Lenny Kravitz: 'Don't Call Me A Sex Symbol'
one of my very first celeb interviews :) for the Evening Standard (London)
'Don't call me a sex symbol'Precious Williams
Updated 00:00am on 27 Nov 2000
When Lenny finally saunters into the hotel lobby, he doesn't apologise for his lateness. Flanked by a thickset bodyguard and his 11-year-old daughter, Zoe, he throws out nonchalant greetings of "Yo" and "Alriiiight" before ducking into the lift. Minutes later, I'm ushered up to his hotel room.
"Hey," he drawls lazily, arching an eyebrow. He is slumped on the sofa, his lithe body swamped by a shapeless and shabby burgundy cardigan that is held together with a giant safety pin. A matching knitted cap is pulled down low over his forehead. Lenny Kravitz is possibly the only man in the world who can make saggy knitwear look sexy. I ask whether he's growing his trademark long dreadlocks back - surely the only excuse for sporting such unflattering headgear.
"No. They contained too much bad energy, y'know?" he says in his laid-back LA drawl. "They went through a lotta heavy things. I had to let 'em go."
The dreads may have gone for good but the piercings are still very much in evidence. Six diamond studs and hoops in his left ear, one on either side of his nostrils. Lenny has, he tells me triumphantly, another three piercings that are out of my sight. One silver ring in each nipple and a third, that he refers to as "the family jewel", hidden beneath his flared jeans. "I enjoy having them done," he says with a satisfied smirk. He claims that being a sex symbol is the "furthest thing" from his mind. He finds it absurd that a musician who doesn't even comb his hair should be an international pin-up.
Whether Lenny approves of his lady-killer image or not, he certainly knows how to take advantage of it. In the course of his career he has (allegedly) seduced Madonna, Kylie Minogue, Natalie Imbruglia and French former pop star Vanessa Paradis. Currently he's strutting around town with Hollywood starlet Gina Gershon (who stars in the video to his forthcoming single, Again), although he has also been linked with model Devon Aoki.
Lenny's most enduring relationship was with Cosby Show actress (and Zoe's mother) Lisa Bonet. But their marriage broke down shortly after Lenny penned the raunchy Justify My Love for Madonna. Lenny wrote a song for Lisa, It Ain't Over Til It's Over, but sightings of Lenny smooching with Madonna seemed to convince Lisa that their marriage was indeed over. Following the release of Justify My Love, Lenny is said to have dubbed Madonna a "cold bitch", but today he speaks of her fondly. "She's my girl. We're very good friends."
He is also so spiritually close to Lisa these days that he has given her his shorn dreadlocks to keep in her LA home. "But I'm single now," he adds, momentarily avoiding eye contact. "It's just me. The only woman in my life is my daughter, Zoe. She lives with me. It's a lot but you make it work."
Like Zoe, Lenny was an only child. Raised mainly by his grandparents in Bed-Stuy, a ghetto-ish enclave of Brooklyn, Lenny lived on the same block as Puff Daddy. Lil' Kim and Spike Lee lived just around the corner. Then, during his teens, he was transplanted to star-studded LA, to live with his parents. He got his first taste of the glamour and excess that now dictate his lifestyle when he attended Beverly Hills High School. "Teenage kids driving Porsches and Ferraris. But I didn't even have a car. I rode the bus. And I never even had, like, a quarter, y'know?"
It is unlikely that Zoe will ever have to catch a bus to school. Today, multi-millionaire Lenny flits between a popart mansion in Miami and a beach home in the Bahamas. His mother, TV sitcom actress Roxy Roker, was a native of the island. His father, Sy Kravitz, is a Russian/Jewish TV producer. "My mom always taught me that I was as much one thing as the other," says Lenny of his multi-ethnic heritage. "She taught me to be proud of both sides, of being Jewish and West Indian. But at the same time my mom taught me that society would view me only as black."
Did this cause him confusion as a child? His expression alters from arrogance to momentary anger. "I've never had a thing about what I am. I never had a problem."
Maybe, but plenty of critics have had a problem with his identity. Throughout his five album, 15-year career, he has constantly been accused of not being black enough. And despite selling 12 million albums and receiving three Grammy Awards, black radio stations throughout America still refuse to play his music. "Everyone forgets that black people actually invented rock 'n' roll. I may not do what black people are supposed to be doing, but that's just so closed.
"People call me naive for writing all these love songs," he continues. "But I don't believe that."