Skip to content
Home » St. Louis » Pale Divine: St. Louis’ biggest band

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, a local band on the verge of breaking onto the national scene. 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 solo gigs playing cover tunes, though he’s raised his profile in recent times. His former bandmate, guitarist Richard Fortus, is in Guns ‘n Roses. But maybe I’m getting ahead of myself.

Before Pale Divine: The Eyes

Pale Divine St. Louis

Before their 1990 record deal with Atlantic, Pale Divine played as The Eyes. This 2021 reunion poster has both names.

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. Atco also made a video for the single.

There was still that matter of trying to sell records in the shadow of the Nirvana juggernaut. The CD had enough cynicism and angst in it, but it sounded like a studio recording. It was just a little too polished to go up against the raw Seattle sound of 1991. And that’s a shame. The single, “My Addiction,” holds up well and deserved to do better. The CD sold poorly and soon ended up in the discount bins.

What went wrong

“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.”

In hindsight, the general consensus was Pale Divine played too many shows in and around St. Louis when they would have been better served touring more broadly, trying to expand their audience geographically, even though it would have meant smaller audiences at first.

But then the band caught a break. They scored a spot on a national tour. It proved pivotal, but not in the way they initially hoped.

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 veteran New Wave band Psychedelic Furs, one of their influences. This got them some much-needed national 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 fate 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. Their first single, called “Am I Wrong?” was a minor hit and proved more successful than anything Pale Divine ever released. They also recorded the theme song for the Alyssa Milano/Shannen Doherty TV series Charmed, a cover of the Smiths’ 1985 classic “How Soon is Now?”

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. The remaining members of 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. I do remember the opening band was The Finns, but they opened for Pale Divine a lot, so that doesn’t narrow the possible dates down much.

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 met a number of people who had followed the band’s rise. They were a few years older than me, and they sure made it sound like I missed something special. They 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. All of the band members have said in interviews over the years that healing took time, but they are good friends again.

Pale Divine played reunion shows in 2008, 2009, 2013, and 2018. Their primary venues they played on the Landing, Kennedy’s and Mississippi Nights, are long gone, so their reunion shows have mostly been at The Pageant in University City. In 2021 they gave their old tradition a nod, scheduling a New Year’s Eve show at The Pageant. Due to COVID-19, that show was rescheduled for February 2022.

Of the four members, Richard Fortus by far had the most successful career in music. After the Love Spit Love project ran its course, he joined the re-formed Psychedelic Furs for a time and touring with various acts including Enrique Iglesias and Thin Lizzy, before he ended up in Guns n’ Roses.

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 at Kennedy’s on the Landing.

Fortus has even reunited with Richard Butler and the Psychedelic Furs. In 2020, when the Furs recorded their first new album in almost 30 years, they tapped Richard Fortus to produce it.

But enough about that. Here’s that long forgotten video for My Addiction, by St. Louis’ own Pale Divine.

 

%d bloggers like this: