The Nirvana baby is suing the band for child pornography
The man known best for appearing on the ‘Nevermind’ cover is taking Courtney Love, the band’s living members and their label to court.
Everybody has seen Spencer Elden naked. The 30-year-old LA-native artist’s nude body is instilled in popular culture: he’s the baby on the iconic cover of Nirvana’s record Nevermind. You know, the one swimming starkers toward a dollar bill? Of course, all of this attention first occurred when Spencer was too young to truly appreciate it, but the legacy has shaped much of his adult life too, for better and for worse. Now, he’s planning on suing the living members of Nirvana and the estate of Kurt Cobain, of course overseen by Courtney Love, claiming he’s a victim of child pornography.
Nirvana’s Nevermind, released in 1991, featured classic tracks like “Come as You Are” and “Smells Like Teen Spirit”, and helped propel the band to global fame, taking the cover photo of Spencer with them. For the most part, he seems to have taken it in his stride. He has a tattoo of the album title across his chest. In 2016, he recreated the photo for the album’s 25th anniversary. “The anniversary means something to me,” he told the New York Post at the time. “It’s strange that I did this for five minutes when I was 4 months old and it became this really iconic image.” The photo was taken by photographer Kirk Weddle, a friend of Spencer’s dad. The family made $200 from the image.
But soon after, Spencer changed his mind about being known as the Nevermind kid: “Recently I’ve been thinking, ‘What if I wasn’t OK with my freaking penis being shown to everybody?,” he told GQ Australia around the same time. “I didn’t really have a choice.” The interview suggests that things changed when he reached out to the band asking if they’d like to contribute something to his art show to no avail.
Now, documents linked to the lawsuit, uncovered by Pitchfork, suggest Spencer is seeking court action, damages and legal fees against Nirvana, Geffen Records and Kirk Weddle for what the lawsuit calls “commercial child sexual exploitation of him from while he was a minor to the present day” claiming they “reproduced child pornography depicting Spencer”. As a result, he has “suffered and will continue to suffer lifelong damages”.
The laws surrounding infants and child pornography in the US are shaky (the Dost test tends to be the reference point for these cases now) but Spencer’s legal team are framing his photoshoot for the cover of Nevermind as a “commercial sexual act”, owing to the success of the record. Their argument is that this isn’t akin to a baby photo in a family photo album, but a naked image of Spencer as an infant that’s been transformed into a commercial endeavour without fair remuneration or proper permission.
The jury’s out as to whether Spencer’s case has legs, or whether it will make it to court at all.