The controversial cover of Nirvana’s 1991 Nevermind was thought by many to be symbolic of the grunge rock band’s attempt at reaching for the almighty dollar. However, according to the album’s art director, it arose from lead singer Kurt Cobain’s captivation with a water birth documentary.
Either way, the late Cobain likely never imagined that the album cover would become so iconic as the likes of The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, Elvis Presley’s 1956 self-titled album, Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side Of The Moon, Led Zeppelin’s Houses Of The Holy, Bruce Springsteen’s Born In The USA, or Prince’s Purple Rain.
Neither would he have imagined that the baby on his album cover would one day file a lawsuit for damages relating to child exploitation. Yet, in August 2021, it happened.
Now 30 years old, the baby featured on the cover, Spencer Elden, filed a lawsuit seeking $150,000 in damages. He accused Nirvana and those associated with the album of knowingly distributing the naked picture of him taken at four months old. The lawsuit accuses photographer Kirk Weddle, a friend of Elden’s father, of taking sexually graphic photos of him.
According to Elden, the album cover was to feature a sticker over his genitals but never did. He also claims that he never received any personal compensation for the photograph and that his parents never signed a release authorizing Nirvana to use the image.
In response to the album’s 30th anniversary in November and rereleased cover, Elden’s attorneys wrote that “It’s past time to finally put an end to the child exploitation and violation of privacy our client has endured for his entire life.”
Last month, the defendants in the case, Kurt Cobain’s estate, Kirk Weddle, Universal Music, Geffen Records, Warner Records, and MCA Music, asked the judge to dismiss the case. According to them, “Elden has spent three decades profiting from his celebrity as the self-anointed ‘Nirvana Baby.’ He has re-enacted the photograph in exchange for a fee, many times; he has had the album title Nevermind tattooed across his chest; he has appeared on a talk show wearing a self-parodying, nude-colored onesie; he has autographed copies of the album cover for sale on eBay; and he has used the connection to try to pick up women.”
Elden was given until December 30, 2021, to respond to the request. His attorneys at Marsh Law failed to respond, and subsequently, the judge dismissed the case. They now have until January 13, 2022, to re-file the case, which could lead to both sides meeting on January 20. Marsh Law stated that they will file a second amended complaint soon and that they are “confident Spencer will be allowed to move forward with the case.”
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