As a child of the 70s and 80s, I was a big fan of The Cosby Show, before we all found out what a molesting creep Bill Cosby is. Lenny’s first wife, Lisa Bonet, starred as Denise Huxtable on that show, as well as A Different World. But I didn’t know until much later that Lenny’s mom was also someone I admired, Roxie Roker, who played Helen Willis on The Jeffersons, another show from my childhood that I loved. With all of these relics from my youth in his life, it was only natural that I’d want to read Kravtiz’s recent book, Let Love Rule, which he co-wrote with David Ritz. Let Love Rule was just published last month and, unlike I was when his music first came out, I was an early partaker. I bought it just two days after it was released. Sadly, I no longer read as fast as I used to, and I just now finished reading it this morning.
I love a good memoir, especially when it’s about a musician I really admire. Although I wasn’t one of Lenny Kravitz’s earliest fans when he burst into the limelight about thirty years ago, once I did discover his music, I became a devoted fan. He’s someone who takes familiar sounds of other artists– people like Prince, Jimi Hendrix, or John Lennon, or bands like Led Zeppelin or Earth, Wind, & Fire, and turns them into something uniquely his. I think the first song I ever heard by Lenny was “It Ain’t Over Til It’s Over”, which reminded me so much of Earth, Wind, & Fire’s “That’s the Way of the World”, yet with a unique and original twist.
Let Love Rule is a breakdown of Lenny’s first 25 years of life. Even if he hadn’t been an incredibly talented rock star, I’d say his first 25 years were book worthy. Born in New York City on May 26, 1964, he is the only child of the aforementioned elegant, Christian, Black actress, Roxie Roker, and White, Russian Jewish, NBC television news producer, Sy Kravitz. He spent his earliest years in New York, dividing his time between his mother’s Bahamian parents’ house in Bedford-Stuyvesant and Manhattan. Lenny Kravitz is a second cousin of television weather man Al Roker’s. Their grandfathers were brothers. He was named after his father’s brother, Private First Class Leonard Kravtiz, who was killed in action during the Korean War.
By the time he was five years old, Lenny– who in those days spelled his name Lennie– knew he wanted to be a musician. He started with banging pots and pans in the kitchen and graduated to guitar and singing. His mother, in particular, encouraged Lenny’s artistic and musical pursuits and took him to a lot of shows, including The Jackson Five at Madison Square Garden. His father, who was also a jazz promoter, introduced him to great jazz musicians like Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald, Miles Davis, and Sarah Vaughan. Then, in 1974, Roxie Roker won the role of Helen Willis on The Jeffersons, and Lenny moved from New York City to California– ironically so his mom could star on a show set in New York City!
Lenny Kravitz had a tough time adjusting to California. Other kids made fun of his New York accent, and he missed the dense neighborhoods and proximity to his grandparents. His father was also not a fan of California and, though he stayed married to Roxie Roker, declined to make the move to California at first. Fortunately, Lenny was able to take advantage of the many artistic avenues available in California. At his mother’s urging, he even joined the highly esteemed California Boys Choir, where he was exposed to classical repertoires. His mother pulled strings to get him into Beverly Hills High School, which was not in his neighborhood, solely so he could take advantage of the music department there.
Although he was clearly a gifted musician, Lenny Kravitz was not a good student, and he ended up having to drop out of Beverly Hills High School in favor of an alternative school. However, the teachers there still let Lenny jam with his former classmates, which included people like Slash from Guns N’ Roses and actor Nicholas Cage. Kravitz enjoyed a privileged upbringing in a nice house in Los Angeles, mixing with talented people and smoking a lot of weed, developing his craft. He also had a religious experience, even though he was not raised by particularly religious parents. When he was thirteen, he became a Christian.
Lenny and his father didn’t get along very well. They would butt heads over grades and discipline, and the elder Kravitz would say disparaging things to his son, who disappointed him by not being a good student. Things got bad enough that one day, when Lenny was still a teenager, he and his father almost came to physical blows. And although the house they lived in was paid for by Roxie Roker, thanks to salary from The Jeffersons, the senior Kravitz then gave Lenny that age-old ultimatum– “If you walk out that door, don’t bother coming back.” Sure enough, Lenny left, and never lived with his parents again.
Lenny’s mother, being a traditional Bahamian woman, didn’t want to divorce Lenny’s father. She eventually did when it became painfully clear that he was unfaithful to her and was busted by Lenny himself. That was when he really got on track to becoming the rock star he is today. He eventually met Lisa Bonet, fell in love, and together they became parents to Zoë Kravitz, now a musician and actress in her own right. Lenny clearly loved, and perhaps even still loves, Lisa Bonet very much. He writes lovingly about their relationship, and how they had so much in common. Lisa is also biracial, having been born to a White Jewish mother and a Black father. And clearly, her holistic, creative, nurturing proclivities had a big effect on Lenny and helped him launch his career. The book ends as Lenny’s career is taking off and he’s a new father to baby Zoë, whose creation was behind Lisa Bonet’s temporary departure from The Cosby Show and her permanent departure from A Different World. Lenny does spill the tea on how it went down when Lisa Bonet and Debbie Allen (who directed A Different World) told Bill Cosby about her pregnancy.
I really enjoyed Let Love Rule. David Ritz did a great job making this book seem like it came straight from Lenny himself. I felt as if Lenny Kravitz was sitting in a room telling me about his early life and development into a big star. I also loved some of the personal anecdotes shared in this book, especially about Roxie Roker. I always thought she was such a beautiful, classy lady, but she was also clearly a warm, caring, supportive mother, who was not afraid to discipline her son, OR even his friends when they needed it.
I could relate to Lenny’s comments about his difficulties with his father, too. My dad and I also had a difficult relationship. Lenny’s father had been in the military, as mine also was, and would alternate strict discipline with frank neglect or abuse. Of course, my situation wasn’t nearly as extreme as Lenny’s was, but I could still relate to him because there were some similarities. And there were also similarities in that sometimes, Lenny’s dad, like my own, would believe in him and come through for him.
And finally, while I may never be a rock star like Lenny is, I can relate to being a musician and wanting to make music. I understand the thrill of creating something good or even just hearing something really fantastic. I enjoyed feeling like I have something in common with Lenny Kravitz, besides being a fellow Gemini. And I love how he pulls together all of his many musical influences and makes music that thrills on another level. The first time I ever heard “Are You Gonna Go My Way”, it was being performed as a cover by my cousin, Justin, who is a professional musician in Nashville. I loved my cousin’s version so much, I had to go listen to the original, which blew my socks off.
I guess the only thing I didn’t like about Let Love Rule is that it ends rather abruptly, just as Lenny is about to take off into the stratosphere. I know this book was only intended to be about his first twenty-five years, and he does mention that his story will continue, but the ending still felt like it came at the wrong time. It was like riding the crest of an orgasm and then never quite getting that burst of anticipated pleasure built up by excitement and tension. And I worry that when the next volume does come out, I may not be riding the crest anymore, if you know what I mean.
Still… I really enjoyed this book and would certainly recommend it, not just to people like Lenny Kravitz’s music, but also anyone who was a fan of his mother’s work, or even those who just like a good story. Like I mentioned at the beginning of this article, I think Lenny would have had a book-worthy story even if he never became famous. And I am very touched by how much he loves his family, as well as his honesty about his devotion to God.
I look forward to the next book about Lenny Kravitz’s remarkable life. I hope it’s as hard for me to put down as this one was.
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