Happy Scribe
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This message comes from NPR sponsor W.W. Norton, publisher of Twilight of the Gods. The final volume of Ian W. Toll's Pacific War trilogy, hailed by Nathaniel Philbrick as an epic masterpiece of military history, Twilight of the Gods, wherever books are sold. Why, in Philadelphia, this is Fresh Air. I'm Dave Davies, in for Terry Gross. Today, Lenny Kravitz, his new memoir is about his life up to the release of his first album, Kravitz has sold over 50 million records.

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He grew up the only son of an interracial couple. They lived in New York until his mother, Roxie Roker, got a job acting in the new TV show The Jeffersons in L.A., Kravitz struggled to find his musical voice, but was offered multiple record deals.

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Surprisingly, he turned them all down, even though he was living in his car after his dad had kicked him out of the house.

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Kravitz married Lisa BONNÉE, whom he says helped him find the music he wanted to write. Those songs became the album Let Love Rule, also the name of his memoir. And Maureen Corrigan reviews the new novel from Tana French, who created the Dublin Murder Squad crime series. Our guest today is Lenny Kravitz.

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He's written a new memoir about his early life and coming of age musically with the release of his first album, Let Love Rule. In 1989, it launched his career and made him a rock and roll star. Since then, he sold over 40 million albums and won four Grammys in a row for best male rock vocal performance. He spoke last week with Fresh Air producer Sam Briger.

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In his memoir, Lenny Kravitz talks about growing up in New York as the child of an interracial couple and his loving relationship with his mom, actress Roxie Roker, who's best known for playing Helen Willis on The Jeffersons. But his relationship with his dad side Kravitz, a TV news producer, was much more difficult. The memoir is also about living in L.A. as a teen and struggling to find his musical voice while getting kicked out of his home by his dad and having to sleep in a car.

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When Kravitz met actress Lisa. He said he found his musical voice and wrote the songs that would make up the album Let Love Rule. They married and had a child. Actress Zoe Kravitz Let Love Rule is also the name of his memoir. I spoke with Lenny Kravitz from his home in the Bahamas.

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Let's start with the title track from the album Let Love Rule Love. Is Jinto Lazzaro's? Was it's disgusting, this. Rule. We got a little. That's Let Love Rule by Lenny Kravitz, Let Love Rule is also the name of his new memoir, Lenny Kravitz.

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Welcome to Fresh Air. Thank you. Well, your book starts out with your parents, so let's talk about them a little bit.

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Your mom, Roxie Roker, was a black woman with Bohemian heritage on her dad's side, and she was an actress. She was the first person in her family to go to college. She went to Howard. And at the time she met your dad, she was working as an actress. But she also had a day job at NBC as an executive secretary. And that's where she met your dad because he was a news producer for NBC. His name is Sid Kravitz and he was a white Jewish man.

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And this was in the mid 60s when they became a couple that they face a lot of prejudice as an interracial couple.

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They did. You know, I heard stories about people spitting at them in the street, you know, them not being able to go to certain places. My father once took my mother somewhere and they had to get a hotel and the person at the desk said, you know, no prostitutes allowed. And, you know, even her parents were fine with it after. A conversation with my father, his parents, unfortunately, at the time that they got together, couldn't really accept that.

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First of all, she wasn't Jewish and on top of it, she was black. And, you know, that was an issue for them. They had an. Gotten to that place yet, and it took you right, because they didn't go to the wedding, they but you sort of brought peace back to to the relationship, right? Yes.

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After my mother had me, I think they showed up the next day. They were very curious, they knew that their son had had a son and they wanted to. Meet this grandchild, and they came to the hospital and they met my mother and. Very quickly, they they bonded, his parents saw the character of my mother and fell in love with her and that was it.

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So, you know, your parents were young and they were working a lot. And for childcare, you'd spend weekdays at your your maternal grandparents in Brooklyn.

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So you grew up shuttling between your parents who had a small apartment on the Upper East Side and then the home of your maternal grandparents who lived in Brooklyn and Bedford Stuyvesant, these two very different neighborhoods. And you say that you see yourself as having these very different sides to yourself. In the book you write, I'm deeply two sided black and white, Jewish and Christian, Manhattanite and Brooklynite. My young life was all about opposites and extremes. As a kid, you take everything in stride.

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So I accepted my Gemini's soul. I owned it. In fact, I adored it.

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Can you talk a little bit more about that? Like, it also seems like that at times that it was it was confusing.

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Like when you went to six, your first day, you were walking in with your parents and a kid pops up and yells, your mother's black and your daddy's white. And the sounds like this was upsetting. And maybe also the first time you were confronted with these ideas of race. Is that so true?

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Yeah, because I never thought about it. I knew that my mother's skin tone was what it was and I knew that my father's skin tone was what it was. And both sides of the family and on top of that, my parents being artists in New York City. You know, they had friends from, you know, virtually every background and religion, I thought nothing of it. People look different, people are different, people have different customs and traditions, and that's life.

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And so then I go to school, you know, first grade. So I'm six now and. My parents walk me to school and. I suppose my parents were the only ones that didn't match and this kid jumped out and pointed his finger and. Said that, you know, your father's white and your mother's black, and it was more shocking because he jumped out and pointed his finger and he was kind of loud, you know, so it was like, what is this?

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What is this statement in this action?

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Yeah, it sounds jarring. Yeah. And that's when the conversations really began with my mother about about race and, you know, perception of things.

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That night, I think, or later that day, your mom could see that you were upset and she talked to you about, like, you know, a way to think about your identity. And I think she explained it very, really well.

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What did she say to you for that time? It was it was a really good explanation. And at my age, you know, she. She wanted me to understand. There were two sides to me, and she didn't want me to feel like I had to pick one or one was better than the other. She said, your father, you know, is a Russian Jew. This is his background. And I want you to be proud of that.

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And I want you to know about it and understand it.

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You know, we are of African descent, you know, by way of the Bahamas. And that is your culture and that is beautiful as well. And I want you to accept that, she said. But society is only going to see you as black. They're not going to see the other side.

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You know, your mom sounds like she was really great at being a mom. She would handle situations like that and explain things really well. And she had this thing that she did where if you said abracadabra, she'd become a dog named Ruff Ruff, who you could tell all your problems to.

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And it was such a great idea because she's both your mom at that point, but also not your mom. And you can feel like maybe there's some things you might feel uncomfortable telling your mom about, but then you felt really safe talking to her about the things that were bothering you.

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Well, yeah, she was also my analyst and yeah, at a very young age. And it was very smart of her to come up with this character. I'm sure that she tried to speak to me and perhaps I wasn't receptive or, you know, there were things that I didn't want to tell her. So she made up this character called Ruff Ruff, which was this magical dog. And she told me that if I said abracadabra, you know, well, I'd say abracadabra.

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And then she'd say, Ruff, ruff, you know? And then instantly she was ruff, ruff. She had a different voice, different body language. And, you know, for a four year old, I bought it and we would speak and she'd ask me how I felt and she would, you know, dig and and and, you know, I was comfortable telling Ruff Ruff what I was feeling and. After that, she'd say, OK, you know, I'm going to bring mommy back now and, you know, I won't tell her what we spoke about and I'd have to say abracadabra again and then.

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She became my mother again, and I really believe that I was talking to somebody else, but it was. It was beautiful that she found this way for me to be comfortable expressing myself.

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Yeah, I think it probably didn't hurt that she was a well trained actress, so she could probably, like, embody that character well. But it was also it's just a really smart idea. At the same time, it sounds like your dad was not super prepared to be a parent at that point. He was he seemed angry and frustrated and would often take out those feelings on you. And, you know, like you would hurt yourself in the park and be crying.

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And he'd say, if you don't stop crying, I'll give you something to cry about. But you also say that it's clear that he loved you when you have a lot of similarities. And I'm wondering that as you've gotten older and as you've parented your own daughter, were you able to come to an understanding about your dad's behavior that wasn't available to you when you were younger?

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Absolutely. You know, and I say this now. Because I've come to understand him, you know, he was working with what he had. And as a kid, you're not you have no clue of of that concept, you know, you want the love, you want the attention, you want the closeness, the tenderness. And that wasn't what he had. He had other things, but he wasn't hands on in that way. He wasn't going to, you know, hold you and, you know, you sit and cuddle with your dad and watch TV or do you know or, you know, be warm in that way, but.

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You know, it was it was an interesting childhood, I spent most of my childhood being afraid of him, really, because the way he expressed himself was a bit hard core. You know, the way he was raising me, it was more like he was a sergeant and I was a private. And that makes. Sense because, you know, he went to the military at 17 and. You know, he became, you know, quite a badass, he became a Green Beret and, you know, those are the hardcore of the hardcore.

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And I think that way was most. Comfortable for him? Well, let's talk about how music influenced you as a young kid. You know, it sounds like you had this innate ability to remember tunes and and melodies would stick in your head and music was always around you. But when you heard the Jackson five that changed you, you thought of yourself as the sixth Jackson brother, right?

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Oh, yeah. I used to write in my notebook Lennie Jackson. You know, I had this fantasy that I was the long lost brother and they were going to find me and then I was going to join the group.

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Would you be lead singer or would hear all the other at a bit?

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Now, nobody could out to my you not possible that that's one in the universe. I mean, his genius was incredible. And so I identified with him the music, the appearance, the whole expression. And then my father. This is a you know, one of the most beautiful experiences with him as a child surprised me one day, picked me up from school. He was standing at the door of the class and I didn't understand why he was there.

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He he didn't normally pick me up. I don't think he ever did, really. And. We got in a cab and we went to Madison Square Garden and. That was the first concert that I. Ever seen and it. It blew my head off, changed my life, I knew that I wanted to be involved in music, I didn't know how or what, I didn't think about that, but I knew that that affected me and that.

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Music. Was important to me, you know, early on, it sounds like you were intrigued by the combination of like the music and the visual style of your early idols, like you were both studious of how rock stars made their music, but also how they created their look. Is that right?

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Well, yeah, they were like superheroes. They didn't look like people in the street. That's right.

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You know, they wore clothes that you didn't see folks wearing. I mean, I did see a bit of that around my mother and her friends because they had a really great sense of fashion. And, you know, this is this is the late 60s in New York City. So they're wearing really, you know, cool clothing. But, yeah, I was aware of that, you know, that there was a sound. And there was a visual presentation and that they went together, they they amplified each other.

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You wrote your first song around that time called I Love You, Baby. Do you remember enough of it to sing or give us some of the lyrics?

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Other lyrics? That was it, man. Oh, that was it. I love you, baby.

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Over and over and over and over again. That was that was the only. It was it was there was one line and somehow I guess I knew you had to have I love you and you had to have baby for sure. Oh actually, no.

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There was another line. It was, I love you, baby. I love you, baby. I love you more and more each day. That was it.

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So that was the extent of my first song, like the first, you know, six or seven years old.

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So, Lenny, a big turning point in your life was when your mom got the part of Helen Willis on a new TV show called The Jeffersons, and she was going to play half of the first interracial couple on prime time TV.

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So that was a big deal. It also meant having to move across the country to L.A.. So I just wondering, did she have any reservations about, like, leaving her New York theater scene or even working on a sitcom at that point? I don't think so. She was on Broadway at the time in a play called The River Niger, put on by the Negro Ensemble Company, and Norman Lear came to that play, saw her, met her, thought that she'd be perfect for.

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The role of Helen Willis on his new sitcom The Jeffersons, which was a spinoff from All in the Family, and, you know, he had a come out to L.A. I think she was quite happy to do so. And then she got the part and. I was told that we would have to go to Los Angeles, she had friends who said, you know, you know, don't go to L.A. and sell out, you know, TV, you know, you're a theater actress.

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But, you know, my mother was a grown woman. You know, and had worked hard and this was an opportunity to break into television, to make more money to support the family. I mean, along with my father who was working and she went for it and Los Angeles became my next education and my next location where I learned things that I never would have learned in New York City.

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Yeah, well, one of the things is that your mom convinced you to join the California Boys Choir, which is a pretty rigorous choir, and you would have concerts in large halls and Hollywood Bowl and appear in operas. And it sounds like you really enjoyed it. You liked the music. You met some good friends. And you say you learned a lot about vocal techniques that have served you well in your career. Can you talk about what you learned then that you still use now because you're doing different kind of singing for sure?

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Of course, not only that, I mean, first of all, the discipline now, of course, I had discipline in my life, but this now was musical discipline. And, you know, they pushed us. This was serious. The California Boys Choir, you know, we had to learn to sing in, you know, 15 different languages. You know, we didn't learn the language, obviously, but we learned how to pronounce everything perfectly with proper accents, you know, from Latin to German.

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I mean, everything.

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And, you know, we learned how to sight read and, you know, vocal training and how to support the voice and staging stage presentation, you know, because we were also doing operas. It was a very solid foundation and an experience that. Gave me this education that I base everything that I do on. If you're just joining us, my guest is Lenny Kravitz. His memoir, Let Love Rule is just come out. He'll be back after a break.

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This is fresh air.

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My pockets, food, my money's good. My friends go, and now they've got things coming. Come and let me go. And where they go, nobody knows it's going to come. My goodness and Grace, get people in my face the future. Carol, what's your money campaign? My brother. Your children, it's gone. What goes around comes around. It's gone. Come on. This message comes from NPR sponsor, Western Governors University, one equality college education, but worried about the cost at WTU, you can earn a respected bachelor's or master's degree for under eighty seven hundred dollars per year.

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Our guest, Lenny Kravitz, has a new memoir about his life up to the release of his first album, Let Love Rule, which came out in 1989. The memoir is also called Let Love Rule.

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You became a teenager and you went to high school at Beverly Hills High, probably the most famous high school in the country. And this is the 80s. You're really into the 80s new wave scene. You're inspired by Prince and David Bowie. And you you kind of do that new romantic look that was popular at the time. Like you're wearing ruffled shirts and there's some androgyny to your clothing and you're smoking pot, like all the time. You're sneaking out at night, you're creeping into your parents bedroom, stealing your mother's cars, rolling your car down the hill until you can start it.

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And then I'd have to steal the car keys, which was the which is in their room. That was about a 30 minute operation, you must understand, because, you know, I had to open the door to their bedroom and not have them hear the click. I then had to get on my hands and knees and crawl to this closet that was very close to my parents bed. I'm talking about like it's probably, you know, three feet from their bed.

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And I had to, you know, reach my hand in there in the pitch black. And there was all kinds of things on these shelves and find the keys, get the keys in my hand, you know, get back on my hands and knees, close the door, crawl back out of the room. I mean, that was a thirty minute thing. I dreaded that you never woke him up. Not once.

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They never had an idea that I was stealing their car. I had no license.

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You know, you were fourteen, right? Weren't. Yeah.

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14 and 15. And then and I'm driving go dancing all night in L.A., you know, in the middle of the night, going to clubs, going to the Odyssey, you know, and and then I would have to get, you know, 5:00 in the morning. I make sure I was back at and we lived on a hill up in Baldwin Hills. So I had to go very fast with the car, turn it off as we were approaching our driveway, coast into the driveway, make a turn into the carport while the car was off and, you know, the power steering would shut off.

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I mean, it was it was a whole thing. But I was dedicated because that's where I was having my adventures at night, going out and hanging out in these clubs and hanging out with all of these, you know, people of the night, you know. Did you ever tell your parents you did that later as an adult?

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Yes. As I come on. You didn't know. Come on. I was stealing your car every night. What's what's what's wrong with you? My mother. God bless her.

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I mean, she she you know, she was very pure. And I mean, she didn't you know, she didn't know I was smoking weed until I was, you know, making my second album. So I hid all that stuff really well. Yeah.

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You know, when you're a teenager at Beverly Hills High, you're making a lot of music. You do you describe it as a kind of mix between like that new wave and like soul can. What did it sound like when you compare it to anyone or give us a sense of of what it was?

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It was a mix of things. It was like if you took the Jacksons at that time, like the 80s, Jacksons, like from the Triumph album. And you took a little bit of Rick James in the Gap Band and, you know, 80s funk. And then you took some Bowie and some Hendrix and some Zeppelin and kind of just smashed it all together. It was funky, but it was electric. It had it had some loud guitars, but it had, you know, pumping bass.

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It was everything I loved about music.

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So around this time, your dad's left working in the news and he's been trying all these business schemes without a lot of success. It sounds like he was frustrated that your mom was the breadwinner in the family and your relationship with him gets pretty bad. Eventually he kicks you out of the house like you were going to go see. One of your idols, one day, Buddy Rich play the drums and he said, if you leave now, you can't come back.

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And you said, OK, at this time, you're also hustling as a musician, like you're sleeping in your car or your friend's families take you in. But you're getting gigs like there's actually a YouTube video of you playing the keytar with Herb Alpert on Soul Train and your full eighties. At that point, you've got the big shoulder pads in your jacket. You got a skinny tie. And actually it's it's called Don Cornelius asks everyone your name and you say Romeo Blue, which was what you were calling yourself at that point.

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Talk about taking on a persona and how that idea came to you.

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I wasn't comfortable. With my name, with Lenny Kravitz, I thought it was. Anything but rock and roll. And, you know, this is the days of of Madonna and Prince and and all these folks and with these names and. You know, I'm into David Bowie and. I thought, I've got to change my name, you know, and some friends of mine gave me the nickname Romeo and then I put the blue on it and became Romeo Blue and, you know, changed my appearance and, you know.

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Came up with the fashion that went with it, got these blue contact lenses at the time. This is this is before they had those soft, you know. Yeah, that was a fashionable contact lenses. Yeah.

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Those are hard, hard lenses. These were bottle caps. And these these things were they were horrible.

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But I used to put them in and, you know, my eyes would be tearing and they'd be red and, you know, just kill me to wear these things. But I was completely committed to this character.

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One of the really interesting things about this part of the book is that, you know, you're offered quite a lot of deals from record companies and people want you to sing songs that that go on to become famous and you turn them all down because you don't feel like they're there. You and that's interesting, first of all, because at this point, you're living in a car like you don't have a lot of money, you don't have a lot of options, but also because at this point, you hadn't really found out what your sound is.

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So even though you didn't know what your sound is, you were still turning down these other things like that point. You were still searching for your musical identity, right?

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Yeah. And to this day, I can't explain to you how I had that power. To turn those things down, but here's the thing, they were they were giving me these offers. Each time they always said, you know, you can't do what you're doing, you have to do this, you know, because this is what works and this is what sells and this is what a black artist does to get on the radio, etc.. And every time it got.

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To the point where. The contract was presented. I couldn't do it, there was. A feeling that was just off, I felt physically ill and as you said, I hadn't found my son yet, so I'm turning it down, not because I know what I should be doing. You know, I'm turning it down for something that I haven't even found yet. And that's a good point. I never thought of it like that because I hadn't.

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But I knew that this was not what I wanted to do. Now, how did I have the confidence to to to have faith in that is beyond me for somebody at that age in the situation that I was in?

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You. Stick together. So much to say begins with. Sematic to have. Did you? Lap dancing again. Yes, and always, always be in love.

[00:32:05]

So we're speaking with Lenny Kravitz, who has a new memoir called Let Love Rule.

[00:32:12]

More with him after a short break. This is Fresh Air.

[00:32:16]

This message comes from NPR sponsor we transfer. Are you perfectly happy with the way things are right now? Are there any doubts you have about the world as is? If so, perhaps they deserve your full attention. Perhaps they could even change things for the better. We transfer a set of tools is made for just such an endeavor by helping you collect scatch present and share the ideas that all started with doubt's meat paste, paper and collect by we transfer go to tools to move ideas dotcom to learn more writing.

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[00:33:04]

This is Fresh Air.

[00:33:05]

I'm speaking with Lenny Kravitz. He has a memoir that comes out this week called Let Love Rule.

[00:33:11]

So, Lenny, you met Lisa Monet, who was starring in The Cosby Show at that time, someone you've had you had a childhood crush on, and also that one of your friends. One time I'm going to marry that girl one day. And at first, you know, you were just very good friends. But it was a very intense relationship where you would talk all night and you'd read poetry together and watch movies. And as you say, like the relationship became romantic.

[00:33:38]

You got married, you had your daughter, Zoe. And through this time, it sounds like you guys were living in this really wonderful nurturing bubble together. And you say that, like, the songwriting really changed at that point. And I just want to read what you say here. You say, At long last I'd start to hear songs rooted in spirit, songs that were taking form just as our daughter was taking form a double blessing. The songs were different from anything I'd written before, simply because the life we were living and the love we were creating had made me feel different.

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This was what I had been waiting for. The wait was finally over. The channel was open. It all made sense. So can you talk about how those new songs felt different to you than the ones you were writing before? Well, the ones I was writing before were labelled, you know, I was trying to come up with something, I was trying to find this style, which is fine, that's part of the exercise. But all of a sudden.

[00:34:47]

They were being downloaded, it was beyond my. Thought process. It was. It was just being presented like here you go. Here it is. This is it. You don't have to think about it. You don't have to look for it. Here it is. And it may not have been exactly what I thought I was going to be doing, but I was hearing it. I was feeling it. The portal was open and I accepted it.

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And that was the beginning of Let Love Rule. You know, I made that I made that record without a record label. I mean, that was just done on my own and I didn't know what I was going to do with it, but I knew that I had to complete that task. And I did. And we went from there. Well, you you start recording these songs with your friend, who was the engineer for them, Henry Hirsch, and you both decide that you should really try to play most of the instruments yourself and do do most of the vocals.

[00:35:56]

And that's something you've sort of done throughout your years as a recording artist, because if you look at the credits for your albums, like you play a lot of stuff on them, can you talk about the difference between doing that and collaborating with other musicians on a recording? Like what do you see as the trade offs or the benefits of each?

[00:36:14]

Well, I've never made an album yet with a band. And, you know, I never planned on doing that. But I couldn't afford to hire musicians when I was making the album, you know, I had enough to pay for the studio. That was that was hard enough. So Henry had heard me play different instruments before this experience when I was with another band, which is how I met Henry and found out about that studio. And he said, look, why don't you do it yourself?

[00:36:48]

You know, you don't have the money to pay people just do it. I've heard you play. I've heard you play bass. I've heard you play keyboards. I've heard you play drums. I've heard you play guitar, do it.

[00:36:58]

And I thought that was the most boring idea because I didn't want to be in the studio. By myself, you know, with an engineer like how boring I wanted it to be, like, you know, the documentaries that I've seen, you know, with bands, you know, in the studio and, you know, the fun in the party, in the whole thing and the energy and but, you know, I was also heavily influenced by people like Stevie Wonder and Prince and and Paul McCartney who who who made records on their own.

[00:37:31]

And I did it. And that became. The sound of the band, well, so you recorded these you do most of the instruments yourself and you started shopping around the music to record companies and it sounds like a lot of people didn't know what to make of it. Like some executives would say, your music wasn't black enough or it wasn't white enough. This was like in the mid to late 80s. Do you do you think people expected you to be a hip hop artist because you were black?

[00:38:00]

Yeah, hip hop or RB. They just you know, you'd put the music on and then they'd look at you like, nah, this isn't going to work. What are you doing? You know, and. It's funny, even after I released the record, when I would do interviews, people would say, you know, why aren't you doing hip hop? Like, why are you doing this? You know, they had this thing stuck in their head that, you know.

[00:38:28]

Why aren't you angry? Why aren't you doing this? I mean, the questions that I would hear were incredible. They just had a hard time accepting the fact that I was playing, by the way, black music, rock and roll. You're in your mid 50s now, seems like you're healthy. You look great, but I imagine that the life of a touring rock stars is hard. And looking at what's happened to some rock stars and some of your idols as they've gotten into middle age, it doesn't seem very easy on the body.

[00:39:03]

Like take for example, Prince, you know, it seems like he had a lot of pain from all those years of incredible performance, got into an unhealthy relationship with painkillers, died from an accidental overdose. I mean, it's tragic thinking about what happened to him. But I'm just wondering, like where you are in your life, have you had to really assess the extent to which you're willing to live part of your life on the road? You know, it is a it is a very hard life, it's a wonderful life, it's a blessed life, but.

[00:39:40]

It's a job, man, once you're on that road, you know, you're out there touring for two years, two and a half years and traveling the world. And, you know, everything is about those, you know, two and a half hours on stage or however long it might be. You're dedicated and it takes a lot out of you. And no, I'm not, you know, 20 anymore, but I still. I think my energy is even better now than it was then, and so, you know, I look at people like, you know, Mick Jagger who's, you know, in his mid 70s and can still work a stadium like no other.

[00:40:25]

And he still has that energy and that strength. And, you know, he and I have known each other for some years now and we've spent time together and. You know, I can tell you that he's made that decision to be able to continue doing that, there's discipline involved, what he will and will not put in his body, how he exercises, how he rests, et cetera. And so I've decided that I'm going to continue doing this as long as I can.

[00:41:02]

So we might see some mid 70s tours.

[00:41:04]

Oh, that's young. Mid 70s. Yeah, that's that's a given. OK, we'll talk after that. Like, you know, when I and I hit 80 or something and then we'll see then what we're doing about it.

[00:41:19]

OK, well, Lenny Kravitz, thanks so much for coming on Fresh Air today.

[00:41:24]

It's been a pleasure.

[00:41:25]

Lenny Kravitz speaking with Fresh Air producer Sam Briger Kravitz. His new memoir is called Let Love Rule. Coming up, Maureen Corrigan reviews the new novel from Tana French, who created the Dublin Murder Squad crime series. This is Fresh Air.

[00:41:41]

This message comes from NPR sponsor Hammacher Schlemmer helping define modern living.

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[00:42:40]

Tana French has gained acclaim as the creator of the Dublin Murder Squad crime series, but lately she's branched out into standalone suspense. Her latest novel, The Searcher, is a straightforward and atmospheric tribute to a genre that's fallen out of favor. The Western, which also helped shape modern detective fiction book critic Maureen Corrigan, has a review.

[00:43:02]

The searcher by Tana French is a slow burn of a suspense story. It lulls US readers into basking in Frenchs radiant imagery and language, in particular its descriptions of the rough beauty of the west of Ireland, where the story takes place. Then the heat intensifies. My novels and any place, even the grimmest, meanest streets of Hard-Boiled. Crime fiction seems preferable to the sinister, silent watchfulness of that lush Irish countryside. As French has acknowledged in interviews, the title of her latest crime novel is a nod to the John Ford classic.

[00:43:45]

The Searchers. Like Ford's 1956 film, Frenches novel is essentially a Western, although the novel itself isn't self-conscious about its retro origins. Unless that west of Ireland setting is a sly wink, a lone man, an outsider, is drawn into an obsessive quest to find a young person who's disappeared. In Ford's film, that outsider was civil war veteran Ethan Edwards, played by John Wayne, who search for his niece Frenches. Old soldier is named Carl Hooper.

[00:44:22]

He's divorced and recently retired from the Chicago Police Department with no ties to bind him. Carl has impulsively acted on his dream and bought a tumbledown Irish cottage advertised on the Internet. It's so remote he can blast his favorite Johnny Cash tunes as he sparkles and paints, and only the sheep might complain. But as the mists of autumn close in, Cal realizes that he's not as alone as he thought. The back of his neck, trained over 25 years in the Chicago PD, registers a watcher, someone who's been creeping around the cottage and disturbing the nesting rooks.

[00:45:07]

When Carl corners the voyeur, he turns out to be a wayward adolescent named Treh Reddy, who lives on a nearby mountain with his single mother and wild siblings. Before long, Trey is coming around regularly to help Carl and learn carpentry. One thing trade doesn't need to learn is that Carl is an ex cop. All the gossips in the nearby village have sussed out via Celtic telepathy that the American is an ex cop. Eventually, Trey confesses the real reason he's been hanging around, he wants Carol to find his beloved 19 year old brother Brendan, who vanished months ago, the local police have been useless.

[00:45:52]

So it is that Cal gets drawn into the case, as we readers know he would, because that's what makes these quiet men who preside over Westerns and detective novels, the flawed heroes they are in the process of searching for Brendan. Unearths a bogs worth of secrets and sins festering beneath this quaint patch of the old sod. To even disclose the small slice of the plot of the searcher is a minor crime because the great power of this suspense story comes from its measured pacing and the intensifying evil of its atmosphere.

[00:46:32]

One of the most unsettling moments in the novel is an extended scene where Cal visits the local pub, basically just another isolated cottage in a field. The men gathered their press shot after shot of a powerful home brew called Putting on Cow as a tin whistle plays in the background and the men joke and Cal gets drunker, one part of his brain registers that he's being subtly warned off the investigation. And it's not only the human residents of the area who are all too aware of Karl's movements.

[00:47:11]

The very landscape seems to be in collusion with whatever malevolent forces spirited Brendin away. Here's cow walking down a picturesque lane and realizing he may have been enchanted into making a major life mistake. The morning has turned lavishly beautiful. The autumn sun gives the greens of the fields an impossible mythic radiance and transforms the back roads into light muddled paths where a goblin with a riddle or a pretty maiden with a basket could be waiting around every gorse and bramble bend. Cal is in no mood to appreciate any of it.

[00:47:54]

He feels like this specific beauty is central to the illusion that lulled him into stupidity, turned him into the peasant gazing, slack jawed at this handful of gold coins till they melt into dead leaves in front of his eyes. Frenches writing here is itself on fire, eerie and nuanced and spellbinding indeed, even though to my mind, all of her earlier crime novels have been excellent, this hushed suspense tale about thwarted dreams of escape may be her best yet.

[00:48:32]

Maureen Corrigan teaches literature at Georgetown University. She reviewed The Searcher by Tana French on tomorrow's show. We speak with writer Ramon Allam. His newest and highly anticipated novel is about a white family, an older black couple who find themselves in a beautiful house on a remote, bucolic stretch of Long Island. When mysterious things start happening that could portend the collapse of civilization, the book explores issues of race, class fear and how we respond to crisis. It's called Leave the World Behind.

[00:49:04]

I hope you can join us.

[00:49:36]

Fresh Air's executive producer is Danny Miller, our technical director and engineer is Audrey Bentham. Our interviews and reviews are produced and edited by Amy Salit, Phyllis Myers, Sam Briger, Lauren Krenzel, Heidi Saman, Teresa Madden, Thea Challoner, Seth Kelly and Kyla Latimore. Our associate producer of digital media is Molly S.V. Newspaper. Roberta Shorrock directs the show for Terry Gross. I'm Dave Davies.