New Again: Lenny Kravitz

In New Again, we highlight a piece from Interview’s past that resonates with the present. 

Lenny Kravitz‘s first starring film role is an ambitious one. According to reports, the singer is set to play Marvin Gaye in the upcoming Julian Temple-directed biopic. The film will focus on Gaye’s later life and struggle with alcohlism. Thus far, Kravitz’s acting career has been limited to minor parts such as Cinna in The Hunger Games and Nurse John in Precious.

We’ve met Kravitz several times, but one of our favorite Interview x Lenny moments occurred in June of 1993, when Kravitz chatted with his old friend record producer Rick Rubin. Kravitz had just released his third studio album (one of his most successful), Are You Gonna Go My Way, and spilled the beans about his marriage to Lisa Bonet, racial identity, and meeting  with Bob Dylan. Most significantly, however, Kravitz provided a bit of insight into his little acting side-gig, telling us, “I’m sure at one point I will do some acting again, but it would have to be the right thing. I’m not going to do it just because people are offering it to me. Not for those box-office, bullshit, money, noncreative people. But I’ll do it when it’s right to do it.” Lenny Kravitz as Marvin Gaye? This must be the right thing. —Carly Wolkoff

Life With Lenny
By Rick Rubin

Lenny Kravitz talks with his old pal, Def American’s Rick Rubin

When Lenny Kravitz released his first album, Let Love Rule, in 1989, it sounded as close to outtakes from the Beatles’ White Album as anyone could have wished for in the late ’80s and, coming from a 24-year-old, promised great things. He played all the instruments, mimicking McCartney’s tubular bass playing, Lennon’s anguished vocals, even Ringo’s satisfying-as-pie drumming, and marrying the sound to appropriately lovey-dovey song lyrics in songs like, “I Build This Garden For Us.” The son of a white, Jewish TV producer, Sy Kravitz, and an African-American actress, Roxie Roker (who played Helen Willis on The Jeffersons), Kravitz was raised on the idealism and music of the 1960s, so the hippie thing came naturally. But the press sniffed artifice and sunk their teeth into him, suddenly using the word “retro” the way Bush used the word “liberal.” His industry peers, it seemed, disagreed: since Let Love Rule, Kravitz has gone on to collaborate with Madonna, Mick Jagger, Vanessa Paradis, Aerosmith, Slash, and Sean Lennon. If his two subsequent albums, including the current Are You Gonna Go My Way (Virgin), haven’t synthesized his musical influences into a distinctly original sound, his capacity to honor the musical past with very present flair have made him an in-demand producer in an era when the hum of a tube amp has almost gone the way of the buffalo. —D.E.

RICK RUBIN: Were you a good student when you were a kid?

LENNY KRAVITZ: Yeah, excellent.  In New York I was in gifted classes and always reading shit, like, three or four grades ahead of myself. Then I came to L.A., and school was so extremely easy that I started to lay back a bit—and then I laid back a bit too much. And I discovered rock-‘n’-roll, and the beach, hanging out and, you know, pot—the whole deal.

RUBIN: About how old were you when the big transformation happened?

KRAVITZ: 11. But it’s weird because at the same time I was going through all that, I joined the California Boys Choir and I did my first professional concert. It was opening night at the Hollywood Bowl, and it was the Mahler Eighth Symphony with Erich Leinsdorf and the L.A. Philharmonic Orchestra. So at the same time I was discovering Zeppelin and Hendrix and all that, I recorded the Mahler Third Symphony with Zubin Mehta.

RUBIN: Do you remember the first record you ever bought?

KRAVITZ: “I Want You Back” by the Jackson 5. But the first album that blew my mind completely was Innervisions by Stevie Wonder. I didn’t listen to much rock until I got out to L.A. and started hanging out with these surfer kids. My mom always had albums in the house, but basically she had an R&B, soul, jazz/blues record collection. There wasn’t any rock.

RUBIN: Were your parents really into music?

KRAVITZ: Big-time. My dad was a producer on the side. I think he did one of Patti Austin’s first recordings, when she was around 13 years old. My dad used to take me to jazz concerts. I got to sit on Duke Ellington’s lap when he played. Shit like that. Stuff you just wish you had a picture of.

RUBIN: When did you start listening to hip-hop?

KRAVITZ: When I was in high school. I saw the whole transition in high school, from at first—when white kids were only listening to rock-‘n’-roll, black kids were listening to soul, and there was no mix at all—and I saw it slowly come together, where the white people all of a sudden started liking the funky music and wanted to dance, then the parties started mixing, and then the dating starting mixing. Now you’ve got it all over the place.

RUBIN: Do you consider yourself black?


RUBIN: And your dad is white?

KRAVITZ: Yes. But society says that’s what I am. I mean me, personally, I’m just as white as I am black, and I’m just as Russian Jew as I am West Indian. But I’m black, you know.

RUBIN: Tell me about your sex life.

KRAVITZ: Well, it’s kind of mellow right now, actually.

RUBIN: Then tell me about your sex life over the last few years.  Let’s say your love life, if you prefer that.

KRAVITZ: I was married [to Lisa Bonet], you know.

RUBIN: I didn’t know you were married.

KRAVITZ: What? Get the fuck out of here. Where do you think my daughter, Zoe, came from?

RUBIN: It’s funny, because since we’ve been hanging out seriously, you’ve never been married.

KRAVITZ: It was unbelievable. It was just that we were real young.

RUBIN: And how are things between you and Lisa now? Are you talking?

KRAVITZ: Yeah. We know that we share a beautiful child. We’ve got to deal with each other. I think there will be a time when we’ll be good friends again. It takes time.

RUBIN: Good. I hope so. So, since then…

KRAVITZ: Looking.

RUBIN: There has always seemed to be a negative vibe in the American press about you. Why?

KRAVITZ: Well, it’s changing now. But for some reason, at first people thought I was really arrogant and a snob about music because I’m so intense about my production and sound, and because they knew I didn’t like new music so much. And they thought I was someone who didn’t acknowledge his roots. And it’s total bullshit, because I completely do. I also think I didn’t know how to handle the press, in the beginning, I was very open. And I hadn’t taken a course on interviews. I just made a record, and all of a sudden I had to face the world and get judged.

RUBIN: You’ve had the opportunity to work with people who were your musical idols, like Mick Jagger. Anybody else?

KRAVITZ: Robert Plant. I don’t know if I told you, but he’s opening for me in Europe. Which is like complete unreality for me, the fact that that man is going to open for me… I mean, I don’t consider it that, but he’s going on tour with me—and he’s going on first. It’s like, give me a break! You know what I mean? I’m more excited about seeing him than I am about playing myself. I opened for Bob Dylan on tour. The first time I met Dylan, it was great. We were in Europe doing a festival, and they called me to his trailer; you know, “Bob would like to say hello to you.” And he opened the door and I walked in and he’s standing there in his underwear waiting for his pants to be ironed by his wardrobe mistress. So I was talking to Bob Dylan in his underwear. And he offered me a drink. I don’t know what it was—I don’t drink hard liquor—but it was like fire, and I drank that shit, anyway. He sat and talked to me. He was in a really good mood. It’s really funny how people say he can’t sing, he’s just making noises; but if you really listen to the pitch he ‘s singing, it’s incredible. And he’s on it. It’s just that his voice has a peculiar sound.

RUBIN: Any plans to move over and do any more movie or TV appearances?

KRAVITZ: I’ve been offered a lot of stuff, and I used to do plays and some television commercials when I was younger. I guess my mom’s being an actress got me interested in that, but music definitely took its place. And I’m sure at one point I will do some acting again, but it would have to be the right thing. I’m not going to do it just because people are offering it to me. Not for those box-office, bullshit, money, noncreative people. But I’ll do it when it’s right to do it.

RUBIN: Would you say you have a lot of friends?

KRAVITZ: No. There are millions of people I know and probably about five friends. I used to think I had a hundred friends—until they all fucked me. But you’re one of my friends, Rick.

RUBIN: Wow, one of the five. I feel very privileged.

KRAVITZ: Well, you know…

RUBIN: The inner circle!


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