What book, if any, most influenced your decision to become a songwriter and musician or contributed to your artistic development?
I read a book about David Bowie when I was about 19 years old. It was a great example of how somebody who didn’t fit in a box made his way by being extremely different and being himself. He was such a visionary with his music, his appearance and his fashion. That inspired me a lot.
When I read it, I was going under another name, which was Romeo Blue. I’d become this other character, because I wasn’t really comfortable with Lenny Kravitz. I didn’t think it sounded rock ’n’ roll. I thought it was weird. I hadn’t yet accepted myself. I had changed my appearance. I wore these blue contact lenses. This was way before the soft, fashionable colored contact lenses. There was a guy who made contact lenses for movies at Universal Studios. I hired him to make them for me. They were quite hard to wear and really uncomfortable. However, I wore these blue contacts, because I loved the tone of Bowie’s eyes. He had one blue eye and one sort of brown eye.
Reading about Bowie got my imagination going, and it really helped me with this Romeo Blue character, which I did for a couple of years. By becoming someone else and having this alter ego, it brought me back to being myself. I understood that wasn’t who I was. I was putting something on. Although it was interesting and fun, I had to be organic to who I am. It’s a great respite to leave yourself and come back. It’s the typical “Wizard of Oz” story. Everything you need was right there to begin with.
What are the best books about music you’ve read?
I love the Miles Davis book — “Miles: The Autobiography,” with Quincy Troupe. That was a book that influenced me a lot, because I grew up with Miles. I knew him from when I was a kid up until the time he died, at which point I was 25 years old. I learned so much more about him. There’s also “Divided Soul: The Life of Marvin Gaye,” which my “Let Love Rule” co-writer David Ritz wrote. It’s a wonderful book.
What moves you most in a work of literature?
A great story. “The Catcher in the Rye” was one of the first things that knocked me over as a kid. The other thing was Franz Kafka’s “Metamorphosis.” To me, it’s always the storytelling and the colorful ways in which the story is communicated. That’s what keeps me turning the page. I remember “The Catcher in the Rye” and “Metamorphosis” really got me in high school. I grew up in New York City and understood the backdrop and how Holden’s mind worked. On the other side, “Metamorphosis” was completely a fantasy, but it was told in such a graphic way. Those were the first two books that got me going and showed me what great storytelling was like.
Do you prefer books that reach you emotionally, or intellectually?
I like to be reached emotionally and intellectually. Emotionally is first, though. It can be simple. It can be complex. However, I love for a work of art to hit me emotionally. It’s like connecting to music. When something hits me emotionally, it always works instantly — whether the music is complicated, like some Art Tatum jazz piano or an old Charlie Parker bebop, or if it’s just straightforward.