Nirvana’s Nevermind baby sues band over child pornography claims

Nirvana’s 1991 album Nevermind has one of the most famous covers of all time – but now the man who was featured on it as a baby is suing the group.

Spencer Elden, who was pictured naked while swimming underwater towards a dollar bill, says the image constitutes child pornography.

The album artwork is seen by many as the band making a statement on capitalism, and non-sexualised nude images of babies are normally not considered pornography under US law.

Kurt Cobain. Pic: AP
Image:Kurt Cobain headed up Nirvana, who shot to fame in the early 1990s. Pic: AP

Elden, 30, has recreated the image several times, including for Nevermind’s 10th, 17th, 20th and 25th anniversaries, and also has the album title tattooed on his chest.

However, he has said in interviews over the years that he has mixed feelings about the picture.

Now, his lawyer Robert Y Lewis says the depiction of the baby reaching for the dollar bill makes Elden look “like a sex worker”.

The lawsuit also alleges that the band failed to uphold a promise to cover his exposed genitals with a sticker.

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“[His] true identity and legal name are forever tied to the commercial sexual exploitation he experienced as a minor which has been distributed and sold worldwide from the time he was a baby to the present day,” it states.

The lawsuit, which has been seen by Variety, adds: “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.

“Defendants used child pornography depicting Spencer as an essential element of a record promotion scheme commonly utilized in the music industry to get attention…”

Elden’s parents were given $200 (£146) on the day of the photoshoot – which has generally been seen as them consenting to use of the image.

But the lawsuit states: “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.”

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Elden is seeking $150,000 (£109,000) in damages from surviving band members Dave Grohl and Krist Novoselic, as well as from Courtney Love, photographer Kirk Weddle, and a raft of managers and record companies.

Chad Channing, who was replaced as drummer before Nevermind was made, is also listed as a defendant, despite having nothing to do with the project.

Representatives for the defendants have yet to respond to the allegations.

Nevermind was one of the biggest selling albums of the 1990s and features hits such as Smells Like Teen Spirit, Lithium and Come As You Are.

Along with releases by the likes of Pearl Jam, it defined the grunge genre and is widely considered an all-time rock classic.

Mark Gibson

Graduates in Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois 1990. Move to Los Angeles California in 2004. Specialized in Internet journalism.

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