It's been a 'Long, Long Time' for Linda Ronstadt — whose hit song transforms 'The Last of Us'

"The Last of Us" may have had its "Stranger Things" moment early, in the third episode of its initial season. The bump that the Netflix show gave to a song, Kate Bush's classic "Running Up That Hill (Deal with God)," which played for quite a long time during a pivotal moment for the characters, was echoed by HBO's new zombie series. The song in "The Last of Us" was Linda Ronstadt's 1970 hit "Long, Long Time" and it was less of a moment and more a whole episode keyed around the ballad. Titled after the song, the bottle episode introduces the characters of Bill (Nick Offerman) and Frank (Murray Bartlett), their love story, its beginning and its end.

It remains to be seen whether the emotional episode will do for Ronstadt what "Stranger Things" did for Bush (and to a lesser extent, Metallica, whose banger "Master of Puppets" also played during a climactic moment), but searches for Ronstadt skyrocketed after the episode aired. Her name trended on Twitter, and U.S. streams of the song increased by a stunning 4,900% in one hour alone, according to Spotify.

What's the song, why was this one chosen for the show and what happened to Ronstadt, often called the "First Lady of Rock"?

Born into an Arizona ranching family, Ronstadt became the lead singer of a folk-rock group, the Stone Poneys, in the 1960s. Her first album as a solo artist, 1969's "Hand Sewn . . . Hand Grown" is commonly referred to as the first alt-country release by a woman artist. She released her second album only a year later. That album, "Silk Purse" contains the track used by "The Last of Us."

"Long, Long Time" was a song Ronstadt allegedly had to persuade her record company to include.

"Long, Long Time" is the first song on the album's B-side. Written by Gary White, a Texas artist whom Ronstadt duets with on another song on the album, "Louise," "Long, Long Time" was a song Ronstadt allegedly had to persuade her record company to include. It would end up being the first charting hit for her solo career.

The lyrics of "Long, Long Time" paint the picture of a love that didn't work out but will forever burn in the singer's heart: "And I think I'm gonna love you for a long, long time." In the context of the episode, in which two older men find love near the end of their lives — a story, rare on television, that deserves to be told – lyrics like "Wait for the day / You'll go away / Knowing that you warned me of the price I'd have to pay," take on even deeper resonance.

The single of "Long, Long Time" stayed on the Billboard's Hot 100 chart for 12 weeks, though it never reached the top spot. It was also responsible for Ronstadt's first Grammy nomination; in 1971 she was nominated for Best Contemporary Female Vocal Performance for "Long, Long Time." (Her first Grammy win would come five years later.)

Bill stops him — "not that song" — takes over the piano and plays it soulfully, with obvious deep love and experience.

"The Last of Us" co-creator Craig Mazin told IndieWire he knew there would be a song in the episode that two characters would play: one badly and one surprisingly well and true. The song needed "to be this incredibly sad song about yearning for love, and never getting love, and just making your peace with the fact that you will always be alone." Mazin sought the help of a friend, Sirius XM host Seth Rudetsky, whose first and only suggestion was "Long, Long Time." Mazin said, "The whole idea was to hit the highlights of moments in your life where love means something different."

Long Long Time

In "The Last of Us," the song first plays in an amateur version. In flashbacks, we see the beginning of the outbreak that will devastate and alter the world of the show. Bill, who describes himself as a survivalist, is holed up in his fortified house and escapes detection by soldiers. Frank falls into one of Bill's booby-traps after years of Bill living a safe — and totally solitary — life. When Bill reluctantly feeds the stranger, and feeds him well, Frank attempts to repay the hospitality by playing a song on Bill's baby grand piano. He chooses a songbook by Ronstadt from the piano bench storage, correctly assuming the book is Bill's. Frank tries an awkward and off-key version of "Long, Long Time."

Bill stops him — "not that song" — takes over the piano and plays it soulfully, with obvious deep love and experience of the heartache the song describes so well. The song doesn't play again, its real, recorded version until the very end of the episode, when main characters Joel and Ellie drive off into the sunset, literally. Ellie, while not understanding airplanes, cars or seat belts, somehow figures out a cassette tape deck and pushes play. Ronstadt's resonant voice fills the car, the deserted road. Curtains from the house's open window move in the breeze to its bittersweet lyrics.

Like Bush (for whom "Running Up That Hill" was unbelievably her only No. 1 hit song), Ronstadt went on to a long and stellar career. After a dozens of Grammys and albums that sold over 100 million copies, she announced her retirement in 2011 for health reasons.

Ronstadt was first diagnosed with Parkinson's Disease but that diagnosis was later changed to progressive supranuclear palsy, a Parkinson's-like disorder caused by the deterioration of brain cells controlling thinking, movement and coordination. It's a rare condition and one which impacts her ability to sing out loud. She told USA Today in 2022, "I can sing in my brain."

Meanwhile the world, and perhaps new listeners drawn by the show, will love her voice for a long, long time.

Horror stories of that holiday favorite 'The Nutcracker'

It was over before it even really began. At 16 years old, in ballet company practice, I watched a childhood dream crumble before me in the floor-to-ceiling mirrors as my knee crumbled, dislocating to the horror of the dancers all around me. I wasn't doing anything strenuous when I suffered the injury that would knock me out of ballet forever. I was simply standing at the barre, warming up, something I did every day as I rehearsed with my company for hours.

But every night, I was performing in "The Nutcracker," and had been practicing the ballet for weeks. And that, as it turns out, is a lot.

"The Nutcracker" is a holiday tradition, as Christmas-y for many people as cookies, presents and trees. It's something to do, an excuse to dress up and expose the family to culture. It's also a long, gruelingly intense ballet with multiple set changes and many performers, including a whole host of young children as party guests, a bunch of rats, and in the case of The Joffrey Ballet production, dancing walnuts.

The seasonal story of a girl named Clara who's given a nutcracker doll by her Uncle Drosselmeyer, which Pyotr Tchaikovsky debuted in 1892 in St. Petersburg, Russia, is a cash cow for theaters and ballet companies. You must do a "Nutcracker." It's one of the few ballets that the average non-ballet fan might recognize, let alone attend.

In 2019 the New York City Ballet earned over $15.3 million in ticket sales from "The Nutcracker," as Town & Country wrote, describing the ballet as "the company's most lucrative production." In 2017, The Economist reported that "The Nutcracker" can be responsible for up to 45% of the annual revenue of a ballet company and "you can see at least one version in every state." There are so many "Nutcrackers," it's hard to keep track of them all.

And still, it's not enough. Ohio's BalletMet does a lottery for tickets for students. This year, "Nutcracker" need may be especially high due to the pandemic, which saw many performances canceled or go virtual the first few years of COVID. To keep up with demand and get that dough from ticket sales, dancers must do quite a few performances of "The Nutcracker"— and here's where the trouble may start. Because "The Nutcracker"? It's trouble.

Dance is a rigorous sport as much as an art, and dancers are serious athletes who are no strangers to injury. "The Nutcracker" has seen a lot of them. Dancer James Whiteside had a patellar tendon disconnect while performing the ballet in 2021. He had already done two performances but was added to another matinee after a dancer become ill. In 2016, Nicole Ciapponi danced in The Joffrey Ballet's "Nutcracker" with her pointe shoes hiding the heavy scar tissue on her ankle from where a surgical screw was taken out. The screw had kept her foot in place, due to a Lisfranc injury, but as USA Today wrote, the screw "caused Ciapponi to limp, so she had it removed."

We're masters of making it all seem beautiful, hiding even the fact that we're breathing.

Accidents in "The Nutcracker" are so common there are injuries named after the ballet. A nutcracker fracture is a foot fracture of the cuboid bone. A 2015 issue of the professional publication "Journal of Dance Medicine & Science" contains a case study of a ballerina who suffered a nutcracker fracture while in "The Nutcracker."

You may have seen a dancer injured on stage without realizing it. Certainly, you've seen one in pain because we're masters of making it all seem beautiful, hiding even the fact that we're breathing (perhaps one of the reasons in my post-ballet life I have failed spectacularly at doing yoga, which is all about the breath).

During another "Nutcracker" performance, before my injury, I was in the wings backstage watching older girls perform "The Waltz of the Snowflakes." I remember thinking how beautiful and perfect they looked, exactly what I aspired to be. When the dance ended, they drifted off stage, silent and floaty in their gossamer tutus, and I watched in horror as one of the dancers, my friend, fell onto the floor, sobbing. She had been kicked hard in the stomach by another dancer's toe shoe, the slipper with a block of hard board in the toe that allows ballerinas to stand en pointe. The injury was bad, and she had been holding it in, continuing to dance.

Toe shoes are responsible for the blood in slippers. Toward the end of my time as a dancer, new gel inserts to pad the tips of toe shoes, separating bare feet from the packed layers of hard board forming a "box" which allows dancers to stand up on their toes, started to come on the market. We thought they were very fancy, and they were hard to find. We used cotton to try to cushion our feet, which would have to be peeled from our bloodied toes at the end of practice and performances.

A ballerina friend lost toenails. When I danced in "The Waltz of the Flowers," my costume included a high collar of wire-stiffened petals around my neck, which left welts. The Washington Post once described "The Nutcracker" as "a marathon of pain." The legendary ballerina Gelsey Kirkland, who danced "The Nutcracker" many times, including opposite Mikhail Baryshnikov, titled her autobiography "Dancing on my Grave."

One of the tall, movable set pieces had been placed too close to the overhead lights and was on fire.

Then there are the accidents and calamities that come standard with showbiz. I continued performing after I stopped dancing, and Christmas shows, perhaps because of the frantic nature of the holidays, or the rush of the crowds, or the pressure, seem to be especially perilous. I have fond memories of being a member of the Cratchit family in "A Christmas Carol" production and our teamwork when we realized one of the tall, movable set pieces had been placed too close to the overhead lights and was on fire. We adjusted it while not breaking character.

It's not just that "The Nutcracker" has a lot of cast members — who have sometimes become ill with things such as the norovirus and spread it like an en pointe plague; I caught the chicken pox performing in a Christmas show — it has a lot of sets too, moving pieces that can move the wrong way. Or not move at all. And the snow. A key magical moment of many "Nutcracker" productions is when snow falls from the sky onto the stage floor, as if it has been conjured by Bing Crosby.

But anything on the floor of the stage when you dance is bad news. Sometimes the floor itself is bad news. Dancing for a school assembly once, my dance company realized only after we had arrived that the floor was solid concrete. It would be murder on our not-cheap shoes and on our feet.

Stage snow can be made of paper, treated to be non-flammable (remember those "Christmas Carol" lights), or shredded plastic, which a dancer with the Oregon Ballet Theatre said gets "stuck in your fake eyelashes." The snow usually needs to move about the stage, so it might be blown by industrial fans. "You can inhale it," the dancer told Oregon Live, "so you try very hard not to cough until you get off stage."

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Fake snow can cause slips and falls, just like real snow can. It's slick under satin, leather or canvas ballet shoes, and it's unpredictable. It can also be expensive. Or maybe the theater where I danced was trying to be thrifty, environmentally friendly, when they swept up the snow at the end of every performance and gathered into great bags to be reused at the next show. By the end of the production's run, the snow was starting to show some wear. Stagehands had swept up other items with the snow that made its way into the bags and down from sky, like dust and rubber bands. One dancer got something in her contact lens.

And then there was the night a wire coat hanger fell from the sky, like a giant Joan Crawford snowflake, and banged a ballerina in the face. She kept dancing.

Groundbreaking author of beloved book 'Julie & Julia' has died

Julie Powell, author of the bestselling and beloved book, "Julie and Julia: My Year of Cooking Dangerously," has died from cardiac arrest at the age of 49, according to the New York Times.

Powell first rose to prominence as a food writer after she made the decision to chronicle her year cooking all 524 recipes from her mother's copy of Julia Child's "Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Volume 1." It wasn't going to be an easy road. Powell was an untrained home cook and, as she put it in the book she wrote about her project, her kitchen was located on top of "the rotting floorboards of [her] 'fixer-upper' 'loft.'"

That didn't deter Powell, however, from diving into the preparation of dishes like Filets de Poisson de Bercy aux Champignons, Poulet Rôti, Champignons à la Grecque, Carottes à la Concierge and even a Crème Brûlée. She wrote about it all in her blog — a dishy, wickedly funny and, sometimes, a little vulgar series of posts she eventually called The Julie/Julia Project — which originally debuted on Salon in 2002.

"I'd written about all of it, my mistakes and my minor triumphs," Powell wrote in her book. "People — a couple of friends, a couple of strangers, even my aunt Sukie from Waxahachie — had written in to the blog to root me on."

Over the next year, Powell's audience grew exponentially. At the time, Salon reported that the blog had accumulated over 400,000 page views.

"I remember it being well-regarded, but not the juggernaut it became after the book," said Salon senior writer Mary Elizabeth Williams, who previously managed Open Salon, the platform that hosted Powell's blog. "This was also pre-Slack, pre-Zoom, so as a team, a lot of people didn't even know about it. And I think the people who read Salon weren't seeking a woman writing about her home cooking."

"She truly made her own lane," Williams added. "We were lucky enough to be the conduit."

Following the success of the blog, she sold the book to Little, Brown & Company, and went on to sell more than a million copies. In 2009, Nora Ephron turned Powell's story into a movie starring Meryl Streep as Julia Child, Stanley Tucci as Paul Streep and Amy Adams as Powell.

Julia Child, who died in 2004, never saw the film, but she was aware of Powell's project. As Russ Parsons revealed for the Los Angeles Times in 2009, he had sent Child some excerpts from the blog while she was still living. When Parsons inquired what Child thought, she apparently hesitated for a moment before responding, "Well, she just doesn't seem very serious, does she?"

Child continued: "I worked very hard on that book. I tested and retested those recipes for eight years so that everybody could cook them. And many, many people have. I don't understand how she could have problems with them. She just must not be much of a cook."

But it was exactly Powell's wit and authenticity that drew in many readers to whom classic tomes like "Mastering the Art of French Cooking" did seem inaccessible. Powell's blog, in turn, became a template for much contemporary food writing.

Powell went on to release a second book in 2009, "Cleaving: a Story of Marriage, Meat, and Obsession." It detailed her faltering marriage which had been impacted by infidelity (a tough pill to swallow for many fans who had become acquainted with Powell via Ephron's sunshiny depiction of the marriage) and how she found solace apprenticing in an old-school butcher shop called Fleisher's.

While that was Powell's last book, she did continue to write. Most recently, she returned to Salon to write a series of commentary pieces about the Food Network series "The Julia Child Challenge.'"

"As a long-time fan of Julie's writing, I was personally thrilled when she agreed to return to Salon and recap 'The Julia Child Challenge' for us earlier this year," said Erin Keane, Salon's editor in chief. "Her bond with Julia Child, as a fan and a cook, was unique and yet still relatable. Who knew better than Julie the joys and pressures of cooking those legendary recipes in the public eye? Who else would hear Julia's voice in her head, as she put it, quite in the same way? Just as Julia changed cooking in the home from her own kitchen, Julie changed how we write about it from hers."

Chris Rock's history of Jada Pinkett Smith jokes, hair commentary and disability

On Sunday's Oscar broadcast, actor Will Smith approached the stage and slapped comedian Chris Rock in the face as he stood on stage, shortly after Rock had joked about Smith's wife, actor Jada Pinkett Smith. The incident was broadcast live at the 94th Academy Awards, a ceremony that saw several firsts, including the first deaf actor to win a Best Supporting Actor Oscar (Troy Kotsur for CODA) and the first openly queer woman of color to win an acting Oscar (Ariana DeBose for "West Side Story").

The incident caused confusion in the moment, and is the ongoing topic of debate. But beyond dissecting who was at fault, there's also the question of what in the comedian's comment caused such a furor.

Salon dug into the full context of Rock's history mocking Pinkett Smith, her condition of alopecia and possibly even Rock's own issues. Here's what we saw — and what happened in the years before to lead to that moment.

Unpacking Rock's Oscar comment

In the last hour of the ceremony, Rock, who was presenting onstage, made a joke about Pinkett Smith's hair: "I love you," he said. "'G.I. Jane 2,' can't wait to see it." In 1997's "G.I. Jane," Demi Moore plays a woman who is in a rigorous Navy SEAL program and dramatically shaves her head on camera. Pinkett Smith experiences alopecia, an autoimmune disease that causes hair loss, and her head is currently shaved.

Watch the moment via YouTube.

Will Smith slaps Chris Rock at the Oscars after joke at wife Jada Pinkett Smith's expense | ABC7

Alopecia, and hair loss in general, disproportionally impacts Black women. "Listen to Black disabled women right now," Sami Schalk, author of "Black Disability Politics" wrote on Twitter. Pinkett Smith has been public about her alopecia since 2018, when she first mentioned the diagnosis during her family's series, "Red Table Talk." Pinkett Smith described the disease as "terrifying."

Finding handfuls of hair falling out during the shower, "I was literally shaking in fear. That's why I cut my hair, and why I continue to cut it."

She posted a video of her shaved head on Instagram in late 2021, writing, "Mama's gonna have to take it down to the scalp so nobody thinks she got brain surgery or something." U.S. Representative Ayanna Pressley, a Democrat representing Massachusetts, has also been open about her own experiences with alopecia, revealing her bald head on camera in a video interview with The Root, where she said she felt she had to be public about the disease because she "owed all those little girls an explanation."

Rock's history of mockery and hair commentary

This is not the first time Rock has joked about Pinkett Smith. In 2016, again at the Oscars, where Rock was hosting, the comedian said, "Jada boycotting the Oscars is like me boycotting Rihanna's panties. I wasn't invited." That was the last time Rock hosted the Oscars. Rock joked Pinkett Smith had skipped the event due to the lack of diversity in the awards and also in his opening monologue said Pinkett Smith was mad because of her husband's lack of a nomination that year.

Oddly enough, Rock also has a history of talking about Black women's hair. In 2009, Rock produced and starred in a documentary called "Good Hair," where he interviewed celebrities about the importance of hair in Black culture, visiting salons, hair stylist competitions and more. The documentary was inspired, as he said, by his young daughter's question: "Daddy, how come I don't have good hair?" He said it was a watershed moment for him in understanding the stigma of Black women and girls' hair, though reviews of the documentary were mixed, including a review by The Root that states: "While Rock's foray into the tangled web of Black women and their hair, is indeed very, very funny, very, very outrageous, and at times very, very revealing, there are two things that he does not bring to the conversation: Context and compassion."

In a piece published after this year's Oscars, The Independent wrote that Rock "undermined everything with one joke."

"To minimize the work Jada had done to bring attention to alopecia — and to minimize the work he himself had done supposedly in pursuit of de-stigmatizing hair issues for Black women — was a horrible misstep for Rock," Victoria Gagliardo-Silver wrote.

Rock and disability

Rock himself went public about being disabled less than two years ago, revealing to The Hollywood Reporter that he had been recently diagnosed with Nonverbal Learning Disorder (NVLD). According to the article, "His decision to seek meaningful help for the first time in his life was precipitated by a friend's suggestion that he may have Asperger's." At the time of the interview, Rock was in therapy seven hours a week.

According to Psychology Today, NVLD is a neurological condition that can include "trouble comprehending nonverbal information such as body language and facial expressions." Immediately in the wake of Smith slapping Rock onstage, some questioned how Rock didn't see him coming, or understand when Smith rose from his chair and approached the comedian that something confrontational was going to happen.

Rock spoke candidly about NVLD and his difficulty with communication and nonverbal signals in the THR interview, saying "All I understand are the words," and "I thought I was actually dealing with it, and the reality is I never dealt with it."

As of yet, neither of the parties involved have commented publicly on the Oscar incident. Neither has Pinkett Smith. The Los Angeles Police Department said in a statement that Rock declined to file a police report. Will Smith did win the Oscar — becoming only the fifth Black actor to do so — not long after the altercation. In his emotional acceptance speech, Smith apologized to the Academy and fellow nominees, and said, "This is a beautiful moment, and I'm not crying for winning an award. It's not about winning an award for me."