Shmulik Kraus: A genius

Almost every song that he composed for himself, or for others, contains the same unique Kraus-like quality that made him who he is.

Shmulik Kraus 370 (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Shmulik Kraus 370
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
There really wasn’t just one Shmulik Kraus, it’s not just that different people saw different aspects of his complex personality.
Sometimes it was the same people who experienced a variety of Shmulik’s personality traits. Shlomo Mizrahi, the Electric Stage’s guitarist, says, “Shmulik was an amazing person.
Warm. If he loved you, he gave you everything.”
And other people have said, “It was scary being near him. Sometimes he was unpredictable. If you said something that set him off, he’d react harshly. Sometimes with an insult, and sometimes with a slap on the cheek.”
Actor and TV personality Tal Friedman describes him accurately.
“Kraus was a true rock ’n’roll artist until the end. The caresses and the blows, the cheerfulness and the depression. The black years when he didn’t write or compose anything, and then all of a sudden he’d have these amazing bursts of creativity.”
Kraus was a unique figure on the local music scene, a world in which everyone tried to get along with each other, not to insult or annoy each other.
It is said that God does not choose who receives special talents. This has been true throughout history. We, as fans of great art, tend to attribute positive qualities to artists who delight and excite us. But it is not necessarily guaranteed that those who receive the golden touch of creative genius will also be good to themselves, their families, and their communities.
Kraus embodied every possible quality. It is hard for us to fathom how, sometimes, the same person who composed such wonderful songs with infinite tenderness, wondrous and thrilling songs such as, “Zahava Doll,” “Early summer days,” “Elisheva is so nice,” and “Return,” would, with that same gentle hand, make a fist and hurt those who loved him.
But this is life and we must deal with the facts of life to the best of our abilities and always remember that Kraus, the genius composer who changed the course of Israeli music with just one album, The High Windows, was a sick man who suffered from mental illness most of his life.
Shmulik Kraus was born on July 1, 1935, in Jerusalem’s Nahalat Ahim neighborhood.
He was the eldest of four brothers. His mother, Rosa, was a housewife, and his father, Musa, a driver.
Kraus began his career in the arts as a tap dance teacher. Following his military service in the Israeli Navy, he worked as a sailor for a merchant fleet.
Only later did he discover his love of, and talent for, music.
One day, while he was with his fellow sailors at a pub called The Anchor, a friend asked him to hold his guitar, and from that moment the guitar became a part of Kraus.
He began composing in the late 50s (with “The Arava house,” in memory of his father who was active in the founding of Kibbutz Beit HaArava) and in the early 60s he met Josie Katz, who had made aliya from the US with her Jewish- American youth group.
Kraus and Katz married, and together with Arik Einstein founded the band, The High Windows, in 1966.
Kraus composed all of the band’s songs, soft Hebrew folkrock that was innovative for the time.
“Venus singer,” “Golden Doll,” “You can’t,” “The entire week is for you,” “First Love,” “Yechezkel,” (which was not permitted on the radio since it was considered denigrating to religion and to the Torah) and “Chocolate Soldier,” (which was also not played on the airwaves since Hanoch Levin’s lyrics were considered insulting to the memory of fallen soldiers).
Kraus continued to stir up storms throughout his career.
In 1971 he was jailed on charges of illegal gun possession, and during his incarceration wrote songs that he recorded in a single day for his first solo album, The State of Israel vs. Kraus Shmuel. One of the songs, “Hot Friday,” talked about hashish, and was also disqualified for broadcast. The color video clip that Idan Za’ira produced was also disqualified since Kraus appears in it smoking cannabis. The clip has never been broadcast on TV.
Director Yasmin Hadas Lifshitz worked for over a year on a documentary about Kraus called, An Album, which focuses on how he created his songs.
It illustrates their creation at his home, as he writes the words down on paper, and then combines with the guitar in the recording studio, and records the songs – all the way through to the production of his last album.
Throughout his career, Kraus constantly had the urge to destroy at the same time as he was creating these wonderful songs. He was so happy to return to the recording studio after years of being away, and was calm, and pleasant to everyone.
But then, when he went back to writing and recording, the beast within him awoke and tortured him until once again the mental illness was to overcome him and he needed to spend some time at the Abarbanel Mental Health Center.
Kraus is considered one of the top Israeli singers of all time, and greatly contributed to the Israeli music revolution, even though he only produced five solo albums. He produced one album with The High Windows, and a children’s album in 1976 with his wife, Josie Katz, called, Alone by myself and alone together.
God made Shmulik a brilliant genius, but took from him the ability to function normally with others.
Seven albums spanning a career of over 50 years do not seem like much, but they have had a huge effect on people.
Almost every song that he composed for himself, or for others, contains the same unique Kraus-like quality that made him who he is.
And who he was. A complicated genius who was conflicted with himself.But isn’t this the essence of rock ’n’roll? Boaz Cohen is an editor and presenter at Radio 88 FM.
Translated by Hannah Hochner.