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Regional Interests

Man Photographed as a Baby on ‘Nevermind’ Cover Sues Nirvana for Sexual Exploitation

The cover for Nevermind, a 1991 Nirvana album that is said to have helped redefine rock music, features a naked 4-month-old baby in a pool, appearing to swim after a dollar bill that’s pierced with a fish hook.

That baby—the now 30-year-old Spencer Elden—is suing Nirvana for child exploitation and pornography, saying the band knowingly distributed the naked photo of Elden as a baby and profited from it.

He’s asking for $150,000 in damages from each of the defendants, which include members of the band, Kurt Cobain’s estate, photographer Kirk Weddle, Universal Music, Geffen Records, Warner Records and MCA Music.

The cover photo was shot by Weddle, who was a friend of Elden’s father. The lawsuit accuses Weddle of producing a “sexually graphic” photo of Elden. It adds that there was initially pushback against featuring Elden’s genitals on the album cover and the plan was to place a sticker over it.

“The sticker, however, was never incorporated into the album cover,” the lawsuit states.

Elden’s parents also never signed a release authorizing the use of the image, and Elden himself never received any compensation, the lawsuit says.

“Spencer’s true identity and legal name are forever tied to the commercial sexual exploitation he experienced as a minor,” Robert Lewis, Elden’s attorney, writes in the lawsuit.

Lewis writes that Elden has experienced emotional distress and interference with emotional and educational development.

Nirvana fans took to social media on Wednesday to express cynicism about Elden’s motivations.

Twitter users rushed to highlight the fact that Elden has the word “Nevermind” tattooed across his chest and has a long history of posing underwater, in tribute to the album cover.

In a 2008 interview with NPR, Elden, then in high school, was still struggling to make sense of his public image.

“Quite a few people in the world have seen my penis,” he said, “So that’s kinda cool. I’m just a normal kid living it up and doing the best I can while I’m here.”

By 2016, in an interview with GQ Australia, Elden’s tone had shifted considerably. “Recently I’ve been thinking, ‘What if I wasn’t OK with my freaking penis being shown to everybody?’” he said. “I didn’t really have a choice.”

He admitted in the same interview that his feelings about the album cover had changed after he invited Nirvana to be part of an art show he was organizing with Weddle. “I was getting referred to their managers and lawyers,” he said. “Why am I still on their cover if I’m not that big of a deal?”

This story includes reporting from KQED’s Rae Alexandra. Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit NPR. 

Copyright 2021 KQED