There are few album covers more iconic than Nirvana’s Nevermind. Heck, there are few album covers more recreated than Nirvana’s Nevermind. But while the cover has long been considered a statement about capitalism, the now-grown infant from the cover of Nevermind has a new interpretation of the photo: child porn.
Spencer Elden, better known as the Nevermind baby, now a 30-year-old man, is suing the surviving band members Dave Grohl, Krist Novoselic, and the Kurt Cobain estate, among others, for the use of his image for the cover of their landmark album. He filed suit against the band Tuesday in Los Angeles, accusing them of violating child pornography laws, and is seeking damages, legal fees, an injunction that would prohibit the distribution of the photo, and a trial by jury. The suit says that the inclusion of the dollar makes the infant look like a “sex worker grabbing for a dollar bill,” describing the photograph as a “sex trafficking venture” that forced Elden to “engage in commercial sexual acts while under the age of 18 years old.”
According to Variety, the suit states:
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. 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 has long stated that he had a complicated relationship with the album cover. However, as noted by Variety, he’s recreated it several times, posing in the water for 10th, 17th, 20th, and 25th anniversaries. Nevertheless, he claims that his parents were never properly compensated for the shoot, saying they received $200 for the now-iconic photograph. In addition, the suit alleges that they never even signed a release for the photo—let alone royalties on all the different pieces of merchandise his image has appeared on over the last three decades. In recent years, his relationship with the photo has soured, going as far as to tell GQ Australia in 2016 that the picture was “fucked up” and that he’s “pissed off about it.”
In a 2008 interview with NPR, Elden’s father recalls shooting the cover. He said the photographer Kirk Weddle called him and asked, “Hey Rick, wanna make 200 bucks and throw your kid in the drink?” He continues: “Well, I’m shooting kids all this week, why don’t you meet me at the Rose Bowl (Aquatic Center), throw your kid in the drink?’ And we just had a big party at the pool, and no one had any idea what was going on!”
Spencer Elden claims “lifelong damages” due to the cover and seeks $150,000 from each defendant, including the band members, Courtney Love, various record labels, and the executor and managers of Kurt Cobain’s estate. He also names former Nirvana drummer Chad Channing, who didn’t play on the album. All told, Nevermind sold more than 30 million records to date, making it one of the best-selling albums of all time.