Animated question marks are probably circling my head.
"What's going on?" asks the woman standing beside me.
"I'm just a bit ... overwhelmed," I respond.
I am at the Crossroads loft of James Trotter and his wife, Rhy Carter, who has just asked about my befuddlement at the sight of Trotter's toy project.
The approximately 10-foot-by-10-foot installation will soon be transported to a treehouselike structure inside of Grand Arts, the cutting-edge art gallery at 1819 Grand. Trotter will add mirrors and a working model train set for visitors to play with.
The toys possess a dusty glow, a soft radiance from being handled by children ages ago — and the joy of being suddenly found and loved again after decades of lying forgotten. These are toys from gentler times, made before the industry aggressively targeted straight gender stereotypes. They have, Trotter says, a "toyness."
But I haven't come to see toys. I didn't even know they'd be there. I've come because of Superwolf — Trotter's DJ alter ego.
Originally from Miami, the Kansas City Art Institute dropout collects and trades in rare soul, funk and Latin 45s. He's done it since high school, with erstwhile stints dealing toys, antiques and African-American memorabilia. He also had a wild career in graffiti during the childhood summers he spent at his grandmother's house in Brooklyn, where he was immersed in hip-hop culture. Hence the name.
James "Super" Wolf was a late-'70s rapper and radio personality. He was married to blues singer Denise LaSalle, who wrote and produced her husband's hit single "Super-Wolf Can Do It." Sugarhill released it in 1980 with the B-side "Anybody Can Do It."
The record's implied if-then hypothesis inspired Trotter to co-opt Wolf's nickname. "If Superwolf can do it, anybody can do it — I love the inclusiveness of that," he says. "I'm more inclusive than exclusive."
That's definitely the vibe whenever Trotter spins his choice cuts on Friday nights at Chez Charlie. If you haven't been there and can tolerate a bit of secondhand smoke, write a reminder on your stomach with a Sharpie. It's a beautiful thing, reminiscent of a lost, ungentrified, music-obsessed Kansas City full of dive bars, sharp-dressed madmen and devilish dames. Of days when places such as Barnes & Noble were possible only in science-fiction novels.
His hair bushy, wiry and parted down the middle, Trotter wears intentionally nondescript, fatherly button-up shirts because, as he says, "It's not about me — it's about the things I do." He presides over his DJ night with the exuberance of a child who's been given free reign over dinner-party entertainment planning. But instead of making the grown-ups watch a parlor drama starring My Little Pony, Superwolf, who is pushing 40, dances, yammers genially to anyone who comes up to give him a shout, and keeps the lost hits coming. He doesn't give a shit about looking cool. It's about having fun.
This also comes out in his artwork. Often working until 5 a.m., he covers posterboards with psychotically cute creatures and images in marker and gouche. He calls it "cosmic slop" or "cartoons gone wrong." If you put on a James Brown record, shook a book of R. Crumb comics over a piece of paper, filtered out the obscenity and arranged the parts with the irrational logic of a child, you'd have something pretty close to Trotter's art.
In one piece, there's a tubby policeman puking into his hat, a knife slicing an eyeball in a puddle of fluid, a carrot with legs, a fast-food superhero with a hamburger head and chicken-drumstick legs and scads of other bizarre entities. At the center, Trotter has drawn a portrait of himself as a man in a suit with a 45 record for a head. The logo for Trotter's favorite soul label, Alston, is between the eyes, and a wolfish tongue wags below. The left hand holds a microphone and the right fires a Glock into the air.
"There's not enough humor in artwork. Everyone takes it so seriously," he says. "I'm like, lighten up, man."
Fortunately, the right people agree with Trotter. For his drawings, the local Charlotte Street Foundation awarded Trotter a $10,000 grant and the foundation's even more valuable seal of approval, which has significantly increased the market value of Trotter's art.
But even without that validation, there's not a chance in hell that Trotter wouldn't keep on filling his loft with objects of beauty — some handmade, some found and, of course, a whole lot that you can dance to.