MIAMI – Lenny Kravitz is sitting on the couch in the living room of his bayfront North Beach home. He’s the picture of a rock star, even when he’s kicking it in a knit cap, belted sweater, and loose cotton pants.
The 37-year-old show-biz progeny has taken his sunglasses off to reveal bedroom eyes topped by eyebrows like furry hooks. The brows’ curve echoes the curve of the waterway outside the west wall – which is entirely made of glass – and the curve of the couch in his custom neo-`60s house.
The piano, the bar and the phalanx of lounges like puzzle pieces in the adjoining anteroom are all curved – crazily so – looping like Dr. Seuss drawings. The shag carpet, the baby grand, the sheer curtains, and the couch are bright shades of orange and red. The ceiling is mirrored and one wall is made of concave chrome bubbles, like surveillance mirrors.
There’s a pool table, two pinball machines – one Kiss, one Elton John – and three Grammys behind the bar. Austin Powers might have had a scene like this in mind when he coined the term “shagadelic.”
“It’s just a great vibe to make music in,” Kravitz shrugs, his voice husky.
In the next room is his custom-built Roxie Studio.
“You can record all over the house; it’s wired. You can even go out on the deck and play. It’s a cool place.”
Six albums into his career, Kravitz has become one of the most enduring pop artists of the past decade by reviving Jimi Hendrix as a smoldering hunk.
“We have a shortage of rock stars, and he clearly is that. He OOZES that,” says Rick Krim, executive vice president of talent and music programming at VH1. “For girls, he’s a sexy guy. Guys love him because he’s cool.”
Yet Kravitz remains an anomaly: a black man playing rock guitar in the age of samplers. He is deemed too soft for alternative, too hard for R&B. His success both thwarts the critics and remains thwarted by pigeonholes.
“Lenny has felt that a lot of people in the black community haven’t been supportive of him and his music and his place in music,” says Emil Wilbekin, editor-in-chief of hip-hop/R&B-leaning Vibe magazine. For the first time in his career, Kravitz appears on the cover of Vibe’s December issue.
Given the immense pressures of being not just a star, but a stereotype-breaking star, it’s perhaps no wonder for the past three years, Kravitz has found refuge in the calming reflection of the Intracoastal. Still, Kravitz doesn’t quite know how to explain how he got here, in this op-art fantasia designed by Michael Czyse. (Kravitz recently bought a second place on Sunset Island). One day he woke up, “and I was living in Miami.”
“I came down here to kind of chill out and get away from New York,” Kravitz says. “I was staying in a hotel, and I think I was curious. I discovered my cousin’s a Realtor, and I called her and said I want to see houses. She showed me a couple places and I walked in here and saw this view and said, I’ll take it. I thought it would be a vacation home, and I ended up coming down here. I still don’t really understand it, but here I am.”
Kravitz was born in New York, the only child of TV producer Sy Kravitz and the late actress Roxie Roker, best known for her role in “The Jeffersons.” Roker’s family was from the Bahamas, where they spent many holidays. Kravitz maintains a modest getaway in Eleuthera.
Roker’s career took the family to L.A. There, the budding musician’s interests grew from R&B to rock. At first, Kravitz wanted to be a studio musician, but changing technology made that a less viable option. Then he found his muse: actress Lisa Bonet, who was starring in “The Cosby Show.” They married, had one child, Zoe, and eventually divorced. In the interim, Kravitz found his voice and his career. He titled his 1989 debut “Let Love Rule.”
“I always make records that deal with what I’m going through, what I’m thinking about in my life, different details,” Kravitz explains. “It feels better to just say what you feel than make up a bunch of songs that mean nothing to you.”
Even though he likes to hide behind mirrored lenses, as he does on the album’s cover, in song, Kravitz does not come across as the king of cool. “You think I’m cool, but I am not/You think that I am nonchalant,” he sings on “A Million Miles” “Away,” his voice intimate and echoing over a mournful acoustic guitar.
“People assume that I’m a certain way,” he elaborates. “People assume, oh you’re Lenny Kravitz, you’re a rock `n’ roll musician, you’re not sensitive, you don’t have insecurities. Of course I’m a human being. I go through things like anyone else does. I have my trips, my baggage, my fears, my whole thing. And I’m not afraid to show myself.”
Yet in person, Kravitz does exude cool, in both its meanings: hipper than hip, and indifferent. He’s direct, looking a reporter in the eyes, but he’s not forthcoming. As one local entertainment industry professional who has worked with Kravitz says, “He’s not expressive.” He may open up his home, but he keeps his heart closed.