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10 Questions with Darius Degher: Coastal living helps inspire creativity

Musician, poet and teacher Darius Degher lived abroad for many years, but says he’s “incredibly lucky” to be in Encinitas now.
Musician, poet and teacher Darius Degher lived abroad for many years, but says he’s “incredibly lucky” to be in Encinitas now.
( / Courtesy photo)

Darius Degher is a musician, poet, and teacher. He’s a Southern California native and a graduate of San Dieguito High School. He is a longtime resident of Leucadia, but he and his family also lived in Europe for many years, his wife, Susanne, being Swedish. He surfs, does Zen meditation, and uses his bike for transportation whenever possible.

A songwriter, singer, and guitarist, his sixth album, “Eleven Story Strum,” was released last May. He has performed at some of the nation’s most venerable rock and folk music venues, opening shows for numerous major acts. He also plays sitar (having studied with Ravi Shankar’s son, Shuba, at UCLA) and can be heard on Warren Zevon’s song “Bad Karma.” His lyric-centered folk-rock songs and videos have been on the radio and MTV, even on a “San Diego Homegrown” album in the 1980s. His 2012 CD “The Coyote Cantos” was nominated for a San Diego Music Award. His daughters, Cleopatra and Cordelia, are also singer-songwriters, and he produced their recent CDs.

Degher’s poems have appeared in numerous literary magazines on both sides of the Atlantic. His 2014 poetry book, “To See the Sound,” is a New Formalist collection that’s been praised by poets and scholars in the United States and the United Kingdom. He teaches creative writing online in the English department of a Swedish public university, where he worked on campus until his family’s move back to Leucadia in 2010. He’s the founder and editor of the Shipwrights Review, an international literary magazine for second-language English authors. He has a BA in English from UCLA and an MA in creative writing from Lancaster University in England, both with honors.

What brought you to Encinitas?

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I was incredibly lucky. When I was 16, in the early ’70s, my parents built a house on Neptune Avenue and moved us here from Riverside, which at the time had the distinction of having the worst air quality in the U.S. It was quite a juxtaposition of places, and quite a rebirth for me. I’ve been grateful for Encinitas ever since.

If you could snap your fingers and have it done, what might you add, subtract or improve in Encinitas?

I love and care about Encinitas deeply. For me, coastal Encinitas is an almost holy place, and not only because of our beautiful beaches. The ghosts of the indigenous coastal peoples are present, along with those of Yogananda and the spiritualists who settled Leucadia. They expect us to be good caretakers of this little slice of heaven.

Of course, the place has changed a great deal since the ’70s, and at times I’ve despaired over this — yet despite the growth and development, I haven’t found anywhere in the world I’d rather live. Even though we’ve got traffic and crowded surfing lineups, it’s still better than anyplace else. But if I did have the power to subtract something, it would be 50 percent of the development, buildings, and cars. If I could add something, it would be safe and separated bike paths, so people could cycle instead of drive, not merely for exercise on weekends but for basic transportation. The trenching of the train tracks is also a favorite pipe dream.

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Who or what inspires you?

The ocean, a good night’s sleep, and my family.

If you hosted a dinner party for eight, who (living or deceased) would you invite?

Aside from my family, it might be Robert Frost, Emily Dickinson, Gautama Buddha, Bob Dylan, Jesus, Barack Obama, and the grandparents I never knew.

What are your favorite movies?

Many Woody Allen movies, Kurosawa’s “Dreams,” “Cool Hand Luke,” Jim Jarmusch’s “Night on Earth,” “Fanny and Alexander,” Spike Lee’s “Do the Right Thing,” to name a few.

What is your most prized possession?

As far as material things go, that would be my guitars, one of which, a Gibson Les Paul, I’ve been playing since high school.

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What do you do for fun?

For the purest fun I know, I surf. I’ve been surfing for 40 years, starting out at Stone Steps when I was 16, and it’s as sublime as ever. Beyond that, my music and poetry endeavors are plenty of fun, so when I’m not teaching, much of my time is spent writing, making records, playing gigs, and doing readings.

What is it that you most dislike?

I’m angered by ignorance and denial about the perils of climate change. We’re at a desperate moment when it comes to the health of the planet. It saddens me to see people talk about how much they love the ocean while driving gas-guzzling vehicles, buying disposable plastic products, and voting for politicians whose policies threaten the planet and its oceans. The internal combustion engine has overstayed its welcome. I want to see gas prices go up, not down — we need to quickly divorce ourselves from fossil fuels. Everything is inter-related: Each of us needs to take personal responsibility for healing the planet. This is far and away the most crucial issue of our times, and it pisses me off when people turn a blind eye to it.

What would be your dream vacation?

I have little interest in traveling these days. I dislike flying on planes and its ecological repercussions. My ideal vacation is staying in Leucadia and surfing at Beacon’s every day. Once upon a time I was in love with travel, traveled a lot, then lived abroad for many years. Now, I’m just happy where I am.

What is your motto or philosophy of life?

My life philosophy comes largely from Zen and Taoism, what I jokingly call “Zaoism.” The Tao Te Ching refers to Simplicity, Patience, and Compassion as our three greatest treasures. I try to live by those. I do zazen (Zen sitting meditation) most days and practice being alive in the moment, thinking as little as possible about the past and future. The concept of “mindfulness” is popular these days. I’ve been an adherent of that Zen practice for some 20 years. I’m not always successful, but I practice.

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