On the cover of an iconic 1991 album, a baby chased a dollar bill in a pool. Three decades later, he’s doing the same thing, but in court.
Spencer Elden, who appeared naked on the front of Nirvana’s landmark album Nevermind when he was just four months old, is now suing the band for commercial child sexual exploitation.
In the complaint, filed this week in California’s Central District Court, Elden alleges that he has suffered “lifelong damages” after the band “leveraged the shocking nature of his image to promote themselves and their music.” He notes that his legal guardians never signed a release “authorizing the use of any images of Spencer or of his likeness, and certainly not of commercial child pornography depicting him.”
Among those named in the suit are two surviving former members of Nirvana, drummer Dave Grohl and bassist Krist Novoselic; the overseers of deceased frontman Kurt Cobain’s estate, including Courtney Love; the photographer who took the image, Kirk Weddle; as well as several record companies associated with the album.
The defendant is seeking damages, attorney fees, and a jury trial. His lawyer did not immediately respond to Artnet News’s request for comment, nor did representatives for the band.
Elden, now 30 and an artist himself, has had a complicated relationship with the Nirvana cover, among the most recognizable in all of popular music. As a young man, he re-created the pool scene on numerous occasions, including for the album’s 10th, 15th, and 25th anniversaries. He has the word “nevermind” tattooed on his chest.
However, his enthusiasm appears to have waned in recent years. In a 2016 interview with GQ Australia, Elden said his stance on the photograph changed after he reached out to Nirvana to see if the band would participate in an art show he was putting on. “I was asking if they wanted to put a piece of art in the fucking thing,” he said. “I was getting referred to their managers and their lawyers. Why am I still on their cover if I’m not that big of a deal?”
In that same interview, Elden discussed the negative aspects of the notoriety, too. When asked if the cover affected his relationships, he said, “Totally. Everyone thinks you’re making money from it.”
“You’ll hook up with a hot chick, and then they figure out you’re not making any money from it and they’ll dump you,” he went on. “You have these people who think you’re cool because you’re the Nirvana baby. But it’s fucking weird, man. It’s like that dream where you go to school without your clothes on.”
Spencer Elden recreated his pose from the cover of Nirvana’s 1991 album Nevermind, shot when he was a baby, 25 years later. Photo courtesy of John Chapple.
After high school, Elden interned for the artist Shepard Fairey. He went to the ArtCenter College of Design in Pasadena, California, and now maintains a painting practice.
Most accounts point to Cobain as the originator of Nevermind’s cover concept; it was inspired by a documentary he had seen about underwater births. Weddle, a photographer friend of Elden’s father, paid the family $200 for the original shoot.
Follow Artnet News on Facebook:
Want to stay ahead of the art world? Subscribe to our newsletter to get the breaking news, eye-opening interviews, and incisive critical takes that drive the conversation forward.