Lenny Kravitz has been spending his lockdown practicing how to play music. Yes, Lenny Kravitz, he of a record-setting Grammy win streak, of the tens of millions of records sold, of decades of touring, of international fame, acclaim and icon status, has been sitting down in his home studio, reconnecting with music.
“You think that a musician has been playing, they’re on tour for 30 years straight. But that’s not practicing,” Kravitz says. “That’s part of practicing, part of playing music. But, to sit and actually pay attention to certain things that I want to improve on, etc., etc. — I haven’t had that opportunity in a long time. So I’ve been just practicing, playing and sitting in my room. Again, like I did when I was in high school.”
The musician has been in a state of reflection as he prepares for the world to read his memoir “Let Love Rule,” (out Oct. 6), which chronicles the first 25 years of his life leading up to the release of his debut album of the same name.
The book begins with a detailed recount of a dream Kravitz remembers having at age four, and follows him until he is in his mid-20s, making his entry into the music world with “Let Love Rule.”
“And I wanted to stop there — I didn’t want the book to be about fame, stardom or any kind of thing like that. I wanted it to be about this journey that I took and about all of the dynamics and different people that I came across in my journey, and my family and the relationship with my mother and father and grandparents, etc.,” Kravitz says. “That was the story that I wanted to tell.”
He’s been at his home on Eleuthera in the Bahamas for the better part of six months, the longest stretch he’s spent there aside from album-making periods. When the pandemic hit, he’d just come off two-and-a-half years of touring and was gearing up to do another nine months to a year.
“And everything came crashing down,” he says over the phone in early September.
Kravitz’s maternal grandfather was from the Bahamas, and he’s been visiting the island with family since childhood. Buying property there was the first thing he did when he got his record deal all those years ago — and he’s on the same land still today. (Though it has expanded: his daughter Zoë now occupies the original house while Kravitz is in a newer build.)
“I took my first check and I bought property. I thought, well, if I never make another dollar, I’ll have somewhere to live,” Kravitz says.
He’s been spending his days mostly with music (photography, a longtime hobby, has mostly sat untouched given he prefers shooting people and, well, social distancing and all), and hasn’t much minded the solitude in the slightest.
“I wish it wasn’t under these circumstances. I’d rather be out on the road, I’d rather be doing what I do. But this is the way it is,” Kravitz says in his signature soothing, relaxed voice that has garnered him many a campaign deal. “I’ve taken the time to really look within myself, to think about things in my life, how I want to move forward. What’s important. What is not. Taking the time to just be quiet and listen, take care of myself, etc. I haven’t had this kind of time since I was in high school, where the responsibility level has not been crazy. I haven’t experienced this in so long.”
At 56, Kravitz has arguably never been more in demand or, quite frankly, cooler (which is saying something — is there anyone cooler than the Kravitz family?). He is the new face of Saint Laurent, and in early September was unveiled as the face of the brand’s newest fragrance as well.
“For me it’s about fitting my silhouette and expressing just how I want to feel at that time, whether it’s just wearing a pair of jeans and a shirt and some boots and going out into the world or being on stage,” he says of his approach to fashion. “It’s about expressing that moment. So I wear lots of different clothes. Right now, I wear a lot of vintage clothes that I mix in with [higher brands]. And I even make clothes. I make jeans and things for myself. But it’s about a vibe and for me, I like it to be elegant but at the same time street and rock ‘n’ roll.”
Kravitz also makes for a rather good pandemic check in: he’s as full of gratitude, love and perspective as ever.
“Things have sort of narrowed and people have, in a very organic way, dropped to the wayside. That happens when you have time: spiritually, things just unfold,” Kravitz says. “I can’t say that a lot has changed in the sense of what I want to do because I want to be creative. That is what I do. But I think it’s just also given me vision into what kinds of things I’ll be creating and what new music, what new direction, etc., etc. But this has always been a very organic and spiritual part of my life.”
Kravitz was presented with the idea of writing a memoir roughly four years ago, when a friend introduced him to celebrity biographer David Ritz, who assisted him in writing the book. He was familiar with Ritz’s books on Ray Charles and Marvin Gaye, but had never considered putting something together about his own life. He describes “Let Love Rule” as documentation of finding his voice, of the growing up and self discovery that it took to get him there.
“I’m really glad that I did and I have to say that it was extremely therapeutic,” he says of doing the book.
That therapy consists of examining his upbringing, by his mother, “The Jeffersons” actress Roxie Roker, and his father, television news producer and jazz promoter Sy Kravitz. The couple divorced in 1985. He describes his relationship with his father as “tumultuous,” and though painful to relive, writing the book allowed him even deeper closure (he and his father made peace before his father’s death).
“We’re all human beings on this journey and we’ve got our challenges and we have the things that we have to overcome and deal with. And we have all of the things in life with the beauty. And [writing the book] enabled me to pull the judgment off of my father so that I could just look at him as a human being. And it was very freeing,” Kravitz says. “Through writing this book, I got to go deeper with that because all of a sudden the things that I was judging him for, I was able to remove. I was able to just clear that path, and I believe that God gives us what we need in life and for me to become whatever it was that I was to become, and what I did become, that’s the father I needed. That is the person that I needed. I needed that rug, I needed that fire under my ass. I needed that challenge and it’s not just those things. It’s the beautiful things that he exposed me to because of who he was and his life and being married to my mother. And I got exactly what I needed.”
It would be five years before “Let Love Rule” the album went gold, but Kravitz writes of greeting that with peacefulness, of being happy with who he’d grown into as an artist.
“I was always proud of the work, and I knew that I was expressing myself honestly and organically and I didn’t measure. I was taught by my mother at an early age not to measure success by people’s words or awards or money. That it was about the process. It was about doing it. And it was about the work,” Kravitz says. “That was where the reward was. So I learned that early watching my mother in theater and television, and just seeing her being an actress and her experience. So, once it all happened, obviously I was pleased that the world was listening to my music. Yes, that’s a thrill and it’s wonderful. That’s what you dream of as a young musician, but that wasn’t what validated me. I was always into the work and into the process, because that to me is the most fun part of it, is creating in the studio.”
Given that it leaves off as Kravitz makes his debut, the book is largely divorced from the mega fame that would come and make Lenny Kravitz the household name he is. Fame, he says, has never been interesting to him. He writes of being prepared musically for what the life of a rock star entailed, but not emotionally, and that by focusing the book on his beginnings he was able to present a work that got at the heart of what matters to him: the music.
“Even though my mother had experienced it, and even though my wife at that time [Lisa Bonet] was experiencing that level of fame, being next to it and having it and having you be the center of that attention are two different things,” Kravitz says. “And all of a sudden there was this global response to me, that the music was being pushed globally, everywhere. And I was a very simple sort of person and very open and all of a sudden I became this thing that people throw their preconceived ideas on and who they think you are and people want to be around you and for many different reasons.”
That phase, which he calls “a very difficult transition for me,” will open his next book, which he’s yet to begin to work on but which he sets up at the end of “Let Love Rule.”
In July, Kravitz posted an old interview of his on Instagram, from the press run for the debut album, where he says the music on the album is about “using the medium to say, something to try and help make a difference.” When asked about the role of music in activism today, Kravitz says that as far as he is concerned, today’s moment calls for musicians to be using their platform in louder ways than ever.
“There’s a lot of escapism. That’s understandable as well. There’s a lot of materialism. But I’d like to see more musicians act as folks did in the Sixties and the Seventies,” he says. “Yeah, I think it’s going to have to change. The art is always a reflection of what’s going on on the planet somehow and these big changes on the planet, hopefully, will inspire folks to open up and see that there’s much more to sing and play about.”
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