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Greek Myths in a Same-Sex Love Song

Patricia Barber won the prestigious Guggenheim Fellowship in the new category of songwriting.
Patricia Barber won the prestigious Guggenheim Fellowship in the new category of songwriting.

"I'm falling in love with her," Patricia Barber sings in the opening line of "Narcissus," from her splendid new Mythologies — a song-cycle based on the Greek myths from Ovid's Metamorphoses. Given the ballad's title, it's clear that Barber is touching on themes of self-adulation, but the subtext of same-sex romance remains apparent throughout.

An openly gay singer, pianist and composer who won the prestigious Guggenheim Fellowship in the new category of songwriting to create Mythologies, Barber confirmed in a recent interview that the song involves a Sapphic love affair — "It could be the gay wedding song," she says — but the poignancy of "Narcissus" comes not only from her intentions, but also through its wistful beauty.

For all the song's double-entendres and social politics, "Narcissus" doubles as one of those sensual rhapsodies that seem perfect for a late night on some honky-tonk bar's jukebox. If, by chance, the song lands in such a setting, that'll further confirm its universal allure.

Listen to yesterday's 'Song of the Day.'

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

John Murph
John Murph writes about music and culture and works as a web producer for BETJazz.com. He also contributes regularly to The Washington Post Express, JazzTimes, Down Beat, and JazzWise magazines.