In the summer of 1975, at the end of the 30-day mourning period for the Israeli pop singer Mike Brant, his mother Bronia and his younger brother Zvi flew to Paris. They wanted to bring Brant’s belongings – which were being held by his managers, Georges and Hubert Baumman, and his agent, Simon Weintraub – back to Israel. Brant, born Moshe Michael Brand in 1947 (he later changed his name to Brant), had risen to international fame after moving to France in his early 20s.
According to Zvi “Tzvika” Brand, even before their trip there, his mother suspected that Mike’s impresarios were dishonest and that she would have to fight them. “Mom wouldn’t agree to let me go alone,” he recalls today. “She said, ‘I have to be there. You aren’t strong enough to deal with those people. Those shoes are too big for you.’”
Bronia Brand’s suspicions proved to be accurate – as was seen in the disappearance of a fur coat that Brant had purchased shortly before his death. The Baumman brothers claimed the singer never paid for the coat, but the furrier who sold it to him confirmed that he had. There was also the incident involving an expensive painting that Brant had purchased. When Bronia and Zvi saw it in the apartment of one of the Baumman brothers in the 16th arrondissement, he said Brant had given it to him as a birthday gift.
“He said, ‘This is my last memento of Mike,’” says Brand. “Mom said, ‘Take a poster of Mike, frame it nicely, hang it on the wall, and then you’ll have a memento of Mike 24 hours a day. This memento belongs to his mother.’”
An even worse argument erupted in Weintraub’s office. Brand describes it as if it were a scene in a movie: “A large room, with a long table in the middle. Everything is gray – the walls, the furniture, the floor. There are Dali sculptures on the table. Weintraub enters with a Doberman. He tells my mother, ‘Madame Brand, I was like Mike’s father and mother here in Paris.’ Mom said, ‘Thank you very much.’ Then he went on, ‘We arranged a big funeral for Mike. It cost a lot of money. You need to share the cost and pay 70,000 francs.’
“My mother got upset. ‘That’s the first thing you have to say to me? “I was Mike’s father and mother, now give me money?” You aren’t ashamed? When a tragic event like this occurs – that’s what goes through your mind? Money?’
“Weintraub said, ‘Madame Brand, I’m a very powerful person in Paris. If you start up with me, it won’t end well for you.’ Then he began to laugh. Mom, who was a survivor of the Auschwitz concentration camp, said, ‘Listen, Weintraub, I’m a Holocaust survivor and I’m not afraid of you. I’ve seen people more powerful than you come to very bad ends. I’m going downstairs now. The reporters are waiting to hear from me.’
“Then Weintraub shouted at her, ‘Get out of here!’ She said, ‘No sir, I’m not leaving. This office also belongs to me, and I’ll decide when I’m leaving.’ He took his aide and his Doberman and left the room. We continued to sit there. The only person remaining in the room with us was the secretary. After half an hour I said, ‘Mom, let’s go.’ But she said, ‘Zvi, I want to keep sitting here.’
“When the secretary approached and said she had to close up the office, my mother asked her if she could bring us some bags. My mother went to the wall and began removing Mike’s golden records. I was shocked. ‘What are you doing?’ I asked, and she said, ‘This is Mike’s. It’s ours now.’ She took down six or seven records. The secretary stood off to the side, smiled and murmured, ‘Très bien, très bien.’ Then she ordered us a taxi and we left.”
First exhibition in Israel
Beginning Thursday, May 30, it will be possible to see the golden records Bronia Brand removed from Weintraub’s office. They and many other items will be on display as part of an exhibition at the Beit Meirov Gallery in Holon, titled “Moshe – Mike Brant, Superstar.” Curated by Rafi Vazana and Ilana Carmeli-Lenner, this is the fourth in a series of exhibitions showcasing Israeli cultural heroes that have been mounted as part of Holon’s Design Season (the first three were devoted to singers Ofra Haza, Svika Pick and Dana International).
Aside from the golden records, the exhibit features letters and documents, clothes and fashion accessories, pictures, video clips, fan albums and other items connected to Brant’s meteoric career in the 1970s. Most of the items were contributed by Zvi Brand. He notes that there are many items the family wasn’t able to retrieve and bring back to Israel after his brother’s death, which remained in the hands of Brant’s managers. “This was a huge career that ended in one small suitcase,” he said.
“Moshe” is the first-ever exhibition in this country about the singer, who actually was born in Cyprus but grew up in Israel. There was once a show about him France, where he lived, recorded songs and won mass acclaim, but it was mounted by Brant’s French fan club, not by an institution. The Paris municipality recently named a square in the 16th arrondissement after the singer. His brother says he’s still waiting for Haifa, the city where Brant grew up, to do the same.
Asked why he and Carmeli-Lenner decided to curate an exhibition on Brant, Vazana replies, “Eurovision just ended. Its slogan was ‘Dare to Dream.’ Mike Brant is a very significant example within Israeli culture of someone who dared and who sacrificed everything to realize a very clear goal – to be a successful singer.”
Adds Vazana: ‘Mike didn’t just want to make his voice heard. He didn’t want to be part of the industry. His ambition was to reach the top. Today, this may be normal, with all the instant stars. But at the time when Mike started out, in the late 1960s, this was an unusual view, certainly in Israel. And for this, he left everything – his country, the family that was a very significant part of his life. It was a very daring step.”
“Mike truly was daring,” Brand agrees. “You need a lot of confidence to do what he did. To come to France when you barely speak the language is crazy. But he was like that from a young age. I remember when he was a kid, he bought an Elvis Presley record. I don’t remember which one. Elvis was a huge singer, but there was a part of the song where he had trouble hitting the high notes. And then Mike, with incomprehensible daring, told me, ‘Zvi, I would have sung it better.’”
Brant’s daring, says curator Vazana, could be seen not just in terms of his dreams of becoming a star, but also in embarking on the process by which Moshe Brand of Haifa could reinvent himself as Mike Brant, French (and international) pop star.
Vazana: “Mike’s learning process is something that’s talked about less, perhaps because this trait is less familiar in our parts,” he said. “The fact that Mike got to where he did so quickly is closely connected to his studiousness. He studied, studied and studied. That something it’s worth shining a spotlight on. We ought to return to these values. That’s the ‘didactic’ reason for this exhibition.”
To Brant, being a star was “a combination of many things. Music, art, talent, but also a look, a style, a fashion and what today we call branding,” says the curator, adding that this is the reason that a significant part of the show is devoted to the design-fashion dimension of the singer’s life. His jeans suits, for example: “They were before their time. They originated in casual fashion but made it formal. Mike brought something light, young and rebellious to the most respected stages.”
One item in the Holon gallery that reflects an entirely different aspect of Brant’s career and artistry is his guitar. He is not identified with a guitar, always holding a microphone in one hand, but he was a guitarist (and bassist) and the one he played at home is also on show.
“The guitar symbolized his connection to the family, to a home atmosphere,” Vazana explains. “Home was very important in Mike’s story. The guitar sheds light on this point and presents another side of Mike, the one that contrasts with the elaborate clothing he wore at performances.”
Mike Brant committed suicide in Paris on April 25, 1975. Several months earlier he had tried to kill himself in Geneva; he traveled there to rest and undergo psychotherapy. Zvi Brand recalls how his brother’s agent, Weintraub, traveled to Geneva and told Brant he had to return to France to perform and record. Brant asked to for more time to rest. “He told Weintraub: ‘I don’t feel well. I’m ill. Don’t you understand that your money machine is broken?’” Brand says.
Shortly afterward Brant jumped from the sixth floor of a building; he fell to a lower floor and broke his leg. Brand says his brother asked for their mother to come from Israel immediately. She didn’t know what had happened: “When she arrived and saw him, he was tanned from the rest period in Geneva,” he says. “She said ‘Mike, you look fantastic.’ And then he started to cry.”
Brand: “For us it was a shock. I know today that if someone tried to commit suicide once, he will probably try again. Then we didn’t know. I spoke at the time to an Israeli doctor who told me, ‘There are good doctors in Switzerland, but there aren’t any doctors who know how to treat second-generation Holocaust survivors.’ We had this idea that she herself would travel there to treat Mike, but in the end that didn’t happen. And Mike made us feel that he was all right. He said, ‘I won’t do it again.’”
There are many people, Brand says, who believe that someone murdered Mike. “I believe that he committed suicide. I think a lot about his final recording. He stood in front of the microphone, with earphones, and recorded ‘Dis-Lui,’ one of his most beautiful songs. The next day at 11 A.M. he jumped to his death. Every time I hear that song, I’m in shock. When he stood there in the studio and sang with so much emotion, did he know that a few hours later he wouldn’t be alive? I think he knew.”