Pale Divine: St. Louis’ biggest band

“[Pale Divine singer Michael Schaerer’s] life didn’t turn out the way fans expected, but chances are neither did theirs.” Perhaps nothing sums up Pale Divine, St. Louis’ biggest band in 1991, better than that line from the December 21, 2008 issue of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

In the early 1990s, Michael Schaerer was the frontman for Pale Divine, the biggest band in St. Louis. They played sold-out shows on Laclede’s Landing, they had a record deal with Atlantic Records, and the radio stations even played some of their stuff sometimes. And then they broke up before they could finish a second album. For years, Schearer got gigs playing cover tunes, though he’s raised his profile in recent times. His bandmate, guitarist Richard Fortus, is in Guns ‘n Roses. But maybe I’m getting ahead of myself.

Before Pale Divine: The Eyes

Pale Divine formed in 1984 as The Eyes, featuring Michael Schaerer on vocals, Richard Fortus on guitar, Greg Miller on drums, and Steve Hanock on bass. Eventually Dan Angenend defected from another band to take over on bass. They played local clubs like Kennedy’s and Mississippi Nights on the riverfront, and Off Broadway. In time, they were crossing the state, playing Columbia and Kansas City as well.

In 1990, The Eyes landed a record deal with Atlantic. They changed their name to Pale Divine, as another group was using the name. They recorded their debut album, Straight to Goodbye, in October 1990. But Atlantic didn’t promote the CD, and didn’t help them tour. It didn’t help that Straight to Goodbye debuted within a few weeks of Nirvana’s Nevermind. Pale Divine solved one problem by switching to sister label Atco, which suddenly allowed them to tour.

There was still that matter of trying to sell records in the shadow of the Nirvana juggernaut. The CD wasn’t bad, but it was more polished than the band sounded live. If it had come out a bit earlier or later and had a bit more edge on it, it might have fared better. The single, “My Addiction,” holds up well and deserved to do better.

“I had a lot of false expectations. I thought that getting signed was the big hurdle and once we got over it, then everything would work out,” Dan Angenend said in 1996. “Looking back, getting signed was the easy part of what became a very difficult process. I don’t think we knew what we should have been doing. They didn’t ask us to do anything, but we didn’t ask what we could do to help out.”

Touring with the Psychedelic Furs

Pale Divine St. Louis
Pale Divine was St. Louis’ biggest local band for several years in the late 1980s and early 1990s. But when they went national, their debut CD on Atlantic became cutout bin fodder all too quickly.

In 1992, they landed the opening billing for the Psychedelic Furs, one of their influences. This got them some much-needed exposure, but at that point, Fortus and Schaerer weren’t getting along well.

Their efforts to record a second album at Atco went poorly, and they asked to be released. Atco complied.

As luck would have it, the Furs weren’t getting along too well either. Richard Butler from the Furs and Richard Fortus from Pale Divine ended up forming a short-lived act called Love Spit Love. They had a minor hit called “Am I Wrong?” that was at least as popular as anything Pale Divine ever released. They also recorded the theme song to the TV series Charmed.

It was nice to see Fortus gain success. It would have been nicer if it had been all four St. Louisans.

Straight to goodbye. Or not.

Accounts of what happened next vary, and frankly, some of them are wrong. Contrary to what some stories imply or flat-out say, Pale Divine didn’t break up in 1992 when Love Spit Love formed. Pale Divine came home to St. Louis without Fortus and toured the local circuit until 1994. I saw them play Kennedy’s on Laclede’s Landing in late 1992 or early 1993, and I don’t know his name, but it was someone other than Rich Fortus on guitar.

Pale Divine had a tradition in the early 1990s, along with The Urge and Unconscious, of playing shows over the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays. They may be remembered for those holiday shows more than they are for being the local band who almost made it.

The farewell show was, as best I can tell, February 25, 1994 at Mississippi Nights. Soon after, drummer Greg Miller joined Suave Octopus, another St. Louis-area band.

In college, I know some people a few years older than me really missed the band and hated how it all went down. I’m seven years younger than any of Pale Divine’s members, so I missed the band’s rise.

Reconciliation

Schaerer and his bandmates didn’t get along well or work well together for a long time, not just in the end. Later in life, he was diagnosed with attention deficit disorder and received treatment. It transformed him, and he was able to reconcile with his old bandmates. Richard Fortus went on to have a successful career, touring with various acts including Enrique Iglesias and Thin Lizzy, before he ended up in Guns n’ Roses.

Pale Divine played reunion shows in 2008, 2009, and 2013.

In 2017, when Guns n’ Roses returned to St. Louis for the first time since the controversial Axl Rose riot in 1991, Fortus wore a Kennedy’s t-shirt on stage. On the night of the riot, Fortus and Pale Divine were playing a gig on the Landing.

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