Jeroen and Naomi

Oh boy… Have I got a story for you! Strap in cuz this is gonna be a good one

A few weeks back while I was on my way home from Ebisu, I drove past General Store Records right as one of the charming and cute staff was walking down the stairs at the end of her day, carrying a record taboot! “Here’s my chance!” I thought. Despite my best pitch and that she knew TRS, fact was she was late for a date, and reluctantly declined. Not to be defeated, I dashed over to Disk Union and spotted a supremely coo-looking silver fox walking out with records! He too was on his way somewhere, but cordially exchanged names before taking a raincheck. Bummed out, I drove up Ichibangai Street on way my outta Shimokita only to discover that Record Station’s lights on, uncharacteristically after hours. I could see the 2nd-floor window open and shouted up to the clerk, “You guys still open?” “Naw” he, replied down to me, “Closed an hour ago! Just restocking some stuff.”

Damn. Strike out. 

There I was, disappointedly leaning against my bike in front of the adjacent combeeny. “Well, I guess at least get a “Zero Beer” which I did, and drank on the street, lamenting not making the music connection that I had really been looking forward to. “But wait a sec!” I thought, “What’s this coming up the street? Is that a… record store bag? Maybe there is still hope! … Hold on! Now that IS a record bag but it sure dun’t look like there’s records in there. Nope. Definitely not. But that IS a picture of a record on a bag. Does that count? Should I stop them? Naw. Yeah. Naw. Oh, what the hell …why not!”

“Pardon me, I’m a record collector …and a photographer. Is that record store bag?”

“Yeah, it is…but sadly it doesn’t have any records in it. I’m a collector too. this bad is from a shop in my hometown in Belgium.” 

“Nice. I’m Brian and I do this project, (blah blah blah blah blah), Nice to meet you Jeroen and Naomi! (blah blah blah blah) Whoa! First time in Japan! Cool! Osaka! Nikko! Tokyo! (blah blah blah blah blah), Far out! Mee too!!!  (blah blah blah, smile, smile, smile, laugh laugh laugh)…So Belgium, huh? What town?” 


“Geel, huh? What’s Geel famous for?”

“Well, actually…”

And this is where the store gets really good. 

Jeroen and Naomi proceeded to tell me the most enthralling story about the town of Geel, which starts with an Irish Princess named Dymphna, “The Lily of Eire” as she’d come to be known.  As a devout follower of Christ, when Dymphna was just 14 years old, she consecrated her faith by taking a vow of chastity. Not long thereafter, her mother, also devout, tragically passed away. The king had loved his wife deeply, and in the grief of her death, he began to lose his mental wellness. Urged to remarry, the king, after searching fruitlessly for a bride as beautiful as his deceased wife, began to desire his own daughter for her strong resemblance to her mother.

Intent to keep her vows, when Dymphna caught wind of her father’s intentions, she fled Ireland, sailing towards present-day Belgium, landing in the town of Geel, where, with her father’s wealth, soon established a hospice for the poor and sick. Word of her whereabouts eventually got back to the the king, who ventured himself to Geel, found Dymphna, and demanded she return to Ireland. She refused. Furious and crazed, the misguided king beheaded his own daughter and the young age of 15. Dymphna’s martyrdom would lead her one day to be canonized and become the patron saint of mental illness. 

Still shortly after Dymphna’s death, a church in Geel was built in her honor and her hospice was expanded for the mentally unwell. As her story spread across Europe, pilgrims seeking treatment for psychiatric disorders began to flock to Geel and soon the sanctuary was overflowing with so many patients that the townspeople began taking the mentally unwell into their own homes. Thus began a tradition for the ongoing care of those with psychiatric conditions that has endured for over 500 years and is still studied and admired today! Patients were, and still are, taken into the homes of Geel’s residents. Never called patients, they are called “Boarders”, and are treated as ordinary and useful members of the town and the families that host them. They work, most often in simple jobs, and in return, they become part of the community, some staying a few months, some decades, some for their entire lives. This is the story of Geel. The most understanding and compassionate town in Europe? Un-freaking-believable. I’m HUMBLED beyond words. 

But it gets even better if you can believe it. Guess whose record shop caters to the Geel’s “Borders”. Guess whose record shop doesn’t judge you for your taste in music, for perhaps your eclectic interests, whose doors, service, and catalogs are open to all. Guess whose record shop, in very challenging pandemic times managed to, in fact, stay in business by the patronage of the mentally unwell. That’s right! You guessed it! It’s Tony’s Muziekhuis! LEGEND! God bless him, or should I say, “St. Dymphna bless him, bless Tony’s Muziekhuis, and bless all the Geel “Borders” who struggle with mental health, and bless the town of Geel itself, for being a beacon of goodwill to the world! And St. Dymphna, bless Jeroen and Naomi for sharing this absolutely unforgettable story with me, so that I could share with you, reader, (and for all the amazing captivating conversations Jereon, Naomi, and I shared, and for recommending Black MIDI, Will Tura, and Echo from Taiwan!). St. Dymphna, bless me too please, when I’m struggling with my own health for when the only thing that helps is music. And bless anyone out there who has read this far and might need a little “Spirit of Geel” in their lives, and St. Dymphna, help us all to remember to be kinder and more understanding and compassionate to each other …and to share and connect more through the universal language of music. Amen.” 

That was a good one 🙂

More Tokyo Record Style on the way…

Tony’s Muziekhuis
Pas 36 2440 Geel

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