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UW-River Falls hosts Bob Dylan Nobel Prize celebration

November 9, 2016

The second floor of the Davee Library is usually reserved as a quiet space for students as they study. But this past Thursday, Nov. 3, a musical tribute to this year’s Nobel Prize Laureate from Minnesota broke the studious silence. UW-River Falls Professor Dennis Cooper was center stage as he honored Bob Dylan by performing some of Dylan’s best-known songs.

A professor of animal science for more than 30 years, Cooper is also a local musician who plays under the stage name the “Doq of Roq.” Along with English Department Chair Marshall Toman, he helped organize the event to celebrate the achievements made by Dylan throughout his career, as his musical legacy and local status is still relevant today.

“It’s a conjunction of two local artists,” Toman said. “So I think that it’s a good way to recognize a local artist.”

With an audience consisting of students, faculty and community members, Toman first gave a brief discussion on Bob Dylan’s significance as the first musician to be awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature. Dylan is also the first American laureate in literature since 1993, when Toni Morrison was awarded the prize. Toman also discussed the controversy of giving a musician a literature award.

Discussion aside, Cooper played eight of the many songs Bob Dylan wrote during the height of his career in the 1960s. For each song, Cooper discussed the song’s meaning and significance at the time the song was written. His playlist included “Blowin’ in the Wind,” one of Dylan’s first hits about social change, as well as other notable songs such as “Tambourine Man,” “The Times They Are a-Changin’” and “My Back Pages.” He also played some lesser known songs such as “Only a Pawn in Their Game,” a song written about the murder of civil rights activist Medgar Evers. As an encore, Cooper even played an original song called “Big Money.”

Having performed for over 50 years, Cooper said that, because of the simplistic yet impactful musical arrangements of Dylan’s songs, Cooper was inspired to start playing as well.

“It was all stuff I could do,” Cooper said, “and I did it. It was a way of performing music that was popular at the time.”

He also said that he feels that the message given in Dylan’s music still has relevance in today’s society, as Dylan spoke to a generation filled with Cold War fears and generational rebellion. Combined with today’s social issues and the nostalgia of the era, many people still enjoy listening to Dylan’s music, including Geography Professor John Heppen, who also attended the event.

“Denny is a friend of mine,” said Heppen, “and I have enjoyed seeing him perform before as well, and I like Bob Dylan, so that’s what brought me here today.”

In a time of uncertainty in America, UWRF students, staff and faculty came together to honor a local legend whose musical legacy still holds importance to this day.