Do you remember the cover for Nirvana’s album Nevermind? That’s right – the one that includes hits like Smells Like Teen Spirit, Come As You Are, and Lithium. If you do remember it, you’ll remember that it is a picture of a baby boy in a swimming pool reaching for a dollar bill dangling from a fishing line. Well, that baby boy is now almost 30, and he is suing the band for sexual exploitation. (1)
Nirvana Album Cover Baby Suing Band For Sexual Exploitation
Nearly 30 years after photographer Kirk Weddle photographed 4-month-old Spencer Elden, the now full-grown adult is seeking damages. He is suing the band for sexual exploitation and says that his parents never signed a release form permitting the use of this image. He is also claiming that this is a form of child pornography, though the US law does not consider non-sexualized images of babies pornography.
Elden’s lawyers, however, claim that the inclusion of the dollar bill makes baby Elden appear like some kind of sex worker. The dollar bill was added to the photo after it was taken and was not a part of the original photo shoot.
Nirvana’s Nevermind – The Original Photoshoot
Elden’s father Rick talked about the photoshoot in 2008 to US Radio network NPR. Photographer Kirk Weddle was a family friend. He explained the shoot as a big pool party where no one actually knew what was taking place. (2)
“[He] calls us up and was like, ‘Hey Rick, wanna make 200 bucks and throw your kid in the drink?,'” said Rick. “I was like, ‘What’s up?’ And he’s like, ‘Well, I’m shooting kids all this week, why don’t you meet me at the Rose Bowl, 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!”
Three months later while out for a drive, the family saw a massive copy of the image on the Tower Records’ wall. The album went platinum, and Geffen Records sent the now 1-year-old a copy and a teddy bear. The album has now sold 30 million copies worldwide – meaning that at least that many people have seen his naked baby image.
Elden’s opinion of the cover has unsurprisingly been mixed over the years. As you can imagine, it’s quite strange to have this weird sort of fame before you’re old enough to even walk.
“I just woke up already being a part of this huge project,” he said. “It’s pretty difficult – you feel like you’re famous for nothing.” he said.
Six years ago, he told The Guardian that the album cover had opened a lot of doors for him. As an artist, it’s provided him an “in” with some pretty big names.
“ this story gave me an opportunity to work with Shepard Fairey for five years, which was an awesome experience. He is a huge music connoisseur: when he heard I was the Nirvana baby, he thought that was really cool.”
That being said, it is pretty conflicting when that photo is you as a baby completely naked. It can then be especially upsetting when that naked photo of you has helped make so many people so much money, and you never got any of it.
“It’s hard not to get upset when you hear how much money was involved,” he explained. “[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.”
The Record Label Takes The Cake
Elden is asking for damages of $150,000 from each of the 15 people involved. This includes the managers of the Kurt Cobain estate, Kurt Cobain’s former wife Courtney Love, surviving band members Dave Grohl and Krist Novoselic, and photographer Kirk Weddle. The band has yet to make any comments, however, Weddle did comment on this in 2019. He has been and still is in contact with Elden and acknowledged that he did feel conflicted about the chosen image from the beginning.
“He feels that everybody made money off it and he didn’t,” Weddle said. “I think he deserves something. But it’s always the record labels that make the money.”
We will have to wait and see what comes of the lawsuit if anything.