Forty-year-old men want to bed Macy Gray. Some have already uttered their feral bed sheet desires (with Gray on the speakers, peddling her thighs to willing consumers). The others have yet to discover the dry wit and wet dreams that she sells to the older set. They'll discover her allure soon enough, don't you worry.
Until then, she'll be conjuring villainous sex images of funky yore, thank you very much.
The Macy Gray epidemic is a far-reaching sex lair. Men don't want to merely make love to her-they want unrestrained screwing, screaming one-night stands and the domination that only a 6-foot-plus African-American funk-slinger can dispense.
Her murky sense of laughability is best appreciated in the presence of a mid-life crisis. Because while ego, sex and S&M foreplay can lead to fulfillment in life, they are best enjoyed within the drooling imaginations of 40-somethings in heat.
Pacing the stage at San Diego Street Scene 2003, the former Natalie McIntyre cast herself as a sarcastic, shoulder-shrugging literati. A few self-depreciating jabs led her nicely into a glut of bittersweet R&B schlubbing.
For years now, she has been so far entrenched in quirk that the notion of weird doesn't even approximate her effect. Five seconds into her Street Scene performance, a man muttered, possibly to himself, "I wonder who gets to fuck Macy Gray?" It wasn't as much a question as it was a declaration for middle-aged men everywhere-a battle cry for quirky poon.
Gray's journey from peppery ingénue to anarchic nymph of kinky retro-funk has been a rocky one. She latched on to classical piano as a young child before enrolling in USC's screenwriting program. With a boarding-school education, she took in rock 'n' roll just like her white classmates, but also healthily enveloped herself in Aretha, Marvin and Stevie.
Upon writing a few lyrics for a friend-and having stolen her new name from the mailbox of an elderly neighbor in Canton, Ohio-Gray was summoned to a demo session and, lo-and-behold, was asked to dub her own vocal takes on the song (even though she held a healthy revulsion for her own voice).
The accessibility of "I Try," the smash single from her Billboard-humping debut album, On How Life Is, led her down the MTV vein and out into the stark and stale light of post-hip-hop damnation. Self-assured and infinitely original, her vocal power was unquestionably her initial allure. Gray warped the gritty enigma of Nina Simone or Billie Holiday into a brash unpredictability and surprising maturity.
Then she fell off the face of the industry engine.
2001's The Id-which she pitched at the Grammys by donning a horrible frock marked with "My album drops Sept. 18"-layered freakish gurgles one on top of the other. The album took her one-of-a-kind growl and reduced it to a backing instrument for a freakish crack band that plied filtered soul, decapitated reality and gargled overdubs. Unsurprisingly, her organic idiosyncrasy and bohemian funk were lost on everyone, and no one suffered more than Gray.
Covered in little more than the black curly hair on her head, Gray is gazing westward on the cover of her newest effort, The Trouble with Being Myself, her face covered with the impish love of the perverse.
Yes, she has reigned in her long-lost accessibility this time around (thus the imaginary middle-aged man masturbating next to you in this article), and her music has suffered none for it. A little retro-soul nostalgia doesn't hurt, either. Libidinous eccentricities aside, Gray's whiskey-logged voice is back at center stage these days, carrying along with it the brooding hedonism that compliments her quirkiness.
We should love Gray-men and women alike-but we only have so much room for free-spirited females with a sense of humor and a body left untended through years of donuts and burritos.
Women tend to hate her and the idea of a self-described freak flying her flag merrily down the charts and laughing all the way.
In the liberally toyed-with ferris wheel that is pop music, Gray's life makes much more sense within the frame of '70s fantasia. She steals her wardrobe from an even more drug-friendly version of Scooby Doo and pinches her stage shtick from an over-sexed Al Green.
Gray is not neutral and not fit for the housewife de rigueur of her native Ohio. Her fame is the complete antithesis of luck-she rifles and plugs and stumbles and chokes through self-promotion at its most invasive. She never even tries to walk away, even if her fans do.
Which brings us back to the invasive nature of her sexuality and the reason women hate her in the first place. But alas, it doesn't matter what the women think this time around. Gray's stalker-esque lyrical love affair is exactly what the alpha males want to hear, and exactly what they'll cling to when they picture Gray's bouncy curls in place of the wife's graying sexuality.
Macy Gray performs at the Viejas Dreamcatcher Showroom, 8 p.m. on Jan. 3. $35. 619-220-8497.