She’s touchy-feely and elaborately tattooed. She’s a writer who can’t spell. She’s the tough rocker chick who does volunteer work in palliative care.
Bif Naked, the Vancouver singer-songwriter, is many things. But above all, she’s a survivor.
Tonight, Bif (real name Beth Torbert) delivers an acoustic-style show with her band in Sidney. As well as playing, the self-confessed “Chatty Cathy” will reveal the stories behind her songs. And she’ll tell fans about surviving breast cancer.
Phoning from Vancouver, she cheerfully described horrors endured after being diagnosed with stage 2 cancer in 2007. She had chemotherapy and radiation, a lumpectomy and an ovarectomy (removal of the ovaries).
With typical bravura, Bif, 42, refers to her illness and treatments as her “cancer vacation.” It forced her to slow down a relentless — and self-driven — work schedule. However, determined not to give in, she never completely stopped working.
Two weeks after her ovarectomy (“I was a young woman, suddenly in menopause”) she went on tour to support her 2009 disc, The Promise. Recording it had been especially gruelling. Bif recalled a post-surgery catheter attached to a needle in her neck throughout this time. When she sang in the studio, it triggered a histamine reaction causing her throat to constrict.
“I felt like I was choking all the time,” she said. “But I couldn’t say anything to my producer, because I didn’t want to piss him off.”
Bif admits to trying to cope with illness by overcompensating. She believed she’d disappointed her new husband, Vancouver sportswriter Ian Walker (the couple have since divorced). Due to cancer treatment, she gained 30 pounds and lost her hair.
“I felt like I had let down this individual who, you know, had this like trophy bride — a Bif Naked trophy bride,” she said.
“It was just a gong show. And I was still expected to work, still expected to appear like this glamourous woman who had her s*** together.”
For a time, it seemed like the health problems would never stop. She also suffered kidney complications and underwent heart surgery. Today, she says, her health has stabilized, although she continues to take anti-cancer medication.
Her Vancouver Island shows support her latest album, Forever: Acoustic Hits & Other Delights. It contains acoustic-style reworkings of her best-known songs such as I Love Myself Today and Spaceman as well as new material.
Those who recall Bif Naked’s frenzied shows of yesteryear — the mosh pits and the hair whipping — will see a gentler side of the Canadian rocker. The music will be mellower. And fans will be invited onstage to relate personal anecdotes, whether they be cancer survivors or just people with a story to tell. She says at one show, a man declared his intention to quit his job; another proposed to his girlfriend.
“It’s a really touchy-feely kind of show,” she said.
Bif said her experiences with illness — and wisdom that comes with age — has allowed her to reveal a more vulnerable side of herself.
She works as a volunteer offering encouragement to palliative-care patients. She signed on with the National Speakers Bureau, talking about her experiences all over North America.
She is now writing her memoirs for HarperCollins.
Dredging up the past is “like brushing your teeth with a steak knife,” she joked.
Working with an editor, she’s found the process challenging due to her rudimentary spelling, grammar and typing skills.
Yet re-examining her life has been rewarding. She did extensive interviews with her parents, American missionaries who adopted Bif in her birthplace of New Delhi, India. She learned more about their missionary work and involvement in the 1960s civil rights movement — something she admires.
Asked if she’d have any advice for her younger self, she paused.
“I would try to get through to myself, to just relax. And not be missing anything. Just relax and enjoy the ride.”