Twenty-six years ago, four-man suburban DJ and production team 20 Fingers teamed up with local rapper, dancer, and singer Sandra Gillette on a record that made them all hometown heroes. As 20 Fingers, Carlos “Charlie Babie” Rosario, Manfred “Manny” Mohr, J.J. Flores, and Onofrio Lollino worked primarily with Brookfield’s SOS Records, run by Chicago house-music impresario Frank Rodrigo. In 1994, Mohr and Rosario wrote the single “Short Dick Man” and quickly found a singer in Gillette, an old friend of Flores who was working as a receptionist and living in Berwyn. When Bill Wyman wrote a Reader column about the song in February 1995, Mohr talked to him about it: “Charlie and I wanted to say something that would make up for all the bad things that are said about women.”
Gillette’s sassy delivery of the song’s unambiguous lyrics (“What in the world is that fucking thing? / Do you need some fucking tweezers to put that little thing away?”) and 20 Fingers’s minimalist hip-house beats made for a killer combo. The single took off in the clubs—first locally, then internationally, as Gillette’s subsequent album On the Attack (billed as “A 20 Fingers Production”) climbed European and South American dance charts.
The group enjoyed crossover success in the American mainstream after an enthusiastic program director at B96 (then still a refuge for house- and dance-music aficionados mourning WBMX) asked for a radio-ready version. They complied with “Short Short Man,” and Gillette went on to make numerous television appearances. The most notorious (at least on the Reddit side of the Internet) was on Brazilian show Xuxa Hits, a kiddie-oriented American Bandstand knockoff. Gillette and her dancers do a choreographed number as she lip-syncs to a crowd of cheering youngsters, some of whom appear to be singing along—to the original version, in English.
The song has been a balm for this listener as of late, because it’s funny and ultimately a bit meaningless—a necessary tool for facing the ridiculousness of our COVID-flavored American lives in the year 2020. I wasn’t able to find out what Sandra Gillette is up to these days, and rumor has it she’s retired from showbiz. But “Short Dick Man” lives on at the karaoke bar, or at least it will when we have karaoke bars again. The audience for the February 2014 Drag Carnage show at Hydrate was also privileged to see an amazing lip-sync cover by a pre-Rupaul’s Drag Race Pearl, who mopped up the stage with her neck-tic move locked into 20 Fingers’ beats. v
The Listener is a weekly sampling of music Reader staffers love. Absolutely anything goes, and you can reach us at firstname.lastname@example.org.