Next month marks the official 30th anniversary of Nirvana's seminal grunge album Nevermind, but the surviving members of the band may not be in a mood to celebrate. Spencer Elden, who was photographed naked as a baby for the album's iconic cover art, filed a lawsuit on Tuesday accusing Nirvana and Geffen Records of profiting from child pornography of him.
Per legal precedent, Elden is asking for $150,000 in damages from each defendant, a list that includes former Nirvana members Dave Grohl, Krist Novoselic, and Chad Channing; Kurt Cobain's widow Courtney Love and two other managers of his estate; photographer Kirk Weddle and art director Robert Fisher; plus Geffen Records, Warner Records, and Universal Music Group. The lawsuit also requests a trial by jury.
"Defendants knowingly produced, possessed, and advertised commercial child pornography depicting Spencer, and they knowingly received value in exchange for doing so," alleges the complaint, filed by Robert Y. Lewis of Marsh Law Firm. "Defendants reproduced child pornography depicting Spencer knowing and intending that it would be distributed internationally and that they would receive value from such widespread worldwide distribution. Despite this knowledge, Defendants failed to take reasonable steps to protect Spencer and prevent his widespread sexual exploitation and image trafficking. Defendants knowingly benefited and continue to benefit from their participation in Spencer's commercial sexual exploitation."
The provocative imagery of Nevermind's cover made it instantly iconic, as recognizable as the opening notes of "Smells Like Teen Spirit." Back in 1992, EW reported out the process of creating the cover. Fisher told EW that the seed of the idea came from Cobain, who had seen a documentary on babies being born underwater and "thought the image would make a cool cover. That vision was a bit too graphic, so we went with the swimming baby instead." Weddle cast five babies in total for the shoot at the Pasadena Aquatic Center, but Spencer is the one who reacted best to being thrown in the pool and having an assistant blow a puff of air in his face to wrinkle his nose.
"You could definitely feel the adrenaline rush in his little body. Spencer was like, 'Whoa, what was that?'" Spencer's dad, movie prop-maker Rick Elden, told EW at the time, adding that the infant was "pretty indifferent to the music."
Now a photographer and artist in his own right, Spencer has recreated the Nevermind pose multiple times over the years, both in 2008 and for the album's 25th anniversary in 2016. But that doesn't mean he's happy with the legacy. In a 2016 interview with GQ Australia, he said, "it's f---ed up. I'm pissed off about it, to be honest."
"I've been going through it my whole life," Elden told GQ Australia in that 2016 interview. "But recently I've been thinking, 'What if I wasn't okay with my freaking penis being shown to everybody?' I didn't really have a choice."
Representatives for Grohl, Love, Geffen Records, Warner Records, and Universal Music Group didn't immediately respond to EW's requests for comment.