Uncensored, Bif Naked talks advice, ramen noodles, and writing
By CASS LUCKE
</b>How did you originally get into performing?
Just from being a kid. My parents had my two sisters and I in piano and ballet and what not, and when I was in high school, I was in the drama department, then when I went into university it was to get a theatre major. I was in a theatre program at the University of Winnipeg and it’s really what I thought I would be doing. I thought I would be in theatre, musical theatre and acting. I had no idea I would be touring in a rock band. That was never a childhood dream of mine, it just kind of happened. When I was in university, I just met a bunch of like-minded people who were in the same classes as I was and we started playing music together after school and it just snowballed from there. We were offered a tour. I dropped out of my first year of university to go on tour and I just never went back. I stayed on tour for almost 22 years until I was diagnosed with breast cancer and that was my only year I took off from touring. I called it my vacation.
Did you ever see bits of what you’ve learnt over the years of being a musical artist come into your writing for The Globe and Mail?
Oh, certainly, absolutely! They really are parallel. In both of those art forms you have to be willing to literally eat ramen, that’s what I call it. In the music industry, music revenue really isn’t a great source of income for anybody anymore. You really want to utilize the internet, for example, to get your songs out to – and there’s an entire generation – music fans who aren’t accustomed to paying for it. It’s nobody’s fault, that’s just how it is. So you have to be really willing to give it away. And knowing that going into writing, even for The Globe and Mail, I wasn’t getting paid for that. That was just something I was happy to do for a variety of reasons. One, it was great experience and it was a great opportunity to be read by a very wide audience who may not have previously considered reading anything I’d written. There’s a particular demographic that reads The Globe and Mail and they were mostly really receptive to the things I wrote about. I’ve had the same manager for over 25 years and he would prefer I only do things for money but unfortunately for him there are things that I want to do that I would never even bat an eye if I wasn’t paid for it.
So why did you want to do this? I know you weren’t getting payed and you said you wouldn’t bat an eye when accepting certain things, so why didn’t you bat an eye at this opportunity?
Because it’s The Globe and Mail! It’s a paper that I respect and I loved all of the writers that were working for it, and I thought it was a good opportunity for me. Again this was in 2014 before I was working on editing my memoir, which eventually took too much time and I couldn’t do any Globe and Mail stuff anymore. But at the time I contributed to (The Globe and Mail’s) health column thoroughly. Every year is different, especially as a self-employed freelancer, you have to be really flexible.
Where do you think you would be right now if you didn’t take on the freelancing lifestyle?
It’s hard to say. There’s little milestones that always keep you going just when you feel things are futile or you’re thinking, ‘There’s no way I can live off of ramen for the next six months,’ or, ‘I’ll never pay off my student loan,’ and you’re just ready to bail. A gig or an opportunity will come up that will keep you in the game. It seems to be the same story for anyone I’ve ever met, whether it’s a contract gig for an indie magazine or a European tour that will feed you for another six weeks, it’s literally those tiny things that will keep you at it.
Some journalists get a degree from post secondary school; did you ever find it challenging to write for a publication alongside people who have been trained in the field?
Certainly, it’s intimidating for sure. In Canada, there’s a lot of really beautiful writers who have been working at their craft and they’re educated at their craft, and I’m sure it’s annoying to have some individual come into the fold who is really only sliding in based on their notoriety or their reputation or, god forbid, their celebrity. They may be a shit writer and suddenly they have to be tolerated. But I think the same thing is true in just about any industry. I’ve worked around people who have degrees in musicology and they’re so insanely talented and immeasurably educated, yet they don’t like touring or they aren’t willing to work for free – there’s always a reason, whether they didn’t want to tour or their band didn’t get the big concert your band did; There’s always a variable that may be the missing piece. So it’s not always education, there’s so many other factors that are involved with success for everybody. Whether it’s writing or being a musician. And again, everybody defines success differently. Some people may be very satisfied writing the program in their local church every Sunday for the rest of their lives and that’s their pinnacle and they love it and that’s amazing, while other people want to write for Vanity Fair, it’s different for everybody.
What has writing for The Globe and Mail given to you that you wouldn’t have gotten if you hadn’t started writing a column?
It’s given me such a great experience, I loved it so much. And it was different. Basically, it gave me a chance. I’m obsessed with medical stories and wellness and health and nutrition, I love hospitals and I love everything about discovering the ins and outs of the health-care system. So writing for a health column was an opportunity I otherwise would not have had if I was purely a musician; and probably if I hadn’t ended up with tit cancer. I suddenly had this other angle where they could bring me into the fold every October for breast cancer awareness month and I could really sink my teeth into a lot of science and health research and writing and I just loved it so much.
Do any stories or experiences stand out to you from that time?
I worked with three different editors over the course of almost three years and every single editor communicates differently with every writer. Every single editor wants something a little bit different. It was challenging trying to discover – without any previous experience at all – how to work on a deadline, how to work within particular parameters of word counts and knowing what (each editor was) looking for, which could be very different from what their readerships were looking for. There were a few different inspirational quotes that I remembered, for example, ‘Know your audience.’ I realized that goes for performing in a rock band just as much as it does for writing for an audience. Know your audience; who is it? And I tried to keep that in mind at The Globe and Mail. Also know if you have a particular voice in your writing, or worse if you know your audience expects you to have a particular voice. I know for me, what they think Bif Naked is going to write might be very, very different from what I’m actually going to write. So taking all of those factors into account was a great learning experience for me because as far as songwriting, lyrics and poetry writing goes, I’m kind of carte blanche, I never have an editor, I have a lot of creative freedom as far as grammar, pentameter and topic goes. There’s just so much freedom and I’d never known any different. So it was an educational crash course and it was a great challenge for me. I loved it all.
Did you ever get any feedback from your readership?
Mostly, I think, the people who went out of their way to contact me directly either by commenting on Facebook or Twitter, they were almost always positive because those positive people who enjoyed the piece are the ones who would seek me out. But I would also occasionally read comments left, for example, on The Globe and Mail’s Facebook page. And they will always stand out for a writer, even if there are 200 wonderful reviews and one bad one, all you will remember is the bad one. That goes for concerts and everything. I would read these awful, scathing comments left by people and that was also a good learning experience. There were a lot of people who didn’t want to hear about breast cancer or they didn’t want to hear it from me and what my experience is or whatever the case was. It was never usually about the writing because there would be the editor and copyeditor making sure that everything was in check, but it would be about the content for sure.
How would you respond?
I think everyone’s probably the same. It kind of sucks in a way to read something negative regardless of what it’s for. From the beginning of being a performer when I was 18, I always knew there was basically nothing I could do about a bad review to change someone’s mind. I think for me, being in a grunt genre of music was extremely helpful as a female because we would basically get into fistfights. Not that I was trying to advocate violence, but that was how I was kind of schooled in coping techniques. As far as having my art form critiqued, it was literally people yelling six inches from your face, ‘You suck,’ or, ‘Go home,’ or, ‘Give us the fucking stage,’ and I think because that was my introduction into critics, it made me pretty tough. Regardless of whether or not things hurt my feelings, I don’t really take things personally anymore, and it’s been a long time since I’ve been hyper-impacted by anything.
What would you say to people who may be interested in pursuing the journalistic field?
I would say, go for it. I mean, I can’t imagine any reason why it wouldn’t be extremely exciting; it’s a great career. It’s challenging, it’s interesting. Hopefully you can set your own hours – whenever your writing schedule is whenever your writing inspirations come to you. I can’t imagine that there would be any down sides. And again, as long as you like soup.