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.
In a 2008 interview, 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.”