Man Pictured on ‘Nevermind’ Cover Sues Nirvana, Claiming It’s Child Pornography
By Movieguide® Staff
Spencer Elden recently filed a lawsuit claiming that the famed Nirvana album cover, featuring his portrait as a nude baby in a pool, is child pornography.
The “Nevermind” album’s odd baby portrait not only has become synonymous with Nirvana but is also one of the most well-known album covers in history. The cover depicts then-infant Elden, nude and swimming after money on a hook in a swimming pool.
While non-sexualized nude photos of infants are generally not classified as child pornography in a court of law, Elden and his lawyer, Robert Y. Lewis, said that because money is also in the picture, it makes the infant appear “like a sex worker.”
“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,” the lawsuit reads. “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.”
Elden, 30, wants $150,000 from each of the defendants who include “surviving band members Dave Grohl and Krist Novoselic; Courtney Love, the executor of Kurt Cobain’s estate; Guy Oseary and Heather Parry, managers of Cobain’s estate; photographer Kirk Weddle; art director Robert Fisher; and a number of existing or defunct record companies that released or distributed the album in the last three decades,” according to Variety.
Former Nirvana drummer Chad Channing is also listed as a defendant, despite leaving the band before Nirvana recorded the album and the cover photograph was ever taken.
Not until the lawsuit has Elden ever labeled the cover as pornographic. Moreover, the lawsuit claims that Elden’s parents never signed off on or consented to the photos use, aside from a $200 payment the day of the shoot.
“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 lawsuit reads.
In an interview from 2008, Rick Elden, Spencer’s father, said that the parameters around the shoot were vague and that “no one had any idea what was going on!”
The lawsuit continued:
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. 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.
Despite Elden appearing in recreations of the album cover as an adult and with swim trunks on the album’s 10th, 17th, 20th, and 25th anniversary, he has expressed his reservations about the photo and its fame in the past.
Five years ago, Elden said that he felt more “upset” as he grew older.
“I was trying to reach out to these people. I never met anybody. I didn’t get a call or email. I just woke up already being a part of this huge project. It’s pretty difficult — you feel like you’re famous for nothing, but you didn’t really do anything but their album,” he said in an article published by Time magazine. “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.”