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In 'Let Love Rule,' Lenny Kravitz Recalls Journey To Find His Sound

Lenny Kravitz performing live at Arena in Verona, Italy. (Roberto Finizio/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
Lenny Kravitz performing live at Arena in Verona, Italy. (Roberto Finizio/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Lenny Kravitz’s new memoir deliberately skips the juicy parts of the rockstar lifestyle. In “Let Love Rule,” the four-time Grammy Award-winning musician gets real about his journey to finding his unique sound.

Written along with David Ritz, the memoir focuses on Kravitz’s foundation — the first 25 years of his life that made the man we know today.

Kravitz dedicated the book to his mother, actress Roxie Roker, who was best known for her role in “The Jeffersons” as Helen Willis, half of one of TV’s first interracial couples. Roker would play vocal powerhouse Gladys Knight’s records at night, and Kravitz says he fell in love with Knight’s warm and comforting voice. He fondly recalls standing in front of his mother as a kid and belting out Knight’s tunes.

“There was just something about Gladys and her voice that gave voice to my mother’s soul,” he says.

As a child, if something upset him, his mother would transform into a magical character called “Ruff Ruff,” Kravitz says. She created this character so Kravitz could express himself to her instead of shying away from opening up to his mother.

He would cue Ruff Ruff by saying “abracadabra,” and his mother’s voice and body language would change, Kravitz says. Then he felt comfortable going through his feelings — whether it was his fears, insecurities or happiness.

“And when we were finished, I would have to say ‘abracadabra’ again. And then she would turn back to my mother,” he says. “In retrospect, that was a brilliant way for us to communicate and she was smart enough to come up with that method.”

Sy Kravitz, his father and a former military man, was strict with young Lenny Kravitz. In “Let Love Rule,” the musician illustrates that although their love for each other existed, their relationship was defined by a lack of connection.

Kravitz’s perspective of Sy Kravitz evolved as he put pen to paper. He was able to see his father as a literary character — and from that, began to understand his human complexities more.

“Through seeing him as a character, I got to really understand that he was just a man trying to get through this life experience with the best that he had,” he says. “And through seeing him with those eyes, any judgment that I had just began to evaporate. It was really healing and my love for him grew in writing this book.”

Growing up, Kravitz was surrounded by legendary artists such as Diahann Carroll and Cicely Tyson. He attributes his personality, success and sanity to being raised in the Black feminine energy of his mother, grandmother and aunts.

His acceptance into the California Boys Choir laid a musical foundation for him that he still uses to this day, he says. It taught him a great deal about discipline as an artist and classical music, a genre he wasn’t familiar with. His experience with the choir led him to sing in 15 different operas at a young age.

Another lesson he says he learned early on: the value of staying true to yourself.

At points in the book, even Kravitz was surprised by his own resolve at a young age to turn down opportunities that could have made him a lot of money. But finding his personal sound remained priority — not financial prosperity from record deals that would have pushed him away from who he is.

“I still can’t explain how I had the power to do that. When I was living in a car or living on people’s floor, on a couch or sleeping in recording studio lounges at night, I don’t know how I had the strength to do that,” he says. “But every time I got close to that contract and they wanted me to sign, I felt physically ill. I couldn’t do it.”

Everyone thought he was being ridiculous, he recalls. Why wouldn’t he take the opportunity placed on a silver platter?

“As I learned in life, we can be presented with many open doors in our life. But it doesn’t mean that you have to walk through them,” he says. “And I was waiting for my door and I’m so thankful that I did.”

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Actress Lisa Bonet, his former wife, helped him find his sound in the late ‘80s. Their relationship began as a friendship and eventually blossomed into romance. He describes her as a “powerful” and “enlightened” person.

When the two first met, Kravitz was coming out of his Romeo Blue phase, a character he created for his music. The magic that surrounded their love “opened a portal” to help him discover his sound — a sound that so many came to adore.

Although they divorced in 1993, the pair are still good friends and have been used as a model for how to successfully blend families.

“Let Love Rule,” the name of his memoir, is the title of his first album and one of his biggest hits. It’s also his life motto, he says.

“I mean, let love rule. That’s the statement — and it has been for 30 years,” he says. “And that is the way I try to live my life every day.”

Emiko Tamagawa produced and edited this interview for broadcast with Peter O’Dowd. Serena McMahon adapted it for the web. 

This article was originally published on WBUR.org.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.