Baby On Nirvana Album Cover Sues Band Members
The baby whose face (and penis) grace the cover of one of the most iconic rock albums of all time — Nirvana’s 1991 release Nevermind — has filed a lawsuit against band members claiming he was portrayed as a "sex worker” in a photo that constituted child pornography.
Spencer Elden, now 30, is seeking at least $150,000 U.S. each from Dave Grohl and Krist Novoselic as well as Courtney Love, the executor of Kurt Cobain’s estate. Other defendants include photographer Kirk Weddle, art director Robert Fisher and original Nirvana drummer Chad Channing, who wasn’t in the band at the time of the cover shoot.
“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, filed in California on Tuesday – exactly one month before the album's 30th anniversary. “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.”
The now-iconic album cover shows Elden floating in a swimming pool and looking at a digitally-added dollar bill on a fish hook.
Elden was only four months old when his father Rick put him naked into the pool at the Rose Bowl Aquatic Center for Weddle, who was a friend. Too young to swim, Elden managed to tread water long enough for the picture to be snapped. His parents collected $200 for the use of his image.
Nevermind has sold more than 30 million copies around the world.
“Neither Spencer nor his legal guardians ever signed a release authorizing the use of any images of Spencer or of his likeness, and certainly not of commercial child pornography depicting him,” the filing claims.
To mark the album’s 25th anniversary in 2016, Elden recreated the image for photographer John Chapple, who told iHeartRadio.ca at the time that Elden offered to go nude. “I didn’t know any publication that would use pictures of his junk,” said Chapple.
Elden previously recreated the photo on at least three different occasions and has, in various interviews, shared mixed feelings about his place in rock history.
“It’s hard not to get upset when you hear how much money was involved,” he told Time in 2016. “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.”
Elden’s lawsuit alleges Weddle “took a series of sexually graphic nude photographs of Spencer. To ensure the album cover would trigger a visceral sexual response from the viewer, Weddle activated Spencer’s ‘gag reflex’ before throwing him underwater in poses highlighting and emphasizing Spencer’s exposed genitals.
“Cobain chose the image depicting Spencer — like a sex worker — grabbing for a dollar bill that is positioned dangling from a fishhook in front of his nude body with his penis explicitly displayed.”
The lawsuit notes that Geffen Records reportedly wanted another image for the album cover but Cobain insisted and offered only one compromise – a sticker over the baby’s genitals that read: “If you’re offended by this, you must be a closet pedophile.”
None of the defendants have responded to the lawsuit, which has not been tested in court.
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