What: Bif Naked with Jonathan Roy
When: Wednesday, 7 p.m.
Where: Alix Goolden Performance Hall, 907 Pandora Ave.
Tickets: $30 at ticketfly.com
Note: Bif Naked also performs Tuesday at The Queens in Nanaimo
Bif Naked fought hard for what she achieved as an artist. But her 20-year battle as a female rocker in a male-dominated industry pales in comparison to what she had to overcome as a person, from breast cancer, chemotherapy and multiple divorces to heart surgery, kidney failure and an ovariectomy.
The rocker, who was born Beth Torbert, takes it all in stride.
“We’ve all been through our own hell,” she said. “Parents have died, divorces have happened, life keeps happening to all of us. It’s not easy, just as long as we can get together and laugh. If we can poke fun at ourselves, we’re going to sail through it.”
Torbert made it through some rough seas in recent years, beginning with her 2008 breast-cancer diagnosis. Chemotherapy, the loss of her father, a second divorce, and the loss of her beloved dogs knocked her down further, but not out. Those were dark days, Torbert admitted. But they also led her to where she is today: On a song-and-speak tour in support of her memoir, I, Bificus, which arrived April 22.
I, Bificus is a frank look at very colourful life. It is not, however, a tell-all.
“I’m a polite girl,” Torbert said. “Even in the context of the stories that are in my book, I try not to throw blame or s--- talk people. That’s just not how I’m built.”
The author, who had to be convinced to write the book, said she wrote it from the perspective of the off-stage Beth Torbert, not the on-stage Bif Naked, whose hits include Daddy’s Getting Married, Moment of Weakness, and I Love Myself Today.
“This is my life, my missionary parents and my church upbringing,” she said. “This is definitely about Beth.”
Born in New Delhi, she was adopted by missionaries who lived, during the early part of her life, in the U.S. By the time she was old enough to drive, Torbert was singing in Winnipeg punk bands. She eventually moved to Vancouver, and with a body covered in tattoos and with ruler-straight Bettie Page bangs, the legend of Bif Naked was born.
There were demons to exorcise on her early albums. Surprisingly, she talked openly about alcohol dependency, and being bullied in junior high; in the 1993 song Tell On You, she discusses being sexually assaulted. Though she was running her own label, Her Royal Majesty’s Records, Torbert wasn’t without her insecurities. At her commercial peak in 1998, when the song Spaceman hit No. 1, Torbert gauged her success against that of her male counterparts.
She can’t imagine doing so today.
“For whatever reason, maybe it comes from having gone through cancer, maybe I just grew up,” the 44-year-old said. “But I’ve lost that self-consciousness.”
Torbert has long been known as one of the funnier interviews around; cancer has not put a dent in that. But the person giving interviews to promote the book and a run of upcoming song-and-story shows, one of which is slotted into the Alix Goolden Performance Hall next week, is much more introspective these days.
She is happy with I, Bificus, but there’s an element of unwanted attention that comes with it, she said.
“I think I’m a common girl. We all go through these things. People have much more tragic stories than me, absolutely. I was very reticent to pen a memoir. I was badgered into it by my manager.”
That same manager, Peter Karroll, who has been with her since the beginning, pushed her hard during the writing process.
“He called me out. There were a couple of deaths I didn’t mention in my book, so he said: ‘You have to go back and write those. You have to do this.’ So I did. I didn’t like doing it, but I did it.”
Torbert also grew to trust her editors at Harper-Collins.
“I had stories about driving around with my best friend here in Vancouver, and I thought our conversations were quite hilarious. But of course, my editor said: ‘Yeah, no. Talking about different flower types with your friend is not going to make it in the book.’ ”
When the tour to promote I, Bificus winds down, Torbert said she will return to the rock arena. Her confidence in the medium was “worn down” following her big tour of 2009, which came soon after chemotherapy and surgery. It wasn’t the right call at the time, she said.
“Even though I thought I felt really great, I was still quite sick. I didn’t know I was, because I had felt so much better than I had been. But I didn’t enjoy it, and felt lousy all the time.”
Until a year or two ago, she was against making a new rock record. That has all changed now, she said.
“Last summer, we started doing rock festivals again, and it was like getting bitten. I love it. I couldn’t believe that I ever thought it wasn’t going to be fun again.”