Spoken-Word Artist Cervenka Using Her Art For Social Good

Performance preview

Exene Cervenka, spoken word performance, with Professor Griff and Don Bajema. Tuesday night at 8 at the Backstage, 2208 N.W. Market. $13.50-$15. 781-2805. -----------------------------------------------------------------

Exene Cervenka, the artist, doesn't believe that art should adopt the role of social activist and pick up society's slack. But Exene Cervenka, the human being, says she cannot resist the urge to help society's downtrodden and uses her art to assist those who are doing the dirty work.

So the engine that drives Cervenka is her fierce belief in the elemental necessity of correcting those wrongs through action and empowerment. As a writer, spoken-word artist and singer with the seminal Los Angeles punk band X, that dynamic reaches across the realms of women's and human rights, political enfranchisement, abuse of governmental power and the prevalence of war.

This is Cervenka's third trip to the Puget Sound region since last summer. In August, she and X performed at the 1993 End Fest at the Kitsap County Fairgrounds along with such bands as Belly, Helmet and fellow Angeleno punkers Social Distortion.

In November, she headlined a benefit at the Puss Puss Cafe on Capitol Hill to raise money for the Domestic Abuse Women's Network. That evening of music and spoken word also featured members of the bands Mecca Normal, Hammerbox and 7 Year Bitch. Tuesday's show includes readings from controversial rap artist Professor Griff and punk poet Don Bajema.

Cervenka began her performance career in 1976 after moving to Los Angeles, drawing inspiration from '70s punk writer-turned-musician Patti Smith. After several years of writing and performing, she and bassist/singer John Doe, guitarist Billy Zoom and drummer D.J. Bonebrake formed X in the early '80s, becoming one of the godfathers of L.A. punk and its subscene, roots-inspired "cowpunk," with albums such as "Under The Big Black Sun" and "See How We Are."

Cervenka said that spoken word performances happened on and off throughout X's career (the band broke up in 1988 and reformed in 1992 for the album "Hey Zeus!").

As for art's role in engineering social change, Cervenka said, "I think artists are not supposed to be the saviors of this world, that they don't have the responsibility to do any of this, but as a human being I feel responsible . . . and I can draw people into a nightclub and give the money away to someone who needs it.

"As a person, I think it's disgusting that artists have to spend so much time doing charity work and helping people because the government doesn't," said Cervenka, who does several benefits a year. "The government has a brutal element - a war element, a corruption element. It just disrupts people's lives to go out and do so much, but again, I like doing that as a person."

Professor Griff began his solo rap career in 1988 after leaving

supergroup Public Enemy. Don Bajema is a Southern California writer who publishes with the 2:13 company, run by ex-Black Flag punk workaholic Henry Rollins.