By Lawowski, Anna
Herizons , Vol. 13, No. 1
Singer-Songwriter Bif: STRAIGHT EDGE
After having an Egyptian eye drawn on her shoulder while travelling in Vancouver, Bif, then 19, called her mother from a pay phone. "I said, `Mummy I got a tattoo.' And my mom started crying. And I said, `Don't worry, I only want one.'"
Several tattoos and three solo albums later, Bif Naked is one of Canada's most popular female acts. Her songs deal mostly with relationships and are written in fluid narratives with a recurrent theme of hope. She allows the listener to peer in on childhood memories, failed loves and rages against violence-all in three-minute pop songs. Allowing fans to follow her own life so closely has resulted in a steadily growing audience. While touring with Edgefest in 1998, her autograph sessions in the FanFest tent went overtime because she stayed until everyone made it through the line. Her dedication to the fans is reciprocated by the devotion they pay to her as a performer. Live shows are full of girls singing along to her lyrics and listening to humourous anecdotes about being female.
Bif recognizes a responsibility to her audience and recalls it as part of the reason why, at 26, decided to quit drinking. "I'd had enough shitty relationships, it was just time. About six months later I quit smoking, which I loved. I think about it everyday and I always will. But I made a decision not to do it and just to be straight edge."
Three years later, Bif often sports black X's on the backs of her hands onstage, the recognized symbol of a straight edge. In her crowd the X might also be present on the backs of a few hooded sweatshirts, indicating that some of her fans have also chosen to live without cigarettes, drugs or alcohol.
"It is like being a role model and when you're in that position you do have a responsibility not to fuck around. Whether you like it or not. I didn't have fans that young until I'd already quit drinking, and I'm relieved. I was a very loud drunk and it would be horrific for me to be drunk in front of a bunch of 14-year old girls. It's just not cool."
Her fan mail also keeps her in check. She finds it quite overwhelming that so many of them depend on her, but acknowledges that she would be nowhere without her fans. "I owe it to them to be everything that they expect, but also within the boundaries of my own life choices. They look to me to validate some of their behaviour, and the only thing I can do is just be honest and go, `Well that's not what I'd do.'"
And it's no wonder that the underage crowd has plucked Bif out of the seemingly endless stream of female solo artists. Outside the folk stream, few mainstream singers are willing to cover some topics. From political and moral issues like abortion, to her own personal experiences like adoption and divorce, no subject is off limits to Bif. "I cover topics by accident. I write songs and poetry about things I have done. On my first CD, I sang a song called `Tell On You' which was about the time I was raped. I never thought I was doing myself or anyone else a favor, I just had some feelings to express about my personal experience. Same with the song, `Daddy's Getting Married.' I never thought about being a divorced kids' spokesperson, or a victim who was rising above her sexual assaults. I knew that there was nothing unique about my experiences so I didn't really see the big deal. I have never seen why any subject should be taboo. With me being adopted, it just is. A lot of things aren't discussed that should be."
And Bif is given the opportunity to discuss things. Her second CD, Okenspay Ordway 1 was entirely spoken word. The positive reception to The Gross Gross Man, the only spoken word track on her first CD received enough attention to warrant the follow-up. "It filled a lot of reviewers with absolute disdain. It was hysterical for me because people were taking it way too seriously. I did it to be funny and my fans think it's funny and my mother thinks it's funny," says Bif, adding that, "At the end of the day if my mom is impressed by it then I've done a good deed. …