For the past thirteen years, iconoclast diva Bif Naked has fronted bands in some of the toughest clubs in Canada, Europe and the United States. With a voice that can go from croon to growl and back again, her songs range from hard-core punk to dreamy ballads to activist spoken word. She’s about to release her fifth CD, Essentially Naked on her own label, Her Royal Majesty’s Records. She’s appeared on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, hosted CBC’s Zed TV, and starred in the romantic comedy Lunch with Charles. She’s a tattooed and pierced skateboarding, BMX bike riding, coffee-drinking vegetarian punk princess who refuses to be pigeonholed. One thing is clear: Bif Naked doesn’t like labels.
“I never say I’m a victim of violence, because I don’t believe in victims,” says the 32-year-old singer. “But a lot of people, instead of coming out with the truth about things that have happened to them, are encouraged to put it aside, to sweep it under the rug, or somehow think it was their fault.”
Bif is chewing pink bubble gum and talking about one of her many charity projects, Stop The Violence/Face the Music. The organization counsels and educates youth to find non-violent alternatives to conflict. “When Stop the Violence first approached me in 1995, it was a cause very close to my heart,” she says. “I realized it was something I could do proactively to hopefully stop someone from going down the same paths that I did.”
Speaking out about taboo subjects is one of Bif Naked’s specialties. Her 1996 self-titled debut CD featured a song “Tell on You” about her rape experience. The emotions expressed are raw and vulnerable, but Bif’s fighting spirit comes through in the chorus: Please remember/I know who you are/Someday, I’ll have the strength to tell. “I have nothing to hide,” she says. “When you share the whole human experience, especially with women, we can impart our opinions and share our stories.”
With her tattooed forearms and goth/punk style, it’s hard to believe that Bif was bullied and beaten up twice by grade nine girls in junior high. “It’s quite possible I was being obnoxious,” she admits, smiling. “I survived, but I think that our society is more violent today than it was when I was in high school.”
In 1997, Bif Naked’s Rap Punk Pop Invitational toured 18 Canadian cities to raise money for Stop the Violence, with guests SNFU, Raggadeath, Glueleg, Ballroom Zombies and Face The Pain. Bif also made a TV commercial with a toll-free number for teens to call to find a counsellor in their area. “An eye for an eye never works,” she says, shaking her head. “I think that (counselling) is rehabilitative, and that it can shift thinking quickly.”
A spiritual person, Bif practices yoga and meditation, she doesn’t own a television, and says “No” to drinking and drugs. Based in Vancouver, she strives for health and clarity since adopting a straight-edge lifestyle seven years ago. A critic of consumer culture, she says she’d still be willing to starve for her art: “As long as I can feed my dogs and buy myself a canvas and make a painting, I couldn’t care less.”
“Most of the suffering on earth man causes for himself, and it’s all through ego, and it’s all through attachment and desire,” says Bif. The song “Violence” on her 1998 CD I Bificus warns how arrogance can be self-defeating: It’s not about me/It’s not about you/It’s not about them or what they do/It’s not about pride. “Usually the people who are the most vain are the most insecure,” she says. “You have to find the will to get through it and the self-control not to be retaliatory or vengeful.”
But it’s not all Zen aphorisms and sprout salad. A long-time political activist, Bif is adamant that each person can make a difference, regardless of age. “I don’t believe that teenagers today are politically apathetic,” she insists. “I think our society is politically apathetic, and they would like it if young people just watched television and ate chicken fingers all day. You can be constantly bombarded with violent media, or you can choose what to look at.” Grabbing her handheld, she scrolls through a list of activist websites dedicated to civil disobedience and critical thought (see sidebar). Bif has aligned herself with several organizations including Rock for Choice, Lilith Fair, and the Buried Heart Society, which released a CD single inspired by the 50+ missing women from Vancouver’s downtown East Side.
“I don’t know what I can do other than be a loudmouth and tell people to get off their ass,” she says. “If you can go do something mindful, even if it’s just taking your dog to the local nursing home, something good can come from that and it grows and grows and becomes an unstoppable train.”
Bif’s Favourite Activism Sites