary will get a windfall.”
Deadline spoke by phone to Rudetsky today – he was just off the coast of Honduras, aboard one of the cruise ships where he and James Wesley, his husband and partner in the Stars in the House podcast, host Seth’s Big Fat Broadway Vacations. Rudetsky had just posted one of his musical “deconstructions” on YouTube examining “Long Long Time” (watch it below) and filled us in on how he came to receive a consulting credit on one of HBO’s hottest programs, and why Ronstadt’s recording remains as musically vital today as it was 53 years ago.
Let’s pick up where Mazin had texted Rudetsky, searching for just the right show tune for his upcoming series.
Craig said, “I need a song like ‘I Miss the Music’ from Curtains, but ideally something a bit older, a song a man would probably sing about a girl, a song that has that beautiful longing in it for someone who he can’t have or someone who is gone.
And he said it had to be a show tune. So I first thought of “Her Face” from Carnival! And then he listened to it and he wrote, Oh my God, you’re an effing genius. That’s perfect. And then I said, I have more if you want. He said, send me more, so I sent him more.
But then he said, all right, here is the secret sauce: It’s got to be a song that a man could sing about a girl, but also possibly about a man who is in the closet. And that’s when I wrote, well, no then, you can’t use the one from Carnival! – it’s called “Her Face”, so that can’t happen.
So then he sent me the scenario. A closeted man sings a show tune and another man who is not in the closet listens and knows, wait, that’s not you singing to a girl. So I said, all right, well, my favorite devastating song is “Long, Long Time.” [Later] he wrote, “Oh my god, this song!” And that was it.
That was Feb. 3, two years ago, and then I really just forgot about it. I mean, it was just like one of our regular text exchanges. Then this week I started getting contacted by all these people saying, Oh my God, thank you for the song! And I was like, what? I didn’t see the episode because – and this is so showbiz – I was doing a concert with Chita Rivera. You know, just a concert with Broadway legend Chita Rivera.
So I didn’t know what was happening. And it was so kind of Craig to mention me in an interview because this episode has struck such an emotional note around the world. Like, every single journalist has picked it up. I’ve been in the business for 25 years and I’ve never gotten such amazing publicity. It’s been so wonderful and so crazy because, like, I don’t know why I’m getting the credit – I didn’t write the song, I didn’t sing the song. It’s like when my mother goes, “Oh, I discovered Bette Midler because I saw her on The Mike Douglas Show.” And I’m going, You discovered Bette Midler? Well, thank you so much.
I’ve always really loved “Long, Long Time,” and this makes me really happy because basically my whole career is to make people realize who is talented and who is amazing. I feel like my whole radio show [on SiriusXM’s On Broadway] is me saying, “Oh my God, you have to hear how great this is!” I’ve loved that song for so many years and it makes me so happy that now everyone is saying, This song is amazing. And I’m like, I know.
And I’m also very happy that this big focus on me from the episode has been for a song that’s not from Broadway. As much as I love Broadway, I love so many other things. I just love talented people. There’s a line in Wicked, when Madame Morrible says something like “I can spot talent, that’s my talent,” and I think, well, that’s not an actual talent. But the point my favorite thing is telling people, “Do you understand how amazing this thing is?”
ON THE EMOTIONAL RESONANCE OF “LONG, LONG TIME”
“Long, Long Time” has beautiful chord changes, and that really is [songwriter] Gary White, just stunning chord changes. And then on top of that is Linda Ronstadt’s performance, which is a combination of being incredibly emotionally vulnerable when her voice is soft and then the [big] emotional cry. And it’s not just belting, it’s emotional. It’s like in Yiddish a geschrei, or what Irish people might call keening. It’s an emotional cry.
And the lyrics. To me, there are all different levels of rejection, but the worst I think is maybe when a person doesn’t even acknowledge you. Like when Linda sings, “I never drew one response from you” and “I can’t say you hurt me when you never let me near.” She is begging this person to just acknowledge her even in order to reject her. It’s the lowest form of rejection, and I think we can all identify with that. A person wrote to me and said, “I’m a gay person and it’s like when you’re in love with a straight man and you know he’s never going to be interested in you.” I think everyone has their version of that.
ON WHETHER RONSTADT’S RETIREMENT ADDS ADDITIONAL POIGNANCE
That makes me too sad to think about. I really hope that’s not why the song is getting attention, because I’m just so, so happy that she’s getting this love. It actually makes me cry when you asked that. I hope people are just loving how talented she is. I don’t like speaking in absolutes, so I don’t like saying she’ll never sing again because to me you don’t know. So what I really hope is that people are just appreciating her incredible talent and the fact that she’s still alive and there’s something so joyful in telling a person who is still around “You’re incredible and you’ve made this impact on me.”
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