The album cover to Nirvana’s 1991 album “Nevermind” is famous enough to where you don’t have to know the band’s music or even own the specific record, to know what it is. It helps that it’s the ban’s most iconic album, producing the songs “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” “In Bloom,” and “Come as You Are” amongst others. Because of its success, that album cover of a nude baby in the water, seemingly going after a dollar bill on a fishing line, was thrust into the homes of millions. But now the baby’s come back, and he’s suing for child sexual exploitation.
Spencer Elden was four months old when the picture was taken, and despite knowing that a nude baby with an exposed penis would be a bit controversial, Nirvana front man Kurt Cobain insisted on leaving the photo uncensored. Flash forward 30 years later, and Elden is not happy with what happened in his infancy.
In a statement to TMZ, Elden said:
“Nirvana exploited me when I was a baby to sell their music, but there is a person behind every image. I’m just asking the band to do what they should have done 30 years ago and redact my genitals from the image out of respect for my privacy.”
In the lawsuit that Elden is filing, there are at least four big claims being made:
- Neither he nor a legal guardian consented to him being photographed
- The image constitutes child pornography
- The band failed to follow through on a promise to cover his genitals on the album cover with a sticker
- He has suffered lifelong damages from the photo
The first claim is dubious at best. Obviously as a four-month old, he was unable to give consent, but it’s highly likely that permission was obtained from a legal guardian. We could be totally mistaken on this one, but it seems unlikely that a major record publisher would’ve gone ahead with such an album cover without obtaining a proper license for the image, which would mean in this case, parental permission.
The second claim is quickly and easily debunked. A nude baby is not child pornography, even in the most generous definition of the word pornography. Porn, by definition, is sexual in nature, and nothing about this particular image is sexual. Even if you were to consider the debate around what “art” is and whether or not the nudity is symbolic of something, it’s still not sexual or pornographic in any way.
The third claim also seems like a hard sell as Cobain is cited by multiple sources as being insistent on no sticker being placed on the album to censor it. Is it possible that they could’ve misled the guardians of the child about this and lied to them about placing a sticker, only to not follow through with it? Yes, it’s possible, but if that were the case, why didn’t we hear an argument about that 30 years ago?
Finally, the idea that he suffered lifelong damages from the photo is absurd. I bet you didn’t even know the name of the baby before you started reading this article. And even if you did know the name, you wouldn’t have known what he looked like if you passed him by on the street. That is of course, unless you saw the photoshoot he participated in where he recreated the album cover five years ago.
Ultimately, Elden is seeking at least $150,000 from the remaining band members, as well as the estate of Kurt Cobain. Is he going to get it? Likely not; if anything he’d probably get a settlement offer from someone just to close the case, as it’d be cheaper than going through the civil court system. My instinct tells me that’s exactly what Elden and his attorney is hoping for, for this to be settled as a nuisance suit and make a quick buck on it.
That all being said, we could be wrong and maybe there wasn’t consent given and there was a deal broken about having Elden’s baby genitals covered up by a sticker. All we know is that even 30 years after its debut, “Nevermind” is still making headlines.