Townes Van Zandt
Born in Fort Worth, Texas, in 1944, Townes Van Zandt was often referred to as a “songwriter’s songwriter,” as his country-tinged blues music earned the affection of Willie Nelson, Emmylou Harris, Merle Haggard, and Steve Earle. Van Zandt’s first album, For the Sake of the Song, was released in 1968, and though he never recorded a hit in his 30-year career, Nelson and Haggard’s cover-version duet of his song “Pancho and Lefty” went to No. 1 on country charts in 1983. (A documentary on his life, Be Here to Love Me, is premiering December 2 at the Angelika.) Van Zandt, who died in 1997, should not be confused with Steve “Little Steven” Van Zandt (no relation), the head-kerchief-wearing guitarist in Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band and, later, a star on the The Sopranos, on which he plays strip-club owner Silvio Dante.
Gus Van Sant
Born in Louisville, Kentucky, in 1952, Gus Van Sant is a film director who’s successfully straddled the worlds of commercial hits (such as Good Will Hunting) and distinctive, glacially paced art films (such as Elephant and the recently released Last Days). Van Sant’s fictional movies often evoke intentional parallels with real-life events; for example, Elephant was a veiled reimagining of the Columbine school shootings, while Last Days featured a barely fictionalized Kurt Cobain. Van Sant’s 1998 version of Psycho, a high-concept, shot-for-shot remake, should not be confused with Alfred Hitchcock’s original, largely because the pivotal roles originated by Anthony Perkins and Janet Leigh were, in the remake, played by Vince Vaughn and Anne Heche.
Martin Van Buren
Born in Kinderhook, New York, in 1782, Martin Van Buren served as the eighth president of the United States. Van Buren hewed to the political philosophy of his predecessor, Andrew Jackson, if not to Jackson’s abrasive style. Van Buren’s opponents tagged him “Martin Van Ruin” for his mixed success in dealing with several financial crises under his watch, and his presidency was tainted by the forced migration of Native Americans he oversaw, now referred to as the Trail of Tears. Some have suggested that his nickname, “Old Kinderhook,” is the origin of the expression OK, though this theory remains murky. Despite his impressive facial hair and Dutch heritage, he should not be confused with Rip Van Winkle, the somnolent star of the Washington Irving story written in 1819.
Rerun Van Pelt
Introduced by Charles Schulz in the “Peanuts” comic strip in 1973, Rerun Van Pelt is the younger brother of Lucy and Linus Van Pelt. Though Rerun looks very similar to his brother, Linus, he can be distinguished by his trademark overalls and marginally less chaotic hair. He’s also well known for riding on the back of his mother’s bicycle. Though he was a minor character in the eighties, Rerun’s profile increased in the late nineties as he became a favorite of creator Schulz. (In a 2003 animated special, I Want a Dog for Christmas, Charlie Brown, Rerun serves as the main character.) He should not be confused with Fred “Rerun” Stubbs, the wisecracking, suspenders-wearing character played by Fred Berry on What’s Happening!!, a seventies-era sitcom.