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Calendar Goes to the OSCARS : Springsteen Closes Rock Music Gap : Pop music: For the first time in 40 years of rock 'n' roll, Hollywood gives the best song Oscar to a pure rock songwriter for 'Streets of Philadelphia.'


Welcome, Oscar, to the rock 'n' roll era.

Forty years after the recording debut of Elvis Presley, a best song Oscar was awarded to a pure rock songwriter--Bruce Springsteen--for the first time. Too bad they didn't have a second Oscar for Neil Young.

It was a magical moment when Springsteen stood in his tuxedo jacket at center stage and sang "Streets of Philadelphia," the touching ballad about a man whose body is being destroyed by AIDS:

I walked the avenue 'til

My legs felt like stone

I heard the voices of friends

Vanished and gone

The song not only set the mood in Jonathan Demme's film, "Philadelphia," where it was played over the opening credits, but the simplicity of its presentation Monday night brought a chilling, topical urgency to the Oscar telecast.

As powerful as it was, Young--whose title song from the same film was also nominated--nearly matched the drama with an equally heartfelt rendition of his own song.

Sitting at the piano, Young captured in his near-falsetto voice the heartache of someone refusing to surrender his dignity or hope:

Sometimes I think that I know

What love's all about

And when I see the light

I know I'll be all right.

It was most fitting when Springsteen, in accepting his Oscar, said, "Neil, I'm gonna share this with you."

Before we think that Springsteen's victory is a turning point in the Oscars/rock gap, here's a sobering thought: Take away Springsteen and Young's six minutes, and what did we have? Pretty much Oscar music as usual.

Janet Jackson sang "Again," the ballad she wrote with James Harris II and Terry Lewis for "Poetic Justice," with intimacy and class. Still, the song is fairly conventional.

Dolly Parton and James Ingram did their best to inject some life into "The Day I Fall in Love," but the song is fairly undistinguishable from 400,000 others in the same gushy genre. As if the song from "Beethoven's 2nd" weren't sentimental enough, the telecast added scenes from old dog movies. Arf .

Keith Carradine also tried his best to bring out the charm in "A Wink and a Smile," but the cutesy song by Marc Shaiman and Ramsey McLean is also in worn-out Hollywood tradition. This time, the supporting film clips showed various film stars winking at the camera. Barf .

Hopefully, the impact of Springsteen and Young's music in "Philadelphia" and on the telecast will serve as a bridge between Hollywood and the rock community.

The closest the Oscar voters have gotten to honoring rock in the past was best original song score awards to the Beatles in 1970 for "Let It Be" and to Prince in 1984 for "Purple Rain."

It's no wonder, then, that rock artists have been suspicious for years of Hollywood, sensing producers simply wanted to exploit the artists to attract a young audience.

When Demme reached out to Springsteen and Young, however, he did so with purpose and respect. And their responses validated Demme's decision. The celebration of that partnership with an Oscar on Monday night was a sign that Hollywood 'n' rock is an idea whose time has come.

Better late than never.

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