Lenny Kravitz Essay, Research Paper
For my paper I chose rock musician Lenny Kravitz. I will discuss in detail his rise to critical acclaim as well as show the individual influences towards his works. He is definitely one of my favorite musicians who’s work I fondly enjoy.
The only a child of a white TV news producer Sy Kravitz and the late African American actress Roxie Roker (known for her role as Hellen Willis on the TV sitcom The Jeffersons, Kravitz was born May 26, 1964, in Brooklyn New York. It was only upon reaching elementary school did he come to realize that his mother and father were of different races, but in any case the matter was never much of an issue for him. As an infant, Lenny displayed a strong predilection for music, and he often surrounded himself with pots and pans which served as his makeshift drums. His parents encouraged these proclivities. By age ten, Lenny had already been escorted to performances by Duke Ellington, Sarah Vaughan, James Brown, and the Jackson 5.
By 1974, the Kravitz family relocated to Los Angeles, a move necessitated by Roxie Roker’s work on The Jeffersons. At his mother’s urging, Lenny auditioned for and won a spot on the prestigious California Boys Choir. By 1978, after teaching himself to play a variety of instruments, he was accepted into the music program at Beverly Hills High School. It was there he stumbled upon the work of rhythm and blues artist Prince, and soon after lost interest in all things academic. Christening himself “Romeo Blue” he adopted a flamboyant persona and began to spend lengthy quantities of time away from home. Though he managed to graduate high school in 1982, it was clear by then that music would forever be the primary focus of Kravitz’s life. Opting not to attend college, Kravitz began attempts to gain a record deal with his father Sy Kravitz financing his plans. Shopping demos to various companies, Lenny was usually told his music wasn’t “black” enough to succeed commercially. In the ensuing years he floundered, with his difficulties compounded by his parents’ divorce in 1985.
Kravitz found a kindred spirit in recording engineer Henry Hirsch, who shared his love of retro rock and rhythm. In Hirsch’s studio in New Jersey, the two began work on what eventually would become his debut album, Let Love Rule. Still calling himself Romeo Blue, Kravitz was introduced to actress Lisa Bonet (known as Denise Cosby on The Cosby Show) during a backstage gathering after a show by the pop-soul group New Edition. In November 1987 he and Bonet married. 12 months later their daughter Zoe was born. Meanwhile Kravitz and Hirsch remained at work compiling tracks for Let love Rule. The album was complete shortly after Zo?’s birth. Kravitz was instantly signed to Virgin Records dropping the “Romeo Blue” moniker thereafter.
Let Love Rule, released in the fall of 1989 was derided by critics as overly derivative. However the album’s blend of rock, psychedelia, and soul proved to be a smash hit with the record-buying public. Kravitz embraced the rock and roll lifestyle with a vengeance, and rumors began to circulate that he was having a series of extra marital affairs. Unfortunately the indiscretions proved to be more than Bonet could bear and the couple separated in 1991. The divorce was finalized two years later.
Inspired mostly by the breakup of his marriage, his second album, Mama Said, adopted a more introspective tone than its predecessor. Critics though still remained unimpressed though the album, Are You Gonna Go My Way, did Kravitz begin to garner a significant measure of critical acclaim. Released in the spring of 1993, the album present stronger material and more consistent songwriting than his previous work
Soon after beginning work on the follow-up to Are You Gonna Go My Way, Kravitz’s mother was diagnosed with terminal cancer. As was the case with his previous albums, the substance of his personal life spilled into his songs profoundly. By the time the new album, titled Circus, was completed in the summer of 1995, it was clear it would sport little of the peace-and-love motif that had characterized much of Kravitz’s previous work. On Dec. 2, 1995 the day after Zoe Kravitz’s birthday, Roxie Roker died.
With the events in his personal life taking a heavy toll, Kravitz retreated to the Bahamas in the summer of 1996. After much reflection and rest, he began working again. This time around after toying with samples and loops he opted to use digital technology. As a result, that album titled 5, was his most eclectic work to date, though the trademark Kravitz retro sound remains intact. His current album, Greatest Hits, just released this month is a collection of his finest tracks from prior albums.
Two of my favorite selections from Kravitz appear on the album 5. The first selection is titled I Belong To You. He does the lead and background vocals over sweet sounds of guitar, drums, bass, paper blocks, and toy piano. The music and lyrics are by him. Hard to categorize as he is, I Belong To You, would fall into the influence rhythm and blues. The song is a personal favorite in regards to the fact it was shared on a very personal and intimate level with my ex-girlfriend Eemia. The second selection I enjoy immensely is from 5 as well. It’s titled Without You. Kravitz does the lead vocals over inspiring electric and acoustic guitars, synthesizers, and a drum program. It drifts along the lines of rhythm and blues and retro rock. Again I choose it on account of the intense relationship I was fortunate to share with a close ex-girlfriend. Both songs are dear to me as she is.
In sum, as a musician and producer Lenny Kravitz is unquestionably gifted. He can recreate the sound and feeling of countless groups from the past; his music recalls everyone from John Lennon, Jimmie Hendrix, and David Bowie to the Velvet Underground, Curtis Mayfield, and Prince. What Kravitz can’t or rather chooses not to do is synthesize these influences into a distinctive style—a multitude of songs on each of his albums sounds like it was recorded by a different artist, However that’s what’s magical about him. He eschews any kind of categorization of his music. His works can encompass the varied styles of rhythm and blues, gospel, funk, soul, and handwork. In short Lenny Kravitz is a true soul rocker.
Okun, Milton.Best of Lenny Kravitz.New York: Cherry LaneMusic Company, 1994
Best of Lenny Kravitz for Guitar. New York:Cherry LaneMusic Company, 1999