DETAILS: Your new album is called Black and White
America. As the child of a black actress
and a white television producer, what did you learn about race from your
Lenny Kravitz: My mother never really brought up race because our house was full of color. But she did have an intelligent way of putting it. I was 5 years old and she said, "You are just as much white as you are black, just as much Russian Jew as you are African-American. But society is only going to view you as black." If you have a drop of black blood, they put the black stamp on you. If I have to fill out a form that asks what race I am, I check both boxes.
DETAILS: Early in your career you were accused of both not
being black enough and not
being white enough.
Lenny Kravitz: It's something I've never understood. It's so ridiculous to me that it should be brought up in regards to music. I've never fit into a category. I've been told that my strength was being multidimensional—but also told it was my weakness.
DETAILS: After nine albums and 20-odd years, does
that still dog you?
Lenny Kravitz: Oh, yeah. A radio programmer just said to me, "We can't play the first single because it has horns in it. Is it rock and roll? Yes. But we don't do songs with horn stabs." Now there's instrument bigotry? It's insane. Why have we regressed since the sixties and seventies, when you heard Led Zeppelin then Marvin Gaye on the same station?
DETAILS: On your 2001 album Lenny, there's a song
called "Bank Robber Man," which was
written after Miami cops stopped you because you matched the description of
a bank robber. At the
time, you weren't sure if it was racial profiling. But, seriously, how could
it not be?
Lenny Kravitz: I don't know. Maybe at the time I didn't think it was. Were those cops racist? I don't know. But they were certainly guilty of something else. Black kid, white T-shirt just robbed a bank. Here I am, four blocks from the bank, black guy, white shirt, and they stop me at gunpoint. It was ridiculous as it went on and on—half an hour of being detained. Could Lenny Kravitz rob a bank? Maybe. But I don't need to.
DETAILS: What inspired you to become a musician?
Lenny Kravitz: After I saw the Jackson 5 at Madison Square Garden, I knew music was what I wanted to do. My dad took me. I didn't know who was playing. I was 7 years old, and it was my first concert. We sat close to Aretha Franklin, and she came in wearing this white fur outfit. It was stunning. The camera flashes were going off like crazy. The lights went down, the Jackson 5 came out, and it was paralyzing. I came home a changed person. I have photos of the concert in my house in Paris that my dad took. Really beautiful pictures. The Commodores were the opening act, even before they were The Commodores. Lionel Richie came to my house once, and I showed him the pictures and he said "Man, we were The Mystics back then." Amazing.
DETAILS: Is it true that Duke Ellington once sang "Happy
Birthday" to you?
Lenny Kravitz: Yeah, he did. My parents took me to the Rainbow Room. They were good friends with him and his crew. It was my birthday, so Duke and Paul Gonsalves played it to me. I remember sitting on his lap at sound check. I wish I had a picture of that.
DETAILS: Your personal style has definitely evolved over the
years. Do those old outfits
make you cringe now?
Lenny Kravitz: I look back at some of those pictures and I'm like, "Wow, that was really crazy." I would try anything: furs, boas, platform boots. It's funny how you never think you're going to change. I met Mick Jagger at the beginning of my career and asked him, "Where's that outfit with the omega on it? Where's that cape?" He said, "I don't know. I think my daughter has it in her closet." I was so bummed. But now my daughter, ZoŽ, has a lot of my stuff. She took all my boas from the Mama Said era. They were in storage, and I yelled at her, "Don't steal my boas!" She laughed and said, "Those words would not come out of most fathers' mouths."
DETAILS: ZoŽ is 22 now and establishing herself as an actress.
How has your relationship
Lenny Kravitz: I'm old-school about the father-daughter thing, but she's also my best friend. She grew up with me. I didn't hide a lot. She learned by listening and observing what I was doing.
DETAILS: Like how to roll a joint?
Lenny Kravitz: Nah, I found out that she knew how to do that when she came of age.
DETAILS: She can currently be seen in X-Men: First
Class. Was it difficult to watch her in
those skimpy outfits?
Lenny Kravitz: She plays a superhero, so how bad can it be? I haven't seen the movie. I'm not a jealous dad at all. I trust her judgment. She's well equipped, and she needs to go out and do her own thing. She's seen enough and was loved enough by both her mom and me that she has made me proud on every account.
DETAILS: Do you dread the day you have to walk her down the
Lenny Kravitz: I'm not. I look forward to it. But I'm hoping she doesn't ask me that, like, tomorrow.
DETAILS: Your acting career has been notable too. You had a
well-received part in
Precious and were just cast in The Hunger Games. Had you read
Lenny Kravitz: I honestly hadn't heard of them before the director called me. I hope the fans don't hate me for that. He had seen my work in Precious and called and offered me the part of Cinna, who is the stylist for the main character, Katniss. He saw how I played a caregiver in Precious and figured I might be good for Cinna. I didn't have to audition, so I'm lucky.