Photo: Karolina Turek
Bif's Naked Truth
Rock star Bif Naked.
Bif Naked is rocking it again. Not that she ever completely stopped. But for a while, life kept getting in her way.
“Last summer we did rock shows all over northern B.C. and Alberta,” says the 44-year-old singer-songwriter best known for her hits Spaceman (1998) and I Love Myself Today (2001). “But for a long time all I did was acoustic shows. It felt better, when I was going through so much with court and a sick dog and everything else.”
“Everything else” includes fighting breast cancer, a trio of devastating deaths and the breakup of her 2007 marriage. The cancer diagnosis, which came shortly after the couple’s honeymoon, was the death knell for that relationship. As Bif has said, “He married a rock star and what he got was a cancer patient.” And so they split. And then he sued her. By 2011, after chemotherapy, a lumpectomy and years in court, they divorced. That was before her dad died and her guitarist Jacen Eckstrom and her dog, Nicholas.
It was a tough few years.
Now she’s back with a hilarious and moving memoir (I, Bificus, published by HarperCollins), a new rock album in the works and a summer wedding to guitarist Steve (Snake) Allen. She credits her dedication to exercise and a healthy diet for her recovery. “It probably saved my life,” she says.
In real life, Bif Naked is Beth Torbert. Born in India to an unwed Canadian teenager, she was adopted by American missionaries who found her in a mental hospital.
As a teenager, Bif joined a punk band to protect herself from the girl gangs in her Winnipeg high school. Around the same time, she and her girlfriends would go to the gym to lift weights “because all the guys we liked were at the gym.”
Since then, she’s been seriously into power lifting, martial arts, yoga and power walking. She runs, too, but only on the treadmill. “I’ve never been good at running, but I’ve always power walked, for 30 years,” she says. “I stop and take too many pictures.”
Even when Bif is on the road, she works fitness into her routine. “I did almost 300 shows a year for nearly 10 years,” she says. “I got very little sleep for a very long time and the only thing that made me feel normal was working out.” When she couldn’t find a gym on the road, “We had what we called ghetto gym,” a makeshift workout area created out of milk crates.
… the only thing that made me feel normal was working out.
By the time she was in her 20s, Bif was suffering from stomach problems that she attributes to stress and allergies. She became a vegetarian and, eventually, a vegan. Although she was fit, she realizes now that she wasn’t particularly healthy. It took cancer to change that. “It was a really restorative time in my life.”
She was chosen to join a national clinical trial studying the impact of chemotherapy on the bone density of women with breast cancer. “I had a sorority of supporters,” she says. “Nobody had heard of Bif Naked. I was just the bald kid who cracked all the jokes on the treadmill.”
She believes the emotional support of the women in that group is one of the reasons she is cancer free today. That, and her fitness routine and vegan diet. “(My diet) didn’t prevent my cancer, but maybe it prevented my death,” she says. “We forget that it is a deadly disease. I saw a lot of women in my time die. They had the same cancer I did, but they didn’t have the same lifestyle.”
Bif has since become a palliative care volunteer and an advocate for other people with cancer.
“I’d love to go back to school and become a hospital administrator… but for now, I’m still an artist,” she says. “Having breast cancer and going through difficult life experiences like divorce and death, you just go with the flow.”