The Other Van Zant


What's all this, then?

Tattooed longhair Larson Van Zant is not related to Lynyrd Skynyrd vocalist Ronnie Van Zant, but it’s not his job to tell people. He and his band Snowblower wallow in free drinks and choice gigs in Skynyrd’s hometown of Jacksonville, Florida. Snowblower’s tour van may be held together by duct tape and wishful thinking; Larson might get along with his bass player as well as a car tire gets along with an open manhole; and okay, fine, Snowblower’s drummer may have stolen a house; but with tunes like “Bonfire of the Manatees” and “7 Brides for 7 Samurai,” Snowblower really rocks, man! Like, almost enough to convince Lynyrd Skynyrd that Larson’s one of the family.

But one night, Larson stumbles into a plot to steal a priceless piece of Skynyrd’s rock-and-roll history. Now Larson’s honor-bound to hunt a gang of art thieves to preserve his pretend-family’s legacy. Success means fame, fortune, and acceptance as a Skynyrd Van Zant. Failure means goodbye to VIP treatment, and hello to haircuts, real jobs, and grievous bodily harm from the culprits. Fortunately, Larson’s got help. Unfortunately, it’s the guys in Snowblower.

Like Scooby Doo without the talking dog or moral compass, THE OTHER VAN ZANT is a completed 72,000-word mystery that will appeal to fans of The Spellmans, Chuck Klosterman, and rock and roll. The author has played guitar in several rock bands, but never one as dysfunctional as Snowblower.


Chapter 1: Larson Van Zant

Shortly after I vowed to replace Matt with a drum machine, and to replace Jared with the first person I made eye contact with at Guitar Center, I needed a smoke break. I communicated that need to the rest of Snowblower--my band--but I phrased it as, “Let’s run the song without vocals.”

Cort, as was his duty as the band's bassist and official pain in the ass, said, “You just want a smoke break.”

“Man, I could use a smoke break, too,” Matt said. I suspected he could also use some smokes--he’d already bummed three from me today.

“This is one of our best songs till we get to the bridge and I want it to sound right for Saturday,” I said. Our big show at Jackrabbit’s was only three nights away.

“You could still play your guitar part,” Jared said. Jared’s voice always sounded like he was expecting to get slapped in the face for speaking out of turn. It actually would have been a reasonable suggestion if I hadn’t needed a cigarette so badly. Also, his yellow “Police Line: Do Not Cross” guitar strap made it hard for me to take him seriously.

“I wrote the damn bridge, I know how to play it,” I said. “The vocals aren’t the problem, either.”

"No, you’re never the problem,” Cort said.

"I mess up all the time," I said. "That’s another reason I have to step out. What good does it do to practice mistakes?"

A vein in Cort’s left temple started undulating. He was a skinny guy, clean-shaven, so his emotions had no hair or body fat to hide behind. Cort had one of those faces that always looked ready to gripe about something. In fairness to his face, Cort did in fact usually want to gripe about something. He corkscrewed his puss trying to squeeze a few more expletives out of his mouth. When nothing but a one-hundred-pound sigh and the word "Fine" emerged, I knew it was safe to put down my Flying V and head downstairs and into the alley.

Two weeks ago I’d installed a new bridge in "Loose Nukes," and so far it sounded like loose stool, as Cort was fond of telling me. He was right, but not because it was a bad bridge. Cursed, more like it; every day there was a new reason it didn’t work--too fast, too loud, wrong notes, and I suspected at least a few cases of passive-aggressive sabotage. I had no proof, of course, other than the fact that these nimrods refused to play my objectively sublime new section like professionals.

My lighter and pack of Marlboros were already in my hands by the time I’d reached the stairway, the walls of which were lined with dozens of posters of rock shows gone by. The guys lurched into playing “Loose Nukes” again, and I couldn't help but descend the steps in time with the rhythm--a habit burned into my brain from four years in high school marching band. At least it happened where nobody could see it. Sometimes I’d be at the Orange Park Mall and stepping in time to Cher or Sade or whatever easy-listening crap they played over the loudspeakers and I’d get laughed at by the girl working the counter at Orange Julius.

Like four other Jacksonville bands, we rented a rehearsal space upstairs from Cheese, a kitschy CD, T-shirt, and collectible shop in Jacksoville’s Five Points district. The owner of Cheese was also our manager, Aunt Margaret. I made a mental note to poke my head into her office before I went back upstairs--sometimes she left a six-pack in her office fridge for us. At least, I assumed it was for us. I never asked.

As I thought of the benefits of fresh doses of nicotine and alcohol, the last thing I expected to find on the ground floor was some dude ransacking Cheese, tearing trinkets and vinyl figurines asunder, apparently looking for something.

There was a pause as we looked at each other. The lights were off, and I couldn't see very much of him other than a silhouette, not that it mattered since if he was a proper criminal he was probably wearing black anyway.

"Are you supposed to be here?" I asked, feeling like a knob as soon as I said it.

Without a word, the guy stomped toward me.

I wanted to run, but the stairway had an auto-closing, auto-locking door, and I didn’t have time to fumble with my keys. The back door was out, too. Aunt Margaret kept that whole entryway stuffed with boxes, shirts, memorabilia, bills, and God knew what else that would surely trip me up. I could tiptoe over, around, and through on my way to something as low-key as a smoke break. If I was trying to run for my life, I’d trip over a box of junk and get pinned under an avalanche of unsold local CDs while this guy wailed on me. All that stuff in the hallway was a fire hazard, and I wondered why Aunt Margaret had never been cited for it. Then again, she was a Van Zant in Jacksonville, Florida. The rules often did not apply.

"Guys!" I shouted toward the stairway. Of course, they couldn't hear me over the drones of the stupid new bridge in "Loose Nukes."

The burglar hadn’t drawn a gun, so I felt confident I wasn't about to get shot. Of course, stabbing was potentially still on the table. I didn't see a blade in the guy’s hands, but the room was dark.

I looked around for a weapon. I saw a selection of LP records, a statue of Pee Wee Herman, a few dozen rolled-up T-shirts, and a vintage poster of Hendrix playing the Fillmore East. Perhaps I could set it on fire with my lighter and use it as a diversion.

Then I found a spray can on a nearby counter. Not knowing what was in it, I grabbed it, popped off the plastic lid and held my lighter a few inches in front of the nozzle.

"Stop! I've got silly string!" I shouted, ashamed that was the first thing I’d thought of.

"What?" said the guy. I had evidently come up with something ridiculous enough to halt his murderous momentum.

“This stuff’s flammable,” I said. "I don't want any trouble here. Just walk away now and we can all go on with our lives."

The burglar took another step toward me. Since “The burglar” sounded cumbersome, I subconsciously started referring to the guy as Lefty. No real reason, it just seemed like a bad-guy name. Hey, I had important stuff to deal with at the moment, okay?

"You in that band?" Lefty said. See, the name sounds natural.

"Snowblower? Hell yeah, that’s my band," I said.

"You sound like shit."

"Duh, that's why we're practicing, isn’t it?"

"You ought to practice fucking quitting instead."

"We added a new bridge and we're still--oh, I'm going to melt you," I said. I had never used a weapon against another living thing before, but I was ready to fry this guy's face off.

"Oh hell nah," he said. "The government cracked down on that shit. It's totally safe. I saw that episode of 20/20."

"Who you gonna believe?" I shouted. "That mustached prick John Stossel? Or the guy about to shoot fire in your face?" For all my bravado, I too had seen that episode of 20/20, and my heart sank.

What? That's it?!

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