Punk Rocker Bif Naked on Gratitude, Laughter and Being a Heavy Metal Care Bear
India-born and Winnipeg-raised Canadian punk rocker Bif Naked originally wanted to be an actress and comedian. She joined her boyfriend’s band to get performance experience, and discovered her gift for the musical stage. Exploding onto the scene in the mid 90’s, in a time where men dominated grunge, rock and punk, her presence as a female frontline performer was undeniable: fiercely confident, loud and with no apologies. After years of touring and chart-topping hits, such as “Lucky”, “Spaceman”, “I Love Myself Today”, and “We’re Not Gonna Take It”, Bif has touched millions around the world. Having survived breast cancer, kidney failure and heart surgery, her resiliency is as striking as her artistic range. Bif has released nine albums and penned her autobiography, “I, Bificus”. She is a comic cartoonist, actress, poet, songwriter, motivational speaker and a volunteer peer support for women undergoing cancer treatment. Here, the Canadian “queen of punk” shares what comes so naturally to her and her greatest milestones.
Parvati Magazine: A “heavy metal care bear” and a “bad ass” are ways you have described yourself. Over the years, have you felt misunderstood or misperceived? Were people surprised to encounter your softer side?
Bif Naked: Oh, definitely. I think it’s really funny, because I believe that we are who are, our entire life. Political messages, or songs that are a bit angry, were definitely something I enjoyed doing as a frustrated young person. But then in between the songs I would thank everyone for coming, tell them I hope that they feel happy. When I was 17 or 18, I was told, “Don’t talk in between songs, because you’ll give it away. You’ll shed your tough image the minute you open your mouth and thank the audience.” It was something I just couldn’t help anyway. I couldn’t really fit in with some of the heavier songs, and so I used to just shrug and say “I know, I’m a Gemini!” Over the years as I grew older, I just really grew into it. Now that social media makes all of us so accessible, we can say whatever it is we want unfiltered. Basically, my life’s mission is to always be positive no matter what’s going on. It’s not natural for me to be unforgiving or resentful or sour. I can’t really pretend. Although I would like to play a villain. That would be cool, to get a real acting job.
Parvati Magazine: Early on in your career when you experienced milestones such as performing on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno and in arenas filled with fans across Europe and North America, you expressed that it would have been enough, and you could have died happy. What cultivated your sense of gratitude and how has it served you?
Bif Naked: It serves me so, so much. I have always felt that way. I was a runaway in high school, and the fact that we didn’t get murdered… I knew without a shadow of a doubt that was a point in my life where I was going to be grateful for it. I was going to acknowledge that it was absolutely sheer luck. Should I have survived this ordeal? I was just so happy that I did. And I thought, I could die happy because I survived this and I didn’t bring shame on my parents or whatever. And then a couple years go along and you know, [I] would have a couple of misadventures along the way. And I knew again, it was just a miracle that I survived. But the milestones are really what makes that resonate with me. Once I played The Tonight Show, I thought, my parents saw this, I can die happy. Then life kept going. And I just think that that’s amazing. Everything is, no matter whether or not I’m suffering in some way, poor, have a sick dog, or have cancer. Anything that happens in life, I really believe that it’s all part of the goulash that makes us rich and delicious.
Parvati Magazine: As Canada’s “queen of punk”, you have been a front woman and a trailblazer since the 90’s. Were you aware when you started out that you were leading the way for independent women in the music industry? Did you feel part of a community among other emerging female artists, or more like a lone ranger?
Bif Naked: I think I was just trying to survive. I didn’t know a lot of other girls that were in bands. And back then, we didn’t have the internet. You’re isolated in this weird bubble. I tolerated so many things because they were very, very normal for my generation of woman in the workplace. Things that young artists today don’t tolerate for one second. Sometimes I just laugh because I think, wow, they’ve just come so far. We had to put up with so much.
I kind of developed a bit of a tomboy way of behaving and being on stage. I never thought that I was [a trailblazer], ever. I still don’t. There’s so many other women who are doing incredible work. I just always kind of stayed on my path and in my lane. Anyone who lives their truth is blazing the trail.
Parvati Magazine: Lilith Fair, Sarah McLachlan’s all-female tour with iconic musicians and bands, including yourself in its last year, was a profound time not only for female artists but also for fans. After years as an outlier in the male-dominated rocker scene, what was it like to step into Lilith Fair?
Bif Naked: It was like a miracle. It was a dream come true that Sarah even knew who I was. There were these massive stars: Chrissie Hynde, Sheryl Crow, Suzanne Vega, Debra Cox, Amaya. Then there we were, in our half tops and lugging around our Marshall amps. It was just so much fun. And I learned a lot from Sarah. I did. Prior to Ms. McLachlan, really my teachers and my mentors were punk dudes. The guys who would do the stage dives. And I gripped my microphone a certain way, that I learned from them. And I always did things a certain way. And then the finale number with Sarah every show, where she invited all of the artists to be on stage with her, was transformational for me. It wasn’t until I saw Sarah perform countless times over that summer, that I really learned how to close my eyes and sing.
Parvati Magazine: Last year you released singles “Hot Box Girls” and “Heavy”. Now you are working on new music, and two books. What has been the catalyst for these new creative projects?
Bif Naked: I think it’s timing. I think that that’s something that all of us don’t give enough credit. I have been working on a cancer book for three years. It doesn’t chronicle just my story, but there’s a lot of generalizations in there that I had to research. It’s hard for me to just sit my butt in a chair. I [also] decided to write a poetry book. It was a completely different energy that went into the writing and it made me feel romantic and nostalgic. It was a labor of love. I am very proud of the new music. I can’t wait to share it with everyone.
Parvati Magazine: You have shared that you have a “voracious appetite for learning about religion, faith and people”. How has that channeled into your life’s work, including your volunteer work and mentorship roles?
Bif Naked: My dad was a theologist. He introduced us to all the religions of the world. [My parents] were practicing Christians, but because I was born in India and my sister was Indian, my dad really wanted to keep a lot of the Hindu deities in our life and keep those opportunities there for us, whether we wanted to go to a Hindu temple or even explore Buddhism. So as a young person, I explored a lot of different religions. I still resonate very strongly with the Hindu doctrines. I love Buddhism.
I think that all paths lead to God, ultimately, whatever God means for any person. I’m a big fan of people having increased resiliency because they have faith. I’ve always been really inspired by that part of the human story. That’s always been infused into my work.
Parvati Magazine: Even in the hardest times you have said that your default is your great sense of humor. What makes you laugh?
Bif Naked: Everything. I love laughing. Everything’s funny. My husband makes me laugh more than anyone else in the world. My dogs, when they were still alive, they made me laugh every day. I’m a real joker. Anything that I can do to make someone laugh, I’m going to do it.
Bif Naked is a celebrated performer in music, TV, film, and dance, and a tireless advocate and humanitarian. Emancipated by punk rock and empowered by surviving breast cancer, kidney failure, heart surgery and divorce, has become one of the world’s most unique, recognizable and beloved icons.