Revelations: Lenny Kravitz, New York, 1969 - I went to church to become Michael Jackson

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The Independent Culture
MY PARENTS lived in one of the nicest landmark blocks in Manhattan - right opposite the Metropolitan Museum of Art. But in complete contrast, because they worked odd hours, I stayed during the week with my grandparents in a rough area of Brooklyn called Bedford Stuyvesant - Mike Tyson, Biggie Smalls (The Notorious B.I.G.) and Spike Lee all came from there. It made life very interesting and I learnt to relate with all kinds of people. But then my father is a Russian Jew and my mother is from the Bahamas, so here I am in the middle.

My parents were both in show business and from a very young age, instead of leaving me home with a babysitter, they took me to see Count Basie, Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan and James Brown. Obviously I didn't know the magnitude of these people, but I loved being there and it brought me to life. I even sat on Duke Ellington's lap while he played piano and once on my birthday he even performed "Happy Birthday" for me.

I'd always enjoyed music but the time it really changed my life was when I was just five years old and heard the Jackson Five for the first time. I was in Brooklyn at my grandparents when "The Love You Save" came on the radio and, immediately, I knew that was what I wanted to do. I really identified with this amazing little kid but somehow, I don't know how, I also heard the quality: the horns, funky guitar and incredible bass line. We bought the single and I played the song so often it must have worn out.

We didn't have a large mirror that I was tall enough to see into but for some reason we owned a big piece of plywood, which lived behind a door in the apartment, and I used to put it down over the carpet so I could get some slick movement. I would take a pencil for a microphone and perform my Jackson Five thing. The Jacksons had these really cool boots that they used to wear with pants which stopped at the knee. To copy them for my routine I would put on my rubber galoshes even though, disappointingly, they only came up to mid-calf. I also grew my hair into a nice big afro like Michael's. Instead of playing with toys, I would take the pots, pans and spoons out of the kitchen and pretend they were a drum kit. After a while I progressed to an old acoustic guitar - it belonged to my dad but he never played - and started picking on that. I was for ever fantasising about being a musician, but at that age it wasn't about money or being a star, but about how much fun being in the Jackson Five would be.

Most children change from wanting to be a fireman one week to a ball player or a nurse the next, but not me - music was always my focus. It created a tunnel vision and deciding so young was frustrating: school became just something to get through. I wanted to start right away: if Michael is doing it now, why do I have to wait? So when we moved to Los Angeles, (my mother had a big TV show called The Jeffersons), I was made to audition for the California Boys Choir - after the Vienna Boys Choir it is the most respected in the world.

Although I'd been quite a precocious five-year-old, listening to Tchaikovsky, which my parents thought was really funny, by 11 I was into Jimmy Hendrix, Kiss and Led Zeppelin - just a little different from classical music! The training programme was very intense but I made the concert choir and started at the top: my first ever concert was at the Hollywood Bowl with the LA Philharmonic - full-on drama! The California Boys Choir really cracked the whip, we all had to dress alike and never run. We were made to walk everywhere - and I mean everywhere. The choir master would yell at us and within seconds we'd have lined up in two rows from tall to small. My life became dominated by rules. Each year, we'd even live together for a two-month intensive training programme. What's more, we couldn't listen to anything but classical music - the one exception was the Beatles.

I got a taste for touring and recording, but my focus was on getting out! I didn't want to be a classical musician, but I believe that if I hadn't have sung with the choir I wouldn't be here today. I might not even have started at all without that launch pad, not only did I learn a lot about music but also about discipline - which you need to survive in this business.

My mother would have never sent me to the choir if it hadn't have been for Michael Jackson. So it was a strange experience to actually meet him! There was Michael, Prince and myself, all in the same room. We hung out together for a while, but because Michael really liked my hit "It ain't over till it's over" he asked me to sing it. Getting on stage in front of 50,000 is fine, but if Michael asks you to sing a few bars you clam up! That meeting brings my story right round, however I wasn't brave enough to tell him how he got me started.

Ever since I heard Michael Jackson at five, I've been very focused: "Don't get in my way or I'll steamroller right over you." I wanted my career so bad, I just kept running around, but my mother always tried to pull me back and get me to look at my life as well. Sadly, she passed on and I've needed time to reflect. Eventually you have to deal with what is going on inside. I've got a lot of years to catch up on and I've put a lot on the back burner. Sometimes it gets to a point where I'm numb, but somehow the music has allowed me to express myself. There is a song on my new album dedicated to my mother called "Thinking of you". Music is my saviour but, at other times, a whip beating my back. I need to find a balance.

What am I going to discover in my trunk? Black and white, rich and poor, rock star and the guy that just wants to be at home with his family - there are lots of paradoxes. I have a split personality, this has been something that runs throughout my life. Even if it is disturbing, I'm looking forward to listening to my spirit and dealing with the pain. We'll see if I can put my two halves together.

Lenny's new single, released yesterday, is `I belong to you'. He will be appearing at Brixton Academy, London on 7 December.

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