Spencer Elden is unnerved by Nirvana.
The man’s suing the rock group and its associates for — if my math is correct — over two million dollars.
In September of 1991, David Geffen’s DGC Records released the band’s breakthrough, 30-million-selling Nevermind, which included hits “Come as You Are,” “Lithium,” “In Bloom,” and the music-industry-toppling “Smells Like Teen Spirit.”
It was the band’s second album, and its lead single ended the reign of teased hair, mascara on men, and heavy metal’s spiffy — some might say, vulgar — spandex pants (for the machismo of the day, see an adults-only illustration from This is Spinal Tap).
A reminder of rock, pre-Nirvana:
Now onto the incident from which the suit, in a word, stems.
The cover for Nevermind featured an infant swimming in a pool, enticed by a one dollar bill on a hook.
According to Variety, the image “has generally been understood as a statement on capitalism.”
Even so, the nursling was nude. And grown-up Spencer insists the picture was prurient:
[He]…filed a lawsuit Tuesday alleging that the nude image constituted child pornography.
Man Photographed as Baby on ‘Nevermind’ Cover Sues Nirvana, Alleging Child Pornography https://t.co/fm96IvYNDj
— Variety (@Variety) August 25, 2021
Spencer’s attorney, Robert Y. Lewis, claims it passes as pornographic because the child’s chasing a dollar — “like a sex worker.”
From the filing:
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.
Per Variety, the bitter baby’s asking for “at least $150,000 from each of the defendants, who include include surviving band members Dave Grohl and Krist Novoselic; Courtney Love, the executor of Kurt Cobain’s estate; Guy Oseary and Heather Parry, managers of Cobain’s estate; photographer Kirk Weddle; art director Robert Fisher; and a number of existing or defunct record companies that released or distributed the album in the last three decades.”
CBS Los Angeles reports there are 17 defendants in all.
But as the lewdness-alleging lawsuit dangles in the penal system, curious items have arisen: On the occasion of Nevermind’s 10th, 17th, 20th, and 25th anniversaries, Spencer recreated the photo.
17-year-old Spencer Elden recreates the Nirvana "Nevermind" cover. He was the baby swimming in the photo. pic.twitter.com/rtsyKgn5t6
— Eric Alper 🎧 (@ThatEricAlper) September 24, 2013
— Matt Watson-Power (@dragondrop) September 27, 2016
Still, the kid was never compensated; his parents were purportedly paid $200.
More from the suit:
Neither Spencer nor his legal guardians ever signed a release authorizing the use of any images of Spencer or of his likeness, and certainly not of commercial child pornography depicting him.
In 2008, Spencer’s dad told NPR how it all went down:
“[Photographer Kirk] calls us up and was like, ‘Hey Rick, wanna make 200 bucks and throw your kid in the drink? I was like, ‘What’s up?’ And he’s like, ‘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!”
The suits asserts Kirk “took a series of sexually graphic nude photographs of Spencer” to “ensure the album cover would trigger a visceral sexual response from the viewer.”
[The photographer] activated Spencer’s ‘gag reflex’ before throwing him underwater in poses highlighting and emphasizing Spencer’s exposed genitals.
Speaking of nakedness, Spencer’s bummed he never reached the band.
Amid the 25th anniversary, he talked to Time:
“I got a little upset for a bit. I was trying to reach out to these people. I never met anybody. I didn’t get a call or email. I just woke up already being a part of this huge project. It’s pretty difficulty — you feel like you’re famous for nothing, but you didn’t really do anything but their album.”
He’s reminded of the ploy that publicized his privates — at ball games:
“It’s hard not to get upset when you hear how much money was involved… [When] I go to a baseball game and think about it: ‘Man, everybody at this baseball game has probably seen my little baby penis,’ I feel like I got part of my human rights revoked.”
Still, Spencer’s stayed afloat — perhaps buoyed by his “Nevermind” chest tattoo.
Will he end up calling to that exact word before the suit makes its way through court?
Either way — and back to Spinal Tap — as for the baby and the band, I’d say chances are they shan’t work together again:
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