Nirvana’s Nevermind features some of the band’s most iconic songs, like Smells Like Teen Spirit, Lithium, and Breed. The groundbreaking album released in 1991 and featured one of the most iconic album covers in music history – a naked baby boy swimming for a U.S. dollar bill. Well, the baby boy is all grown up, and he’s suing Nirvana for child sexual exploitation.
Spencer Elden, now 30 years old, is suing the band for child sexual exploitation, saying he was unable to consent to having his image used for the band’s iconic 1991 album, as reported by Pitchfork. The lawsuit encompasses Nirvana’s surviving members and the estate of Kurt Cobain, as well as photographer Kirk Weddle and the music labels behind the album’s release. Elden claims the band violated federal child pornography statutes and argues sexual exploitation.
Spencer also claims he suffered lifelong damages, stating that his legal guardians never authorized the use of his image in what he describes as “commercial child pornography depicting him.” This is followed by accusations of distribution of private sexually explicit materials, negligence, and what he describes as a “sex trafficking venture in which he was forced to commit sexual acts while under the age of 18 years old.” And while Elden makes strong accusations, some factual information conflicts with his accusations.
The photo in question was taken by Kirk Weddle, a friend of Elden’s parents, at the pool for babies, for which Spencer’s parents were compensated with $200. Naturally, Nirvana’s record label was concerned that the infant’s penis, visible in the photo, would cause offense. They prepared an alternate cover without it. However, Kurt Cobain said the only compromise he would accept would be a sticker covering the penis, reading: “If you’re offended by this, you must be a closet pedophile” – the very line that defies Elden’s accusations, which could be interpreted as having roots in the sexualization of children in the first place.
It’s also important to recognize the fact that Elden recreated the front cover shot for photographers for the album’s 10th, 17th, and 25th anniversaries. He even wanted to do the 25th-anniversary shoot nude, but the photographer advised against it. During an interview regarding the 25th-anniversary photoshoot, Elden stated that the anniversary means something to him. It’s also worth noting that, despite preferring The Clash over Nirvana, Spencer has “Nevermind” tattooed across his chest. It would seem that, up until now, Spencer Elden thoroughly enjoyed the fame of being on Nirvana’s album cover. So, what happened? Why the sudden change of heart?
Baby Spencer swimming naked in a pool is neither a sexual act nor is the photo considered child pornography under U.S. law. However, the inclusion of a dollar bill, which was digitally added to the photo after the photo was taken, makes Spencer seem “like a sex worker,” which implies sexual activity. Moreover, the aforementioned sticker Nirvana’s label has promised to cover Elden’s genitals never found its way onto the copies of the album.
Representatives of Nirvana and their record label have yet to respond to the claims. In the meantime, until Spencer Elden’s accusations are disputed, Nirvana joins Marilyn Manson and a plethora of other musicians and bands, including Bob Dylan, which stand accused of sexual misconduct, exploitation, and assault.