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WTF?! The name Spencer Elden won't be familiar to most people, but they might recognize the photograph of the now 30-year-old as a baby on the cover of Nirvana's Nevermind album. It's one of the most iconic pieces of album art of all time, so it's somewhat surprising to learn that three decades after its release, Elden is suing the band over alleged child pornography.
The Nevermind cover depicts then four-month-old Elden naked in a pool as he tries to catch a dollar bill attached to a fishing line. He now says his parents, who were paid $200 for the photo, never signed a release authorizing the use of his image on the album and that it constitutes child pornography.
According to Variety, Elden's lawyer, Robert Y. Lewis, says that the shot makes the baby appear "like a sex worker" and that Elden was exploited to boost the album's sales and increase its attention.
"Defendants intentionally commercially marketed Spencer's child pornography and leveraged the shocking nature of his image to promote themselves and their music at his expense," reads the lawsuit. "Defendants used child pornography depicting Spencer as an essential element of a record promotion scheme commonly utilized in the music industry to get attention, wherein album covers posed children in a sexually provocative manner to gain notoriety, drive sales, and garner media attention, and critical reviews."
It's also alleged that Nirvana had promised to cover Elden's genitals with a sticker, but reneged on the agreement.
Elden says his "true identity and legal name are forever tied to the commercial sexual exploitation he experienced as a minor which has been distributed and sold worldwide from the time he was a baby to the present day."
Elden claims to "suffered and will continue to suffer lifelong damages" as a result of the image, including "extreme and permanent emotional distress" along with "interference with his normal development and educational progress" and "medical and psychological treatment". He is now seeking $150,000 from each of 17 named defendants, including surviving band members Dave Grohl and Krist Novoselic, record executives, photographer Kirk Weddle, and Courtney Love, the former wife and executor of Kurt Cobain's estate.
Elden recreating the Nevermind album cover. Credit: John Chapple
Elden has previously recreated the image of the Nevermind album for its 10th, 17th, 20th, and 25th anniversaries. He often expressed mixed feelings towards being the "Nirvana baby" in interviews, but before now never described it as pornographic or exploitative. In a 2016 interview with Time magazine, he said, "It's hard not to get upset when you hear how much money was involved."
"[When] I go to a baseball game and think about it: 'Man, everybody at this baseball game has probably seen my little baby penis,' I feel like I got part of my human rights revoked."
Conversely, in a 2015 interview with The Guardian, Elden said, "It's always been a positive thing and opened doors for me." He also has a “Nevermind” tattoo across his chest.