No More Mr. Lisa Bonet, Rocker Lenny Kravitz Makes a Name for Himself with a Hot Debut Album

updated 11/06/1989 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 11/06/1989 AT 01:00 AM EST

Let's be blunt Lenny Kravitz, the 25-year-old singer married to Cosby kid Lisa Bonet, used to be regarded as a rock-and-roll impostor. Better known for his mate than for his music—detractors called him Mr. Bonet—he seemed just the sort of dread locked ring-through-the-nose hipster who would take a merciless needling from playful Cliff Huxtable.

Now, with the release of his debut album, Let Love Rule, Kravitz has come into his own. Love is selling well, particularly on college campuses, and the critics have taken note. The album has been compared with the post-Beatles solo work of John Lennon, and Kravitz's punchy sound has been likened to that of dancemeister Prince and guitar king Curtis Mayfield. "I think he's already a star," says Mayfield, who shares a bass player with Kravitz. "It's just going to take some time for everyone to pick up on it." The Rolling Stone reviewer, who gave Love 3½ stars, concluded, "The boy can ignite a groove."

Away from the recording studio, he also has a talent for igniting gossip. Over the past few months, Kravitz has heard wild and unsupported rumors: His two-year marriage to Lisa, 21, is in danger of collapse; he has been kicked out of the house; Lisa practices voodoo; they can't decide whether to raise their lovely 11-month-old daughter, Zoe, as Christian, Jewish or Buddhist "Basically our characters have been destroyed," he says between sets at a cramped Hollywood rehearsal studio. "Lisa is a good person and a loving mother. I'm just a real person—someone who's concerned with people and the planet Lisa's the same. We've really gotten a raw deal." The two seem to share a '60s kind of love, eating organic foods, wearing Woodstock-era duds and preaching peace. In fact "Flower Child," one of the better songs on this R&B-inflected retro-rock album, is a paean to their relationship: "She wears rubies on her fingers/ Tiny bells upon her toes/ She's the finest thing I've ever seen/ Love that ring inside her nose." According to Henry Hirsch, who owns the Hoboken, N.J., studio where Love was recorded: "Lisa was there almost every day, sometimes with the baby." Kravitz came early, by himself. "He took the subway out every morning," says Hirsch. "It was very un-rock and roll."

For Kravitz—who not only sang but wrote all the lyrics and played all the instruments, too—Let Love Rule was a labor of "pure exploration," he says. "I was just trying to figure out what I was all about" Not such an easy task, perhaps, given his background. Kravitz is the only child of actress Roxie Roker, who played Helen Willis on The Jeffersons, and NBC news producer Sy Kravitz, whose Russian-Jewish heritage meant "I got all the holidays in school," says Lenny. Raised in Manhattan, the younger Kravitz spent his weekends with a grandmother in Brooklyn's Bedford-Stuyvesant section where, he says, "I learned what a tough neighborhood was like." In 1974 his parents (now divorced) moved to L.A., and Kravitz, soon after, joined the California Boys' Choir as a first alto. Following his professional debut at the Hollywood Bowl, where he sang in the chorus for Mahler's Third Symphony, Kravitz performed in the chorus of the Metropolitan Opera, singing in such classics as Tosca and Carmen. But longhair music of a different sort inspired him at Beverly Hills High. "I wanted to be David Bowie," he says. "I liked the style, the girls, everything."

After graduation in 1982, Kravitz reinvented himself as Romeo Blue, an itinerant rocker who led a wild and enjoyable life. "I crashed at night wherever I wanted," he says. "Lived in a Ford Escort with no windows for a month. I got shelter, an education and a good time."

But attempts to interest record companies in his demo tapes led only to frustration. "Nobody would ever sign me to do what I wanted to do," says Kravitz, who at the time was into postpunk music. "The record company executives would tell me, 'We like your music. But you can't actually do it. You don't sound black enough.' That's ridiculous, categorizing music by race."

While his career was fizzling, destiny led Kravitz to a chance romantic encounter backstage at a 1985 New Edition concert in Los Angeles. "There are lots of stories concerning that night," Kravitz says of his love at first meeting with Bonet. "But the bottom line is, I thought she was great."

Now living in a loft in downtown Manhattan, "Lisa and I just like to be together," says Kravitz. "We just hang out at home with our kid. We're kinda boring really." With Bonet back at the Kaufman Astoria Studios in Queens, taping Cosby's fifth season, a nanny cares for Zoe. Meanwhile, Kravitz has just completed his first tour, a four-week, 10-city sojourn, and is preparing for another, more ambitious road trip. "I'm not in it for the stardom," Kravitz says of his suddenly promising career. "I just want to continue to write great songs, make great records. This," he vows, "is only the beginning."

Cliff Huxtable, eat your heart out.

—Steve Dougherty, Todd Gold in Los Angeles

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