Lenny Kravitz is back from Paris, a bit jet-lagged—he got up in the middle of the night to watch Garbo’s Ninotchka, which he had on his iTunes—and minding his carbs. We’re sitting outside at the Bowery Hotel’s faux-Tuscan joint, Gemma, for a muggy, overcast Saturday brunch, and he’s eating a very small piece of organic salmon with some skinny-bitch asparagus spears. When his actress daughter, Zoë, 20 (his child with ex-wife Lisa Bonet), sitting at the table behind us with his publicist and his assistant, twists around to take a look at what he’s ordered, he sounds a bit defensive.
“I’m trying to be cool, sister, you know?” he says. “But I ate the bread.” Though frankly not very much of it, encouraging me to pig out on the rest. But then again, I wasn’t about to spend five nights—October 11 through 18—onstage at Irving Plaza, playing the role of rock-and-roll sex god at 45. Twenty years after he “Let Love Rule,” a certain level of public display is expected of him. Maybe he just expects it of himself. “Yeah, my shirt’ll come off sometimes,” he admits. “Or if I’m in the Bahamas,” the ancestral home of his late mother, The Jeffersons actress Roxie Roker—“I don’t wear much clothes at all. I’ll take two jeans and five T-shirts down there. If I’m hanging out on the beach, I could wear nothing.”
Kravitz has homes in the Bahamas, Rio de Janeiro, and New Orleans, but spends most of his time in Paris. He’s trying to sell his 6,000-square-foot terraced spread at 30 Crosby Street, which has been on the market for some time, though he’s lowered the price from $19.5 million to just under $15 million. He designed it himself, and has re-renovated it to de-Lenny it somewhat for marketing purposes. “It was a bit too me,” he says. “It was brown, it was like some Miles Davis–Isaac Hayes vibe going on up in there.” Last night, he ended up sleeping in the guest room because he just wasn’t comfortable in his own bedroom.
He feels better in Paris, where he started work on his upcoming funk-rock album Negrophilia. It’s named after a book he’d read about the intense, often fetishistic fascination the French have with black artists. “When I made my first album, the Americans didn’t know what to do with me,” he says. “Here’s a black Jew, light-skinned, he’s not doing hip-hop. I didn’t fit in any box, because America’s all about formats, and Paris was one of the first places I went. And they accepted me, like being Josephine Baker or any jazz artist or whoever.”
This dislocation is weird for him because he grew up here, on the Upper East Side and at his grandma’s place in Bed-Stuy. Before his parents moved to L.A. for The Jeffersons— his dad is the late TV producer Sy Kravitz—he was a plugged-in city kid. “I’m at the Carlyle listening to Bobby Short; I’m at the Apollo hearing James Brown; I’m sitting on Duke Ellington’s lap while he plays piano. My mother was doing Off Broadway and in the Negro Ensemble Company. I was going to theater, music, Lincoln Center. You know what I’m saying? New York was slamming then!”
In the eighties, while he was getting famous, he hung out with Haring and Basquiat, and went to Danceteria. “Soho was, like, Soho,” he says. “You had to have an AIR [artist in residence] certificate to live there. There were mom-and-pop shops, a little pet store, a little organic place. The whole neighborhood was, like, people, relationships. Now it’s all homogenized.”
But arty non-rich neighborhoods like that still exist in New York, Lenny. You’re just not here to see them! “I’m talking about Soho in particular,” he says. “That’s why my daughter’s in Brooklyn. She knows where to go.” Kravitz is having a father-daughter sleepover at her place in Williamsburg tonight.
Zoë then complains about the hipster fashion show on the L train, never mind her de rigueur buffalo plaid shirt. “I’ve been wearing flannel for years,” she explains coolly. “She invented flannel,” her dad jokes. “Kurt Cobain got it from her.”
A few minutes later, Victoria Mahoney, the director of the movie Zoë’s making right now, Yelling to the Sky, walks by, coming from brunch with the fashion photographer turned director Carter Smith. Everyone exchanges the love and says they’ll see each other that night at the New York Film Festival screening of Precious, in which Kravitz has a small part as a gentle, progressive-type hospital nurse. “It’s a New York moment,” he observes.
It starts to rain, and we move tables to get under the awning. Didn’t he at least get a little excited coming back into the city last night? “I was really just thinking about how much I love Paris,” he admits, where he lives in the posh, staid 16th Arrondissement. “I’m not saying that there isn’t great architecture here, but you come here and it’s very—straight.” He thinks back again on last night. “Mostly, I didn’t like that I felt not at home.”