A Life: Meg Brazill; ‘She wasn’t like an experienced musician’

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    Meg Brazill and her bandmates in Los Microwaves perform at Danceteria in New York City, a photo featured in "Future Life" magazine in 1980. (Courtesy David Javelosa) Courtesy OF David Javelosa

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    The band Los Microwaves, from left, David Javelosa, Meg Brazill, and Todd "Rosa" Rosencrans in a 1979 promotional photo taken in San Francisco by the late Stephano Paolillo. (Courtesy David Javelosa)

  • Meg Brazill plays the bass while performing with her bandmates in Los Microwaves at Max's Kansas City in New York City in 1979. (Courtesy David Javelosa) Photographs courtesy Of David Javelosa

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 1/16/2022 6:40:43 PM
Modified: 1/17/2022 8:40:28 PM

Writing for the Dec. 23, 1979 edition of the San Francisco Chronicle, the music critic fairly gushed about the singer for Los Microwaves.

The trio, part of a riotous scene of bands playing punk and new wave in the Bay Area, offered its own brand of music that its members called, at various times, “electro-salsa pop” and “post-techno-primitive.”

The Chronicle’s critic called it, “some of the best dance music to come out of the new wave.”

The lead singer, whose name he misspelled, was “a slight, dark-haired beauty wielding a bass with the energetic attack of, say, Larry Graham,” who “sang like a more tuneful and down-to-earth Patti Smith.”

Graham was the bassist for Sly and the Family Stone, and Patti Smith was, and likely will forever be, Patti Smith.

And the singer the reviewer was ogling was Meg Brazill.

A fixture in the Upper Valley’s arts community since she moved to Woodstock in 1994, Brazill was best known as a reviewer of art and theater, and an arts administrator. But during a five-year stretch of her late 20s and early 30s, Brazill tapped into a frenetic music scene, toured the country, released an album and swayed audiences at some of the country’s most famous clubs.

“We were definitely one of the top gigging bands in the San Francisco scene, one of the few that had national exposure,” David Javelosa, the last surviving member of Los Microwaves, said last week.

Meg Brazill died Dec. 16 of a rare auto-immune disease that caused a rapid decline in health, her daughter, Sarah Callander said. She was 68.

Born on Christmas day in 1952, Brazill was the third of her parents’ four children, all daughters.

She grew up in Buffalo, N.Y., in a “typical middle-class family,” Linda Brazill, her eldest sister, said in a phone interview. Their father was a sales rep for a furniture manufacturer; their mother was a homemaker.

Though the family had an artistic streak running through it, there’s no real accounting for how all four daughters became involved in the arts.

“I think it’s kind of through our mom,” Linda Brazill said. “Our mom was Martha Stewart before Martha Stewart.”

She sewed and wallpapered, baked like a pastry chef and generally surrounded her girls with beauty.

Their father was “horrified,” that they went into the arts, and they all got teaching credentials in college to follow his advice that they have a profession to fall back on.

Meg studied theater at LeMoyne College and SUNY Brockport, where she earned her bachelor’s degree.

She acted in theater productions on both coasts, and it was her acting experience that led her to music.

In San Francisco, she and Javelosa were both working in arts administration and at one point were up for the same job. Javelosa saw a promotional postcard, in which Brazill was dressed as a musician, and also saw her in a theater performance. He suggested she give music a try.

She had already played some banjo, so she picked up a bass.

Her family was surprised at her foray in to music.

“I remember one year she showed up at Christmas with a little keyboard you could carry around,” Linda Brazill said. “Can she sing? Did we know this?”

But at the same time, “it was totally cool.”

Javelosa, who is grounded in music-making, and Brazill, with her background in theater, wrote songs together, and Todd Rosa, whose real last name was Rosencrans, played drums.

“She wasn’t like an experienced musician,” Callander said of her mother. “But there was just that period of time in the early ’80s, there was that experimental, DIY mentaility.”

The band started out in 1978, at a time when popular music was fragmenting in the wake of the Sex Pistols, Talking Heads and other acts bridling against the conformity and creeping technology of Western consumerism. Musicians had something to say and the means to make it loud. Devo’s first album came out in August 1978.

The Bay Area turned out punk bands like the Dead Kennedys and new wave bands like Romeo Void, and Los Microwaves were right there with them.

The 1979 piece in the San Francisco Chronicle, written by Michael Goldberg, who would go on to write for Rolling Stone, called the scene “a fascinating rock underground” at some of the city’s clubs.

“Because they usually don’t have a major record label behind them, these bands have difficulty getting heard on the radio or in the media,” Goldberg wrote. “Yet they are creating some of the most unusual sounds to be heard in the Bay Area since the psychedelic rock scene of the mid-to-late ’60s.”

Brazill and Javelosa started out playing parties and cycled through a few drummers before Rosencrans appeared. He had a rehearsal space, which helped them hone their sound. Within the first year, Los Microwaves recorded a single that helped them book club dates.

They went to New York in 1979 and booked a tour that fall, playing in New York and Philadelphia on borrowed equipment, Javelosa said.

Upon their return to San Francisco, they recorded another single and played more clubs. They played their first Los Angeles gig in the spring of 1980.

That summer, they bought a van and booked a cross-country tour. They also kept writing and recording original songs.

Their big year was 1981. They moved to New York, where Brazill got a job working in artist management. Their only studio album, Life After Breakfast, came out that fall, and that winter the professional agency they signed with sent them on a tour of the U.S., flying them to a dozen cities.

They opened for some of the biggest new wave and post-punk bands of the time, including Gang of Four, XTC and Bow Wow Wow. And they played such legendary venues as Max’s Kansas City in New York and the Whisky a Go Go in Los Angeles.

With her long limbs and features and dark hair, Brazill really did look a bit like Patti Smith’s heir, and a forerunner of PJ Harvey.

“She really brought some of her theatrical energy to it,” Callander said.

As much fun as it was to perform, and party, their way around the country, it was too much, Javelosa said.

“At that point, we were still pretty young,” he said. “Even then, I had this itching feeling that it was unsustainable.”

The touring was exhausting and left little creative energy for writing new material.

Los Microwaves kept touring on both coasts through 1982. Brazill kept working in artist management, including with such luminaries as Phillip Glass and Laurie Anderson. The band played its last show at New York’s Danceteria in Spring 1983.

“It just seemed like a natural time to retire the concept,” Javelosa said.

Brazill and Javelosa also recorded and performed with another band, Baby Buddha, and she recorded solo as Maria de Janeiro.

Brazill met her husband in New York and after a time in Los Angeles, where she studied film at Loyola Marymount University, they moved to South Woodstock with their infant daughter, Sarah. In the Upper Valley, Brazill served as executive director of Woodstock’s Pentangle Council on the Arts and worked at the Hopkins Center for the Arts in Hanover. She wrote reviews for Art New England, Seven Days and the Valley News, among other outlets.

While a band might end, its recordings live on, and new listeners have encountered Los Microwaves over the years. There are a couple of Facebook pages that Javelosa maintains, and the music, including some concert clips, is out there on YouTube for anyone to find.

“Sometimes, she would get fan mail, even from people in Europe,” said Callander, who graduated from Woodstock Union High School and now works as a legislative correspondent in the Washington D.C. office of Sen. Patrick Leahy.

Los Microwaves re-united for a show at Woodstock’s Town Hall Theatre in 2005, and again in 2014, four years after Rosencrans’ death. A small label, Dark Entries, rereleased Life After Breakfast that year, too, and Javelosa, who went on to a career producing music, particularly in the video game industry, put the band on YouTube.

“It’s just legacy,” Javelosa said. “We just gotta document everything that happened and keep moving.”

In a way, the intensity of being in the band was essential to who she was for the rest of her life. It was when she cemented herself in the arts.

“People always talked about how much she would light up when she talked about the band,” Callander said.

She carried that experience into her final days, at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. She started having symptoms only last spring, and wasn’t diagnosed until fall, Callander said. The auto-immune disease attacked her lungs.

“It just accelerated really quickly,” she said.

Though the speed of her final illness was a surprise, she wasn’t in pain and was present. She seemed at peace.

“She just felt very accomplished,” Callander said. “She felt she achieved things that other people maybe talk about but aren’t willing to try.”

Alex Hanson can be reached at ahanson@vnews.com or 603-727-3207.

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