The baby whose image was used on the iconic cover artwork for Nirvana’s 1991 album Nevermind has filed a lawsuit against the band, alleging the photograph constituted child pornography.
The album cover depicts Spencer Elden (who was 4 months old at the time), swimming underwater, chasing a dollar bill dangling on a fishhook, an anti-capitalist image that has taken on an amusing irony, given recent circumstances.
According to Variety, Elden’s lawyer, Robert Y. Lewis, claims the image is a work of child pornography, alleging the dollar bill makes the baby seem “like a sex worker.” Lewis alleges this was done intentionally to increase album sales.
Elden, now 30 years old, is asking at least $150,000 from each of 17 named defendants, including every surviving band member, including Dave Grohl, Krist Novoselic and Courtney Love.
“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,” says the lawsuit, via Variety. “Defendants used child pornography depicting Spencer as an essential element of a record promotion scheme commonly utilized in the music industry to get attention, wherein album covers posed children in a sexually provocative manner to gain notoriety, drive sales, and garner media attention, and critical reviews.”
Elden’s parents were paid $200 for the photo, but allegedly never signed a release for its use. Elden also claims the band made a promise to cover his genitals with a sticker, but the sticker was never incorporated on the album cover.
This issue was discussed decades ago, when the photograph of Elden was being prepared for the album cover, as there was some debate about airbrushing out the nudity, to avoid inevitable backlash (and, unknowingly, a future lawsuit). Late frontman Kurt Cobain reportedly responded by saying that they could place a sticker over the baby’s genitals, along with the statement: “If you’re offended by this you must be a closet pedophile.”
To add to the irony, Elden seems to have relished his role in the famous cover photo prior to the lawsuit, as he has recreated the image several times, both as a child and adult (albeit, while wearing swimming trunks). Elden also has the album title, “Nevermind,” tattooed in large letters across his chest.
Hence, Twitter reacted with amusement and skepticism to the lawsuit, with some users digging into Elden’s previous statements on Nirvana and coming to their own conclusions.
Others took the opportunity to crack a joke:
That album cover wasn’t just iconic, it was eerily prophetic – Elden, it seems, is still chasing that dollar.