Spencer Elden, the man who appeared on Nirvana’s ‘Nevermind’ cover in 1991 when he was a baby, is suing the band three decades on.
30-year-old Elden has filed a complaint at Los Angeles federal court, and the papers argue that the plaintiff’s image in a swimming pool chasing a dollar bill is child sexual exploitation and violates federal child pornography statutes.
The court documents, which you can see here, name various defendants including ‘Nevermind’ album cover photographer Kirk Weddle, various record companies, Dave Grohl, Krist Novoselic, and Courtney Love as executor of the Kurt Cobain’s estate.
Elden alleges he has suffered and continues to suffer ‘lifelong damages’ as a result of the album cover, and says his legal guardians never signed a release “authorizing the use of any images of Spencer or of his likeness, and certainly not of commercial child pornography depicting him.”
According to the lawsuit, Elden says the defendants ‘knowingly produced, possessed, and advertised commercial child pornography depicting Spencer, and they knowingly received value in exchange for doing so.’
It also claims the defendants ‘failed to take reasonable steps to protect Spencer and prevent his widespread sexual exploitation and image trafficking.’
Elden is also suing for distribution of private sexually explicit materials, negligence, and what’s described as a ‘sex trafficking venture’ where Elden ‘was forced to engage in commercial sexual acts while under the age of 18 years old.’
The lawsuit states: ‘The permanent harm he has proximately suffered includes but is not limited to extreme and permanent emotional distress with physical manifestations, interference with his normal development and educational progress, lifelong loss of income earning capacity, loss of past and future wages, past and future expenses for medical and psychological treatment, loss of enjoyment of life, and other losses to be described and proven at trial of this matter.’
The suit also alleges the 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 is seeking damages of either $150,000 (around £109,000) from each of the 17 defendants or unspecified damages to be determined at trial.
Elden is also seeking attorney fees, an injunction to prohibit all parties “from continuing to engage in the unlawful acts and practices described herein” and a trial by jury.
Spencer Elden was four months old in 1991 when he was photographed submerged in a swimming pool for the ‘Nevermind’ artwork.
He previously recreated the ‘Nevermind’ album cover when he was 17 in 2008, and again aged 25 in 2016.
Speaking in 2016, he said of the 25th anniversary of ‘Nevermind’: “The anniversary means something to me. It’s strange that I did this for five minutes when I was four months old and it became this really iconic image.”
“It’s cool but weird to be part of something so important that I don’t even remember.”
However, in an interview with GQ Australia in 2016, Elden called the fact that people still talk about the ‘Nevermind’ cover “f—ed up.” He added: “I’m pissed off about it, to be honest.”
Representatives for Nirvana and their record labels have yet to respond to the claims.
The Rolling Stones – ‘Sticky Fingers’ (1971)
In keeping with the highly suggestive album title, The Rolling Stones’ 1971 album ‘Sticky Fingers’ is adorned with a controversial close-up image of the bulging crotch of an anonymous male figure. The idea for the album sleeves was conceived by legendary artist Andy Warhol, however there was an air of mystery about the identity of the model with some speculating that it could be fashion designer Jed Johnson or even Mick Jagger. However, actor and Warhol superstar Joe Dallesandro claims that it was himself. Commenting on the origins of the image, Dallesandro told biographer Michael Ferguson: “It was just out of a collection of junk photos that Andy pulled from. He didn’t pull it out for the design or anything, it was just the first one he got that he felt was the right shape to fit what he wanted to use for the fly.”
Now in his early seventies, Joe Dallesandro is arguably one of the most famous male sex symbols of American underground films of the 20th century. His lead role as heroin addict Joe Smith in Andy Warhol’s 1970 film Trash won critical acclaim and the movie was named Best Film of the Year by Rolling Stone magazine. The line “hey Joe” in Lou Reed’s 1972 song ‘Walk on the Wild Side’ is a reference to Dallesandro.
Just over a decade after the release of ‘Sticky Fingers’, Joe Dallesandro appeared on the cover to The Smiths’ 1984 self-titled debut album. The image is a still from the acclaimed 1968 Andy Warhol movie Flesh, which stars Dallesandro as a hustler working on the streets of New York City.
Nirvana – ‘Nevermind’ (1991)
Arguably one of the most famous babies in the world, Spencer Elden was just four months old in 1991 when his parents’ friend, photographer Kirk Weddle, shot an image of him submerged in a swimming pool seemingly chasing a dollar bill on a fishhook. Spencer’s parents were paid $7,500 for the shoot with Elden’s father helping out with the lighting. In 2016, Spencer marked the 25th anniversary of ‘Nevermind’ by recreating the cover at Rose Bowl Aquatics Center in Pasadena, California with photographer John Chapple. He’d previously recreated it in 2008 aged 17. “It’s strange that I did this for five minutes when I was four months old and it became this really iconic image,” Spencer said in 2016. “It’s cool but weird to be part of something so important that I don’t even remember.”
Alice In Chains – ‘Dirt’ (1992)
For almost two decades it was assumed that the woman buried in sand on the eerie sleeve to Alice In Chain’s second studio album ‘Dirt’ was the late-great Layne Staley’s then girlfriend Demri Parrott. However, photographer Rocky Schenck revealed in a 2011 interview with Revolver Magazine it was in fact model and actress Mariah O’Brien. “Everyone always asks if that is Demri Parrott on the “Dirt” Cover,” Schenck said. “I think Demri’s name might have been mentioned as a possible model once or twice, but it was never a serious consideration.”
Mariah O’Brien pictured at the 2016 Monster Mania Con in New Jersey. After anonymously appearing on the sleeve to ‘Dirt’, O’Brien starred in movies including Gas, Food Lodging, Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers, Being John Malkovich, and TV shows including Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Charmed and The Nanny. She now works as an interior designer in Los Angeles and owns the company Mariah O’Brien Interiors.
Just a few months before the release of ‘Dirt’, Mariah O’Brien appeared on the slightly risqué sleeve to Spinal Tap’s glam rock 1992 single ‘Bitch School.’
Led Zeppelin – ‘Houses of the Holy’ (1973)
The otherworldly cover image that adorns Led Zeppelin’s fifth studio album ‘Houses of the Holy’ is a collage of several photographs taken at the Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland by Aubrey Powell of Hipgnosis fame. The two children on the cover were siblings Stefan and Samantha Gates who were aged five and seven respectively at the time, and the gruelling shoot took 10 days. The now 53-year-old Stefan Gates is a television presenter and food writer who is perhaps best known for his documentary series Cooking in the Danger Zone. Amazingly, Stefan only listened to ‘Houses of the Holy’ for the very first time on a boombox at Giant’s Causeway in 2010 for a BBC show called Stefan Gates’ Cover Story. Stefan also told a BBC Four documentary that he believed there was something slightly ‘sinister’ about the sleeve, however his sister Samantha disagreed.
Houses of the Holy cover star Stefan Gates today hosting his GastronautTV show on YouTube.
Black Sabbath – ‘Black Sabbath’ (1970)
The timeless and highly eerie cover for Black Sabbath’s eponymous debut album in 1970 was shot by photographer Keith McMillan at the 15th Century Mapledurham Watermill, located on the banks of the River Thames in Oxfordshire. Of course, central to the eerie ‘Black Sabbath’ sleeve is the ghostly, enigmatic woman in black,…