Nirvana sued by the baby from 'Nevermind' album cover for 'child sexual exploitation'

Spencer Elden, now 30, says the image has caused him 'extreme and permanent emotional distress'

Nirvana's 'Nevermind' album cover. Alamy
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Nirvana’s Nevermind album artwork is perhaps the band’s most memorable, featuring an underwater shot of a baby swimming towards a dollar bill that's attached to a fish hook.

But this 1991 album cover is now the centre of a lawsuit in the US.

Spencer Elden, now 30, was photographed for the cover when he was only four months old, and is suing the surviving members of the band and Kurt Cobain’s estate, arguing child sexual exploitation and alleging that the image constitutes child pornography.

The story was first reported by TMZ and confirmed by Pitchfork.

Elden’s lawsuit has also named Kirk Weddle, the photographer behind the image, and the record label of the album.

In the legal documents, Elden claims that neither he, owing to being so young, nor his legal guardians provided consent to the image. He said the band had given assurances that his genitals would not be explicitly shown and instead covered with a sticker, but this did not happen.

The legal papers also state that the image “lasciviously displayed Spencer’s genitals from the time he was an infant to the present day”.

Elden claims the image has had a lasting impact on his life, career and overall mental health.

The lawsuit states: “The permanent harm he has proximately suffered includes but is not limited to extreme and permanent emotional distress with physical manifestations, interference with his normal development and educational progress, lifelong loss of income earning capacity, loss of past and future wages, past and future expenses for medical and psychological treatment, loss of enjoyment of life, and other losses to be described and proven at trial of this matter.”

Elden is asking for damages of at least $150,000 from each of the 15 defendants, who include Dave Grohl, Krist Novoselic and Courtney Love, Cobain’s ex-wife.

The story of how the photograph came to be was recounted by Elden’s father, Rick, in 2008, while speaking on a US radio show. He said Weddle was a family friend who offered to pay him $200 to use the young Spencer as a subject.

“We just had a big party at the pool, and no one had any idea what was going on,” he said.

It wasn’t until a few months later that the album cover was revealed. NPR also reported that Geffen Records had sent Spencer Elden a platinum copy of the album and a teddy bear months later.

Over the years, Elden has recreated the photo for the album’s anniversaries. In the images, he is not nude and wears swimming shorts.

Updated: August 25, 2021, 1:55 PM