(Photo: Jeromes on Facebook)

(Photo: Jeromes on Facebook)

Unless you’re one of the lucky few who rememeber “random encounters with Prince” while nightclubbing in the East Village in the early ’80s, then you’d probably give your raspberry beret to have met the man. Rich Russo had the opportunity to do just that, back in the East Village of the ’90s–though it didn’t turn out very well.

The host of the Anything Anything radio show sent us an excerpt from the episode that will air Sunday, in which he remembers an awkward run-in with Prince at Lucky Cheng’s, the drag cabaret and restaurant that used to be on First Street (of course that’s where he ran into Prince).

In 1996, “the East Village isn’t like it is now,” Russo says. “Back then it’s kind of dirty and grungy and not really safe and tough to get a cab–where it’s like Disney World right now.” As Russo remembers it, he was out with friends when, lo and behold, he happened upon the master hanging out in the downstairs bar with a handler.

Rich Russo, host of Anything Anything. Photo: David Giordano - Freshgrafix.net

Rich Russo, host of Anything Anything. Photo: David Giordano – Freshgrafix.net

Russo is a big Prince fan, but his girlfriend at the time was a true Prince obsessive–she’d try to spend every birthday and anniversary at a Prince concert. So he knew he had to get some kind of proof of the meeting. Remember, this was before phones could take pictures–so he asked for a good ol’ fashioned napkin autograph.

In case you forgot the timeline, Prince was no longer technically “Prince” by then. In 1993 he legally changed his name to a symbol, a mash of female and male icons, to get independence from his label, Warner Bros. So, “the artist formerly known as Prince” granted Russo a scribble of the symbol. (He changed his name back to Prince in 2000 after his contract expired.)

But Russo, apparently overcome with a blast of unwarranted indignation, wasn’t satisfied–would his girlfriend really believe he met her ultimate favorite artist? “I’m looking at this, and I’m like, ya know, this is bogus, this crazy symbol,” he says. “I don’t know what came into me. I walked back down there and I put the napkin down in the bar and I said, ‘Yeah, this does me no good, I’m not gonna take this.'”

Ballsy! Prince, naturally, was kind of incredulous. But naive and stubborn, Russo persisted. “Well, it’s not really an autograph, it’s like a drawing, and there’s no way I can prove it’s you,” he remembers telling Prince, returning the napkin. “That symbol means nothing to us, it’s just a random thing you’re doing.”

Prince’s response? “I can’t believe you did this.” But for whatever soft-hearted reason (he felt sorry for the girlfriend? or he was just shell-shocked?) he caved and wrote his full name, the one he probably only used on passports and drivers licenses: Prince Rogers Nelson.

In the end, Russo’s girlfriend didn’t greet him as a hero, though–she berated him for an hour for harassing the legend. A true fan would never have done that!

Pretty sure Russo learned his lesson (bring a camera everywhere!) and he loves Prince even more–“truly, truly one of the most vital and important people in rock-and-roll, funk, soul, pop history.”  Tune in Sunday night (via his app or radio stations) for Russo’s Prince tribute show: two hours of non-stop Prince-related music, including his greatest hits, covers, and the microphone-and-piano songs he was recently touring with.