A gathering of music critics in 1973 including Nick Tosches, Lester Bangs and Cameron Crowe

In 1973 the cream of music critics gathered in Memphis to discuss a writers' union - with predictable results

On Memorial Way weekend in May 1973, more than a hundred of the leading rock writers of the day flew into Memphis, Tennessee, for 72 hours of music, discussion, and drunken disorderliness.

The First Annual National Association of Rock Writers' Convention, as it was billed, was a hair-brained scheme hatched by publicist John King and neophyte scribe Jon Tiven, then bankrolled to the tune of $40,000 by Stax Records and its subsidiary label, Ardent.

With the help of the late Greg Shaw, Tiven helped assemble a list of attendees that included Lester Bangs, Lenny Kaye, Cameron Crowe (now a Hollywood film director, whose Almost Famous was based on his days as a rock critic), Stanley Booth, Richard Meltzer, Nick Tosches and other illustrious/notorious contributors to the pages of Rolling Stone, Creem, Fusion etc. From the UK, meanwhile, flew a posse that included future rock prof Simon Frith and Pete 'Family Trees' Frame.

Remembered now chiefly for a live performance by Big Star, the convention was also an attempt to create a union of sorts to represent the interests of writers. However, the meetings were sparsely attended by said hacks, most of whom were more interested in coach trips to Graceland and the Schlitz brewery.

'1973 was a time in which the big record companies sucked up to rock writers and staged ever more gaudily expensive stunts to arrest their attention and grab some editorial,' recalls Disc 's Andrew Tyler. 'The convention was an example, posing as rock anthropology.'

Looking back fondly on the weekend, John King pleads innocence - and true love for the written word. 'I'd always loved music publications and I'd always appreciated writers,' he says. 'They had passion and they knew so much more than me.'

For the unholy trio of Bangs, Meltzer, and Tosches, the convention was little more than an excuse to drink heroically and behave appallingly. 'Bangs seemed like he was alternately on speed or downs, and Meltzer was drunk and later attempted to take off his pants while Big Star were playing,' remembered local writer Ross Johnson, aka Chester the Conger Eel.

For Cameron Crowe, then aged just 16, the National Association of Rock Writers collapsed almost as soon as it was formed. 'I think an election was held and a few rock writers were voted in as part of a "council",' he says. 'Bangs and Tiven were two of the bigwigs on the "council". It was the first time any of us were probably ever voted into anything, ever.'

'There was a move afoot to change the name of the National Association of Rock Writers to the National Association of Rock Critics,' says Pete Frame, then of ZigZag . 'The acronym would then have been NARC, giving it ironic drug-allusion status. In the end, it was changed to Rock Writers of the World. Ha!'

Such semantics took a back seat to the Stax/Ardent party at Lafayette's Music Room, which was stolen by Memphis' own Big Star. 'That was the big event of the weekend for most of us,' says Crowe. 'There were more big name rock critics in one place at one time than ever before or since. This was the embodiment of every band's greatest dream or fear - the whole audience was rock writers!'

After the throng had scattered on the Sunday, there was little of lasting value achieved by John King's event. 'I know there were many promises to make the convention a yearly thing, but everybody knew at the time that this would probably be it,' says Crowe.

'My favourite report on the convention was in Rock magazine,' King chuckles. 'The headline said, simply, "Rock Writers Convene, Find Each Other Absurd".'

A 4,000-word oral history of the Rock Writers' Convention, featuring reminiscences from many of the attendees, can be found on www.rocksbackpages.com

Barney Hoskyns

The GuardianTramp

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