Twenty minutes into our conversation, the hot Miami sun glinting off the outdoor Jacuzzi while noise from the kitchen suggests that his personal chef is dishing up lunch, Lenny Kravitz says this: "This place is hardly opulent. I mean, it's just home, that's all. I could leave it tomorrow and go live in a shack and not miss it, really I could. I'm not interested in material things, and I don't want to be defined by any of this just as I don't want to be defined by the lumps of metal I happen to drive."
While he may speak with conviction, albeit the kind that requires him to do so with both eyes closed, it is difficult to take what he says entirely seriously. There are reasons for this. I meet Kravitz, recognised these days more as an international love god than he is an international rock star, at his Miami mansion, a half-hour drive from fashionable South Beach. The place is enormous, boasting Gone With The Wind staircases, at least 10 bedrooms and the occasional crystal chandelier. The furniture throughout is classic retro and exclusively black and white because its interior designer (Kravitz himself) is "a monochromatic kinda guy". In the super-stylish living-room sits what looks like a priceless glass piano, while the cinema room is decked out in tactile satin and fur. But in place of the anticipated row of seats is a monumental double bed that suggests movie-watching in here is merely foreplay to the main attraction of, well, of sex with an international love god. There's more. Outside, beyond the well-tended garden and infinity pool, is a 60ft yacht bobbing gently on the waves, and the lumps of metal he refuses to be defined by are threefold: a Mercedes, a BMW, a vintage silver Ferrari.
For someone who claims not to be concerned with the pleasures of wealth, then, his abode succeeds in very strenuously suggesting otherwise. But the singer-songwriter is adamant. All of this means nothing. He can take it or leave it. Why? Because the true value of existence, he says, thumping his chest with a clenched fist, comes only from within.
"I'm not attached to any of it," he insists. "It's just stuff to me, nothing more." He mentions his mother's influence upon him here, a famous television actress from the Seventies who, despite amassing great fame f and fortune during her lifetime (she died nine years ago), refused to employ a housekeeper because she herself came from poverty. Her pride wouldn't allow it, and so every weekend the future rock star watched mum on her hands and knees, cleaning the bathroom. It gave him terrific perspective on life. "That," he says, "is where I'm coming from."
So Kravitz scrubs his own bathroom?
"Oh no, no. I have someone who comes in. I don't actually have time to clean it myself ..."
Lenny Kravitz has a new album out, his seventh, entitled Baptism. A reliably solid hour of old-fashioned rock, Baptism, like all Lenny Kravitz albums, sounds like all Lenny Kravitz albums. There are touches of Jimi Hendrix here, lyrical nods to John Lennon there. Much of it is haunted by the ghost of psychedelia, and it boasts some quintessential Lenny Kravitz song titles, like "Minister Of Rock'n'Roll" and "SistaMamaLover".
While it may not attract a great many new converts to the Church of Lenny, it will probably make the faithful weak-kneed with joy. Judging by the sales figures for 2002's Greatest Hits, the Church of Lenny numbers somewhere in the region of 8 million disciples.
In many ways, Kravitz is the last of the great rock stars, a man, like Mick Jagger, driven by the force of his own outlandish personality. Meeting him in the flesh - and, naturally, barefoot (he doesn't do shoes if he can help it) - does not disappoint. He comes sashaying through the Lennon-esque living room in a pair of tight suede hipsters and tighter waistcoat, a walking, talking Seventies mannequin made flesh: 5ft 7in of Camden Market bohemia, a torso strewn with tattoos, jewellery draped across various bits of visible flesh. Gone are the famous dreadlocks (due to their "bad vibes", apparently), replaced by straight, flat hair that makes him look almost, but not quite, like a pretty girl. His image screams of a time before punk, grunge, electronica and, of course, postmodernism, making him seem both fabulous and foolish, a heady combination that has proved very popular with the opposite sex.
We find him in buoyant mood today. He relaxes into an over-stuffed white sofa in the garden and says things like, "I've rediscovered my zest for life," and, "I wake up these days just happy to be alive, to see the birds in the sky." The reason for such rhapsody, it transpires, is that he has only recently emerged from a crippling two-year depression that came upon him, unannounced, in early 2002. Its timing couldn't have been worse. He had just released an album, Lenny, and had committed himself to a long world tour that he couldn't back out of. It became the darkest period of his life.
"I just couldn't shake it off," he says. "See, at heart, I'm a very positive person, so to be so negative, and for so long, was very tough on me. The whole tour was awful. I'd arrive in each city, go straight to my hotel room, pull the curtains and hide under my bed until I had to be on stage. That was the only time I ever interacted with anyone - up there on stage." He shakes his head. "I hated every minute of every performance."
Under advice from his manager, he consulted a doctor, then a psychiatrist. Pills were prescribed, but because Kravitz is mistrustful of pills, he didn't take them. Instead, he smoked marijuana, a lot of marijuana. "I was giving Bob Marley a run for his money," he says of a habit that ran to an ounce every couple of days. "I actually employed someone on the tour exclusively to roll joints for me morning, noon and night."
For the first few months, he existed in a state of extreme paranoia, but soon the paranoia gave way to an enveloping numbness, and it was this, and only this, that allowed him to crawl from one day to the next. "I think the depression, in part, had a lot to do with all the psychological baggage I was carrying around with me," he says. "I'm the kind of person who gets very lonely very easily, and the fact that I'm not particularly good in relationships was slowly destroying me. You know, I wanted to meet the perfect woman. I didn't want just another girlfriend, I wanted a wife."
In 1985, Kravitz married Cosby Show actress Lisa Bonet. They had a daughter, Zoe, but divorced shortly afterwards. Kravitz, who has sole custody of his child, now 15, has been looking for love ever since, a search that has seen him date, and summarily dispense with, Vanessa Paradis, Kylie Minogue, Natalie Imbruglia, Madonna, Naomi Campbell and, most recently, Nicole Kidman.
"I find it very easy meeting women," he says, "but it's difficult to meet the right one. If I was looking for nothing more than sex, I'd be fine, I'd be set for the rest of my life, but I've never been that interested in sex."
Really? His reputation would suggest otherwise. "I'm serious. Sex doesn't do much for me. The last thing I'm interested in is a one-night stand, just some girl I can bring back here to ... to shag. What I want, what I've always wanted, is someone you can talk right through the night with, someone whose spirit connects, spiritually, with my own."
For a while, Kravitz's relationship with Kidman seemed, to the tabloids at least, to be headed up the aisle. Both had introduced one another to their respective families (something neither does lightly, apparently), but the relationship foundered when Kravitz was caught getting intimate with a Brazilian artist called Isis Arruda at a Miami nightclub. Understandably, he won't be drawn on the details of their break-up, but he does say this: "If you really love one another, then the relationship will work itself out through any kind of problems. In this case, it didn't, and I'm single now. So draw your own conclusions."
I ask him why he is especially drawn to famous women, and I very quickly come to regret it. "Famous women?" he snaps, suddenly sour. "What the hell does that mean? Which famous women?"
Well, Madonna, Vanessa, Kylie, Nicole ... "That's bullshit, really it is. I'm not attracted to, as you call them, famous women, I'm simply attracted to nice women. Because we tend to meet prospective partners in the workplace, mine are occasionally well-known, because I live in a world of art and artists. f But listen, I don't need any girlfriend of mine to have won an Oscar, you know. I'm just as happy dating a girl from the post office. Thing is, the press don't care about that. They don't care if I've dated somebody regular, from, say, the ghetto. All they want to know about are the famous ones."
When was the last time he dated a regular woman? "Pretty recently, actually, but as I said, the press don't care about that. They don't care a damn." At this point, I wave at him. "Hello," I say. "I am from the press, and I am interested." He looks at me quizzically, as if I've just lapsed into Latin, but eventually he relents. He leans forward, and lowers his voice.
"I dated a South American girl from the ghetto, right here in Miami, for close on two years." I ask how a multi-millionaire rock star gets to meet a girl from the ghetto. "By going to the ghetto, of course! Don't let all this fool you," he says, indicating the house, the boat, the staff. "I'm just a regular person beneath all this. When I go out to drink and socialise, I don't hit South Beach because I'll get mobbed there. But in the ghetto, people are cool with me. They see me, Lenny, as just another guy. They're cool, I'm cool, it's all cool." Cool.
Lenny Kravitz is able to stroll through the 'hood, he will tell you, because the 'hood is his roots. It's where he's from. But once again, he is being slightly disingenuous, because Kravitz is no more from the 'hood than Michael Portillo is. Born in New York in 1964, he was brought up on Manhattan's élite Upper East Side by his Bahamian mother, Roxie Roker, star of US TV sitcom The Jeffersons, and father, Sy Kravitz, a Russian Jew who worked as a producer at NBC News. The young Kravitz regularly visited his maternal grandmother, who lived in Brooklyn's Bedford-Stuyvesant - the "'hood" of which he is so proud. But his parents were keen socialites whose regular parties were attended by the likes of Duke Ellington, Count Basie and Woody Allen. At the age of 11, his family relocated to Los Angeles where he attended the famous Beverly Hills High School, alongside actor Nicolas Cage and Guns N' Roses guitarist Slash.
When he turned 16, he was desperate to earn some creative stripes as a musician, and so he left his parents to become "homeless" for a couple of months, living in the back of his car while writing songs under the guise of Romeo Blue. Within three years, he'd dropped the David Bowie-influenced moniker in favour of his own name, and landed a recording deal. His 1989 debut album, Let Love Rule, made him a superstar.
But while he proved to be a prolific songwriter throughout the Nineties (and not just for himself, either; in 1991, he wrote "Justify my Love" for Madonna), it was his flamboyant dress sense and high-profile love affairs that really sealed his celebrity. Even when music critics began to slate him as nothing more than a feather boa'd rock pastiche, he remained a tabloid staple.
According to Kravitz himself, he has been denied proper respect for far too long now. "Think about it," he says. "I'm the guy who writes, plays and produces absolutely everything I do. Come into the house now and I'll play you any one of 15 different instruments, and I'll do it better than most musicians out there right now. But people don't care about that, do they? They just want to know who I'm sleeping with." He could always live his private life a little more privately, I suggest. "But I do! I do not court celebrity, and I never have done. But, obviously, if you do date famous women, then a certain amount of press interest comes with that. And what am I supposed to do then? When I was dating Vanessa [Paradis], the paparazzi followed us all over the world, even to the remotest holiday island. Next day, I'm all over the papers. Incidents like that give me a reputation, and I guess that reputation precedes me."
But where this used to get him down and, ultimately, lead to depression, he now no longer cares. "It's taken me a long time to reach this point," he says, "but I'm happy with who I am and where I am. I'm happy."
This month, Lenny Kravitz turns 40. Perhaps spurred on by thoughts of eventual mortality, he has decided to spread his wings. "I have so much more creativity within me than most people realise," he confides. "Mostly, that's because I haven't showcased it yet, but now I am prepared to."
He explains that he is currently working on a semi-autobiographical film called Barbecues & Bar Mitzvahs, which he will direct and star in, and is developing lines in both clothing and furniture. He has also recently become an in-demand interior designer, and is about to oversee a project for South Beach's swankiest hotel which, he promises, "is going to be completely amazing".
And yet despite this overflow of creative juice, he continues to insist that the trappings mean nothing to him. As we walk through his garden and back towards the kitchen, he tells me about the property he owns in the Bahamas, a small, very basic, tin shack on the beach.
"I could live there, happy every day just to see the sea and breathe the fresh air," he says, nodding hello to his chef. "Really I could."
'Baptism' is out on 17 May
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