Phone Call to the Bahamas: Lenny Kravitz on His New Autobiography ‘Let Love Rule’
It’s true Lenny Kravitz has led a charmed life. Thanks, of course, in no small part to his prodigious talent for all things musical, and his personal mantra of letting love rule, but also to his upbringing at the hands of his creative, encouraging, and connected family. Kravitz burst on to the scene in 1989 at 25 with his debut album, fittingly titled Let Love Rule, a retro sounding rock-funk-soul opus that brought some welcome musical umph to the then current pop scene dominated by Backstreet Boys, Paula Abdul, and Richard Marx. (Grunge’s guitars were still a year or two from mainstream acceptance.)
It was all uphill from there.
Lenny ruled the ’90s and early 2000s, releasing a consistent flow of hit singles and albums, working with tout la beau monde, from Mick Jagger, to Madonna (he co-wrote the steamy ‘Justify My Love’ with Prince protege Ingrid Chavez), Aerosmith, Bowie, and countless others, winning a Best Male Vocal Grammy for four years in a row. His cameo in 2001’s male model send up Zoolander had him on stage in front of an audience that included Donald Trump, flanked by unsuspecting models. (Ick.)
Not content to just play and record music, he’s also a producer (Vanessa Paradis, among others), photographer, activist, designer, and now author, as his memoir (what else?) Let Love Rule hit the sanitized shelves in October. Unlike the typical famous rocker biog, however, Lenny’s doesn’t focus on the just the wild and crazy bits (there are plenty of those around), but rather on his formative years leading up to his debut.
Kravitz is obviously well aware that his childhood, upbringing, and early, yet decisive, steps as a musician helped shape everything that was to come in his life and career, and thus we get a fascinating look at his first 25 years on the planet.
We sat down, virtually, with the charismatic rocker to chat about the memories.
How are you doing?
I’m good, good. I’m in the Bahamas.
Are you by yourself, or do you have people around?
We’re here with a very small group of people that I work around, working in the studio. Seven and a half months of solitude—it’s been wonderful.
Is it worth asking, when are you touring next?
That’s not happening in the near future. So right now, it’s about creativity and it’s about making new music, doing art in different mediums, and just staying busy.
Obviously, the occasion for this is to talk about your book, which is awesome. Congratulations.
Unlike the usual “all this crazy stuff happening” rock and roll biography, yours is about your early days. How did that idea come to you initially?
It unfolded by itself. That’s the way I let my creativity work, it had to find itself. I had to find my voice. It took me a minute to figure out how I was going to write this, what it was going to be about, when the story was going to stop, and I just knew it as I was doing it. This wasn’t another story about fame or rock stardom or any of that. It’s about finding one’s path, one’s voice, one’s destiny.
The first chapter came to me after some time of trying to put this thing together, and I just felt like it wasn’t speaking in my voice the way I wanted it to. I just got this vision of the opening of the book, which is about this dream I had as a kid—quite a dramatic dream for a child—and that was the place to begin. And so, once I wrote that first chapter, it just kind of came out, and I was like, okay, this is where it begins, this is the voice, and then I just followed along. And I recalled all the adventures I’d gone through in finding myself.
I’ve always thought about how hard it would be to remember everything from when you’re that age. Did you have to really wrack your brain about some things?
I have an uncanny memory when it comes to stuff in my childhood. I can remember friends addresses and phone numbers from when I was in first grade. Like, really. I remember all the phone numbers of my relatives…but don’t ask me, you know, where I put the key yesterday, you know? But for some reason, I could recall all the stuff when I was a kid.
That’s cool. I did get the impression that you actually were writing it, actually typing.
I did. I had to. That was the only way it was going to work. And (editor) David Ritz is brilliant, he guided me and taught me so much. But I had to really get in it if it was going to be me. Because some people don’t do that. Some people just do all the interviewing and putting together the materials and somebody writes it, and that’s fine. But for me, just like my music or anything I do, photography, design, I have to be completely hands-on.
I got the most amazing therapy and healing from writing this book. I’ve got to tell you. And that was not something that I saw coming.
And when was all this happening? I’m guessing last year sometime.
Over the last three years…or so. But there were times where I’d stopped. Six months, I’d do nothing. I was on tour, I was…I had to do other things, so there was no time where it just kept going. I had to start and stop a lot.
As you were growing up listening first to KISS, and then having your revelation with Led Zeppelin. You’ve always been a standard bearer for rock and soul and blues. How are you feeling about the state of rock and roll currently?
You know, you look on Instagram or YouTube and you see so many kids now playing, and really looking back at the greats and wanting to play instruments. Not just wanting to rely on technology and samples, which is all fine too; but I’m so glad that these kids are into this, because they’re all about the craft. I think the future looks bright when it comes to that. There were so many years where kids…they weren’t playing so much.
When you refer to a book as the first 25 years, that assumes there’s going to be a follow-up at some point, right? Is there a rock star years book coming?
I haven’t planned on it yet, but you know, it could happen and probably will happen. I need a minute though, I need to live some more life. But it seems inevitable that that would happen.
I went back and listened to your last record Raise Vibration, which was a couple of years ago now. The songs were great.
Oh, I love that last record, I love it. I really felt that record a lot.
It was familiar in a way—you have a sound.
The thread is me, and I’m on all through all of those albums, hands on. So, there’s always going to be a thread. But I have many different styles and colors that I play with. But…I do what I do. I don’t know.
I kind of agree with the Pete Townshend line that it’s the singer, not the song. Like, I could sing a Lenny Kravitz song and it would sound terrible.
I think you need a good song, yeah. Then it comes down to who’s interpreting that song, you know? And whether people write or not. There are great singers that don’t write, but they are genius interpreters…whether that be a Diana Ross or a Frank Sinatra or a whomever. The voice, man. The voice and the interpretation.
Can we touch on your design work?
Did you see the piano that just came out? I did a piano for Steinway. It’s called the Kravitz Grand.
That’s awesome. And is the Kravitz Design continuing as before?
Oh, yeah. We’re doing several projects right now, a hotel in Detroit, products for different companies, yeah. Even during this time, we’re busy. So, thank god.