Spencer Elden was four months old when he appeared naked on a Nirvana album cover. Now, he’s suing the band for “sexual exploitation”
The cover art for Nirvana’s album Nevermind is nearly as iconic as the music itself. It shows a baby, naked underwater, swimming toward a dollar bill that’s caught on a fish hook. Spencer Elden was just four months old when he was photographed for the album art. Now, 30 years later, he says he was sexually exploited by Nirvana and their label, and he’s filed a lawsuit.
Elden’s lawsuit names the surviving members of Nirvana, Kurt Cobain’s widow Courtney Love, and all record labels that have produced the album in the last three decades. In court filings, Elden says the photo, which clearly shows his genitals, amounts to mass-produced child pornography. He accuses the band and other defendants of “commercial child sexual exploitation of him from while he was a minor to the present day … defendants knowingly produced, possessed and advertised commercial child pornography depicting Spencer.”
Elden says the image of him as a baby is “sexually graphic” and that the art on the album cover makes him resemble “a sex worker – grabbing for a dollar bill.” Despite previous reports that have said Elden was paid $250 for appearing on the cover, his lawsuit alleges that he was never paid and his parents never signed a release allowing for the photo to be used for that purpose.
Elden also says that he’s suffered “lifelong damages” from the photo, including “extreme and permanent emotional distress with physical manifestations,” as well as loss of education, wages, and “enjoyment of life.”
Elden is seeking at least $150,000 in damages from Nirvana and the other defendants, plus costs. He also wants the case to go before a jury. Members of Nirvana and other defendants have not made any public comments about the lawsuit.
Throughout his life, Elden has spoken to various publications about appearing on the album cover as a baby.
“It’s cool but weird to be part of something so important that I don’t even remember,” he told the New York Post in 2016. That same year, in an interview with Australian GQ, he added, “Recently I’ve been thinking, ‘What if I wasn’t OK with my freaking penis being shown to everybody?’ I didn’t really have a choice.”
Even earlier, in 2007, he reportedly told the Sunday Times it was “kind of creepy that many people have seen me naked. I feel like the world’s biggest porn star.”
Kirk Weddle, the photographer who shot the image, has also expressed some mixed feelings about it.
“I’m still in contact with Spencer. I used to think, “Man, when that kid is 16 he’s gonna hate my guts!'” he told The Guardian in 2019. “He doesn’t, but he’s conflicted about the picture. He feels that everybody made money off it and he didn’t. I think he deserves something. But it’s always the record labels that make the money.”