Music

Looking Back on Love

How Lenny Kravitz brought out the worst in me, and the best.

I loved Lenny’s adoring songs about his mom, his daughter, and his ex-wife; and I loved that he venerated black women in “Black Girl,” which was one of the first pop songs I’d ever heard that talked about our history, strength, and beauty without sexualizing us or treating us like objects.

In the throes of my fangirl devotion, I was somehow able to instantly and conveniently ignore/forget anything negative I read about Lenny: not just the bad reviews but also the gossip, like that he had cheated on Lisa Bonet when they were married, which hurt triply because she was a woman I admired, and because it made him seem like a hypocrite—here he was publicly singing about his respect for black women, while privately he was disrespecting one of us.

But my devotion was unwavering. For a few years I spent my hard-earned summer-job cash on records and concert paraphernalia. I followed everything Lenny did, including supporting the music of artists he collaborated with, like Slash and Cree Summer.

A few years into this obsession, I heard on the radio that Lenny would be playing at the (now defunct) Capital Ballroom in Washington, DC. I was desperate to go, but the show was on a school night, and my school allowed us to go away on weeknights for academic or religious excursions only. When I asked my prefect for advice on getting an exception from the administration, she said, “Jamia, the rules are the rules.” But I would not take that for an answer—like Lenny, I would refuse to play by the rules!

I requested a meeting with our headmistress, who was known to be a stalwart defender of rules and regulations. In her office, I made an impassioned argument that seeing Lenny Kravitz was akin to a “religious excursion” for me because the Christian imagery in his lyrics really spoke to my soul. I quoted from his song “God Is Love” (“God loves everyone / That’s why he gave his son / And you should feel his pain / He gave us everything”). I told her that his music made Christianity more accessible to me than traditional worship. I kind of remember telling her that he was a “pop-culture missionary” or a “rock star evangelist” and that I thought he was cool, unlike other so-called Christian artists. I also promised not to break any school rules. The headmistress remained stone-faced throughout my presentation, until the end, when I saw her crack a half-smile, and she said I could go. (I think she may have been amused by my audacity and pluck more than she was persuaded by my logic.)

Thrilled, I connected with some cool seniors who I knew shared my passion for Lenny. We saved up money, ordered our tickets, and on the day of the show, braved icy February winds to drive to DC, Lenny’s music blaring the whole way. Nothing could lessen our excitement, not even the jerk at the Capital’s parking lot that threatened to smash our car windows if we didn’t give him our money. I didn’t want to miss the concert, so I handed over the cash I’d saved for Lenny swag.

We shivered outside for over an hour waiting to get into the venue. Other people in line started to get frustrated, but, always a faithful disciple, I never complained. As soon as we were inside, I pushed my way to the very front row, sang along with every lyric, laughed obnoxiously at all of Lenny’s jokes, and engaged in concert rugby with other fans who tried to get in my way when he threw roses and his towel to the audience–I left with several of his items.

For weeks afterwards, my friends and I basked in the glow of our night on the town with Sir Kravitz. Every lunch period, during morning meetings, and in notes passed during study hall, we recounted our favorite moments, and even our least favorite ones (“Remember how we had to shower three times to get the smoke, pot, and BO smell off of us before school the next day?”). I felt proud of myself for getting off campus on a school night and for taking a trip to the big bad city without adult supervision.

I spent the next summer living with my grandmother in South Carolina. One day she handed me a stack of towels that she’d taken the liberty of removing from my suitcase and washing. I stared at her in disbelief, and surprised even myself when I burst into tears. One of those towels—and now there was no way of knowing which one—was the towel that Lenny had thrown into the audience at that show.

I cherished that towel. I pulled it out and gazed at it on a regular basis, and made my friends take whiffs of its mix of sweat, smoke, and patchouli. I know this sounds ridiculous, but at the time, my fervor was so strong that I actually treasured a gross throwaway towel simply because it had been his.

This is incredibly embarrassing, but I cried like a baby because of that stupid towel. I wept until it hurt to breathe. As I rifled through the stack of towels trying to find “the one,” my mind flashed back to the moment after I’d caught it, and another girl had tried to snatch it from me. She grabbed the towel and pulled so hard I was knocked to the ground, and still I refused to let go. I thought about how she dragged me along the floor and how I wrestled with her until she got too tired to keep fighting and I came away with my precious prize. And that’s when it hit me: a wave of shame. I was so embarrassed that I’d turned on another woman and that we’d both acted like idiots over a man who would never know our names. I was even more embarrassed when I remembered how I’d bragged about it afterwards to my friends. As I hiccupped and sobbed, I felt so disappointed in myself. I didn’t like how this Lenny obsession made me feel anymore.

When I make a decision to change something in my life, it’s very easy for me to just let go of things that I used to hold dear—this is both a strength and a weakness, but in this case, it was exactly what I needed. I was done wasting my time, energy, emotions, and my fighting spirit on Lenny Kravitz. I knew there were better things out there to fight for.

When I returned to school that fall, I got involved in student politics, and became the co-president of the campus’s Black Student Union. I started standing up for myself more often, and speaking out when I saw things happen on campus that I didn’t like. I directed my passion at my own values instead of on some stranger. I didn’t stop looking up to famous people, though. My hero worship continued with revolutionaries and activist artists like Che Guevara, Frida Kahlo, Hettie Cohen, Nina Simone, Gloria Steinem, and Audre Lorde—people whose work inspired me to fight for what I believe in.

Today I’m an activist, an organizer, and a storyteller. I don’t actively keep up with Lenny Kravitz’s career, but I’m still a fan of his music. When I hear one of his songs, I think about who I was back then, and how far I’ve come. Mostly, I’m reminded of a time when my passion was like a wild bird or a superpower that I didn’t yet know how to control yet. I’m thankful for what Lenny Kravitz gave me—someone to identify with when I needed it, and the discovery that when I’m arguing for something I want, I can be very powerful. It turns out that what I said to my headmistress was kind of true: Lenny Kravitz was my pop-culture missionary, an angel who came here to show me the depths of my own devotion. ♦

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23 Comments

  • awkwardella February 7th, 2013 8:23 PM

    I absolutely adore this. I look mixed, though not 100% that I am, and I faced the same “not black enough”/”not white enough” issue when I was younger (uch and i’m from New York wtf).

    Are You Gonna Go My Way is my faaaavorite Lenny song.

    http://www.awkwardella.com/

    • Jamia February 8th, 2013 7:29 PM

      Thank you! Don’t ever listen to the haters, keep that head held high. :)

  • silvermist February 7th, 2013 8:24 PM

    This is so well-written and inspiring (I would also love to hear more about your experiences at the boarding school, boarding schools fascinate me, I’ve read ‘the twins at st. clare’s’ way too many times).
    I wish I could too be brave and get more involved in politics and activism and actually do something good for the world.

    • Jamia February 8th, 2013 7:26 PM

      Thanks so much! Maybe i’ll pitch a piece on boarding school sometime. I get a lot of questions about it, esp. since I went to all-girls school. I will dispel all of the myths and tell everyone about the true stereotypes. (wink)

      • Jamia February 8th, 2013 7:28 PM

        PS. Go and rent one of my favorite films, Flirting (it is a film with Thandie Newton and Nicole Kidman when they were young). It takes place in boarding school and it is awesome.

  • Bananaskid February 7th, 2013 10:24 PM

    That’s very interesting.

  • Nadya February 7th, 2013 10:28 PM

    This was an amazing article, thank you!

    And oh my gosh did you go to AIS-R?! Or SAIS-R as it used to be called?! Up until recently I went there too. Small world….

    • Jamia February 8th, 2013 7:25 PM

      I attended SAIS-R and PCS (now known as AIS-J) :) Amazing times in both schools.

    • Jamia February 8th, 2013 7:25 PM

      Thank you Nadya!

  • AnaRuiz February 7th, 2013 10:48 PM

    Jamia’s articles are always enlightening. I’m mixed too, and it has never been a problem, but I never have embraced it either. Maybe I should aprecciate my mixed roots more, by exploring them…

    Anaruizwriting.blogspot.com

  • Pipstar February 8th, 2013 3:37 AM

    Jamia I lived in Jeddah during the gulf war as well. We stayed throughout and it was quite scary! I went to the Continental School there, and we left in 1997 :) xx

    • Jamia February 8th, 2013 6:47 PM

      Cool! Lots of my friends are Conti alums.

  • AmyL February 8th, 2013 9:16 AM

    This was actually really inspiring~

    intergalactic-dragons.blogspot.com

  • rayano-banano February 8th, 2013 10:52 AM

    Hi! I’m actually from Jeddah! Cool to know that some Rookies have that city as a part of their world too.

    • Jamia February 8th, 2013 7:23 PM

      Awesome, I miss it. Such a beautiful city. I also miss Al Baik– Good thing I ate there before my gluten allergy emerged. “)

  • umi February 8th, 2013 7:59 PM

    Love this soo much.My grandma(lol) showed me lenny kravitz and as soon as i saw him i loved him.he steps over the “boundries” of so-called black music and white and it’s just great.I’m mixed myself and it’s ALWAYS ” are you black or white?you look kind of white but you like hip-hop,like which side do you IDENTIFY with?” omg my dad is african american my mom is Polish and i am BOTH.i really admire him for stepping over those boundries~~

  • Anna F. February 8th, 2013 11:46 PM

    JAMIA this is wonderful

  • barbroxursox February 9th, 2013 1:33 PM

    I admire your strength to stop completely obsessing over rock stars! I am obsessed with so many old men, and I know they have flaws (some really bad, like alleged rape and domestic abuse) but it’s just so hard for me to let them go because of the amazing music they make. I hope it’s just my teenage hormones and I’ll get over them (but still listen to their music!) soon. I loved this article, and I like Lenny Kravitz’s music too :)

    http://lizard-on-a-window-pane.tumblr.com

  • Jamia February 10th, 2013 12:19 PM

    Thank you! xx

  • tanyakburns February 18th, 2013 4:22 PM

    Was it Orangeburg you lived in? I was older than you. I would have loved a friend like you in that town.

  • Jamia March 20th, 2013 12:20 PM

    Yes it was Tanya :)