Spencer Elden, the man whose photo is on the iconic cover of Nirvana’s Nevermind album, has filed a lawsuit alleging the nude image constitutes child pornography.
The now 30-year-old Elden is seeking $150,000 from each of 17 different named defendants including record executives, band members such as Dave Grohl and Krist Novoselic, and Courtney Love — the former wife and executor of Kurt Cobain’s estate. Even original drummer Chat Channing is named in the suit, even though he was replaced by Grohl in 1990 — before the album was recorded or the photo was taken.
As reported by Variety, Elden’s lawyers state that neither he nor his legal guardians ever signed a release authorizing the use of any images of Elden or his likeness, and “certainly not of commercial child pornography depicting him.” His parents were paid $200 for the photo.
Spencer Elden, the baby on Nirvana's Nevermind, recreates album cover 25 years later. pic.twitter.com/EpvzhtDcvC
— Eric Alper 🎧 (@ThatEricAlper) September 24, 2016
In 2008, Elden’s father — who was friends with the photographer Kirk Weddle — recounted the events in an interview with NPR.
“[Weddle] calls us up and was like, ‘Hey Rick, wanna make 200 bucks? I’m shooting kids all this week, why don’t you meet me at the Rose Bowl (Aquatic Center), throw your kid in the drink?’ And we just had a big party at the pool, and no one had any idea what was going on!”
It wasn’t until three months later that they saw that large 9-foot by 9-foot blow-up of the cover on the Tower Records wall on Sunset Boulevard that the impact of that day was fully realized.
“Weddle took a series of sexually graphic nude photographs of Spencer,” the lawsuit states. “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. Fisher purchased fishhooks from a bait and tackle shop to add to the scene. At least one or more film cartridges were exposed in a short period of time which included at least 40 or 50 different image shots of Spencer. 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.”
Elden has historically publicly stated mixed feelings over the photo. He has recreated the images multiple times on its 10th, 17th, 20th, and 25th anniversaries, but in interviews associated with those photoshoots, he says he feels as though he was exploited by the image. However, until now, has not described it as pornographic.
“The anniversary means something to me. It’s strange that I did this for five minutes when I was 4 months old and it became this really iconic image,” he said to the New York Post in 2016. “It’s cool but weird to be part of something so important that I don’t even remember.”
While Elden does have the Nevermind emblem tattoed on his chest, he also told Time Magazine in 2016 that it’s hard to not get upset at times.
“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.”