Saying Bif Naked is an eternal optimist doesn’t do her incredibly buoyant personality justice.
The Juno Award-winning, multi-platinum record-selling Canadian rocker, actress and speaker has been through the wringer, both emotionally and physically, and still maintains a hopeful resilience that inspires her legions of fans worldwide.
After being adopted by American missionaries and moving from New Delhi, India to Kentucky and eventually to Winnipeg as a child, a bout with breast cancer, eating disorders, having her ovaries removed, a failed kidney, open heart surgery, 11 engagements, two divorces and the death of two beloved animals, Bif is still rockin’ and letting nothing stand in her way.
“How can we not?” she says. “No matter what, everything is a privilege. I don’t think it’s because my parents were so religious that they instilled it in us, that’s just really what I think. I can’t complain. Ever. Even if I’m dying of cancer or have emergency heart surgery like last year, or anything, I just think, ‘well, I have gas in my car’ — I can’t even believe I have a car. I’ve got nothing to complain about ever. … There are so many other things going on in the world than me being sick. In Syria right now, it’s beyond comprehension what they’re going through.”
Her father, who now lives in Saskatchewan, battled prostate cancer recently and Bif says the two are alike in a lot of ways. “He lives to make people laugh in the chemo wards. He’s a very funny man. … I like going to the chemo wards. People have anxiety about cancer treatments and I’m a goofball. I wish I could be a professional hand-holder. If I could choose a career, that’s what I’d be.”
After her bout with cancer, Bif says she was ready to give up on her career as a performer. “I preferred for a long time doing acoustic shows because they felt more emotionally supportive. After cancer and having to get a divorce, I was such a gong-show emotionally for so long. All I really wanted to do was feel really safe. I became kind of disillusioned with the rock shows, especially after chemotherapy. I felt really self-conscious, things had changed and I wasn’t prepared to play a concert in front of a sea of iPhones and no faces. I felt something I had never felt previously in concerts, which was shame. I didn’t look the same, I had no hair, I wasn’t anorexic anymore and I felt stupid and embarrassed that I had gotten sick in the first place. It was something I wasn’t familiar with or prepared for. I said ‘Fuck this, I’m not playing anymore. Period.’”
Her manager and her guitar player talked her into playing an acoustic show in a big theatre in Nanaimo. “They were so gracious and so kind. I felt safe and relieved. I thought I would give it another shot.”
Now most of her concerts are a combination of acoustic and electric. And that’s what fans can expect of her show Oct. 3 at the Charlie White Theatre in Sidney.
Bif is currently writing her memoirs for publisher Harper Collins. “I love language. I love using words to convey a feeling,” she says. “I’m such a flowery, long-winded writer, my editor keeps telling me ‘We don’t want Gone with the Wind’. I’m also such a square. I went straight-edge early into my touring career, so I don’t have a lot of racy, raunchy road stories.”
But there was a racy time in her life. “I was an idiot for so long. I think we can all say that about our younger selves,” she says. “I was very dramatic. I took things very hard, very personally. I was very sensitive. I internalized a lot. I was easily embarrassed. I was always self conscious.”
As a teenage runaway, Bif dabbled with alcohol and turned to tattoos as a shield to give herself a tough exterior.
“I think my tattoos were armour to hide behind. I was hiding my anxiety and feeling self conscious, or that someone was going to hurt me or take advantage of me because I’m so gullible. That personality trait has been there since I was a little kid. Oh man. It’s never going to change. I will always be that person. But as a result, I’ve gotten myself into a lot of predicaments over the years. Because I’m such a trusting person, I fall into misadventure very easily.”
As a young woman on the road, touring Europe with a band of men, her gullibility got her into trouble.
She stopped drinking when she was 24 and has lived a straight-edge lifestyle ever since. Even her coffee is decaf.
“I kept getting raped or waking up somewhere I didn’t know. I would throw up on myself. I did heroin because I was drunk. Every terrible thing that could ever happen to a human being happened to me because I was drinking and not smart about my surroundings or not able to protect myself or behave in a safe manner. And that I can directly link to alcohol for me. … I was always the person that ended up in a bad situation. Most people can handle it but I just never seemed to be able to remain safe. It was a decision that I made early into my adult years and it was the best decision I ever made for myself. But I still fucked up. I still made bad decisions with relationships … because it was already a pattern and patterns like that are hard to overcome … but I’m really happy that I’m not a drunk-in-public-falling-down person.”
Bif has been a vegan for the last 25 years, seven of which she only ate raw food. “When I got breast cancer I wanted cucumber rolls and since the rice was cooked, I went off the raw diet during chemo. Now the only thing I have that isn’t raw is coffee.”
Bif tours with a three-piece band; Jason Darr (guitar), Jacen Ekstrom (bass) and Galvio Cirillo (drums).
“They are rock stars. They love to go out and socialize. They’re funny and fun. They love to have lots of beer and wine and laughs,” — a stark contrast to the lifestyle she leads personally. Those preparing her tour rider wouldn’t know she’s a straight-edge vegan.
“It’s all for them. It’s pizza and beer and chicken wings. I don’t eat meat, wheat or dairy. … That’s just my nature. As long as they’re happy and they’re fed, I’ll always find something. I can always get a salad at Subway. It’s the same thing that all of our mothers did. Once a mama, always a mama.”
Bif doesn’t have any human children, but calls herself a “full-time dog mom.”
Her 16-year-old dog Nicholas recently passed away, leaving her with an empty nest at her condo in Vancouver’s Yaletown.
“I’ve got no dogs, no boyfriend, no husband. Now I can travel freely and go where I feel like creating.”
Since Nicholas’ passing, Bif has spent a lot of time in Paris at the home of her manager Peter Karroll, whose daughter is Bif’s goddaughter. “They’re like a second family.”
Karroll has been Bif’s manager since she was 22 years old. “I would have quit many times, or gone back to school but it was never an option. It was like being a gymnast with a mean Russian coach,” she says with a laugh. “We’d do heavy metal tours in Europe when I was 24 and 25 and he used to beg me not to talk on stage. I’d be there in front of a very aggressive audience and I’d go ‘thank you guys. I’m so glad you liked my song’ and Peter would be waving me off.”
Bif has a new acceptance of herself now that she’s in her 40’ s. After all she’s been through, she’s more comfortable with where she came from and who she’s become. After receiving an honorary degree from Simon Fraser University in June, Bif says it sparked a desire to learn.
“It infected me. I want to go back to school. I’d love to study sciences or medicine. My mom says I’m too old and that I wouldn’t graduate until I’m 60. But if I make it to 60, I better be a doctor.”