The American rock band headed by the late singer Kurt Cobain has come under renewed criticism today after the man who famously appeared on the cover of the chart-topping album Nevermind has sued the band for damages.
Released by Nirvana on 24 September 1991, Nevermind presents as its cover image a picture of now 30-year-old Spencer Elden swimming naked underwater at just four months old – swimming toward a dollar bill being dangled on a hook in the water in front of him.
The image, along with the hit album, has achieved a cult status and worldwide renown.
But the cover star is now suing the band over their use of the controversial image.
Here’s who Spencer Elden is and why he has filed a lawsuit against Nirvana over the Nevermind album artwork.
Who is Spencer Elden?
Now 30-years-old, Spencer Elden is a US citizen who stumbled into fame as a result of appearing on the cover of the iconic ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ Nirvana album cover as a young child.
Born on 7 February 1991, Elden is an artist living in Los Angeles, California.
At four months old, Elden appeared on the cover of Nirvana’s 1991 album Nevermind, which helped to catapult the bands to new heights of rock stardom.
It sold one million copies and was deemed a platinum record just nine weeks after its initial release in an unexpected success for the band.
Having soared to the top spot on the US Billboard 200 chart in January 1992 and selling at an average of 300,000 copies per week, by its 20th anniversary in 2011 Nevermind had sold 30 million copies worldwide.
Elden and his parents, however, reportedly made just $200 from the initial photoshoot, according to the father of the Nirvana cover star.
Elden was reportedly later sent the platinum album and a teddy bear by Geffen Records.
How did Spencer Elden end up on the Nevermind album cover?
The controversial image of Elden, now the subject of a major damages lawsuit in the US, was shot in May 1991 by photographer Kirk Weddle.
Elden’s father, Rick, was a friend of the underwater photographer tasked with creating the concept for the cover by Nirvana’s record label, Geffen Records.
“It’s such a great concept: a baby underwater, naked, defenceless, can’t breathe, but still going after the dollar on a fishhook,” Weddle told the Guardian in 2019.
“I was lucky that my friends had just had a baby, Spencer, and they trusted me with him.
"The band weren’t on anyone’s radar at that point, so the shoot was really small-scale – there was no art director, no manager or account executive looking over your shoulder.”
Weddle also told the Guardian’s Tim Jonze in 2019: “I’m still in contact with Spencer.
"I used to think, ‘Man, when that kid is 16 he’s gonna hate my guts!’ He doesn’t, but he’s conflicted about the picture.
Weddle added: "He feels that everybody made money off it and he didn’t.
“I think he deserves something.
"But it’s always the record labels that make the money.”
Elden recreated the image at the age of 10 for Rolling Stone magazine with Kirk Weddle and later celebrated the 25th anniversary for the album in 2016 with another recreation shot by US celebrity photographer John Chapple for the New York Post.
Why is Elden suing Nirvana?
Elden filed a suit for damages against former Nirvana members like Dave Grohl, Chad Channing, Krist Novoselic and the estate of late lead singer Kurt Cobain, executed by partner Courtney Love, in the US on Tuesday 24 August.
Documents filed in the Central District Court of California see Elden’s lawyers allege that the band, photographer Kirk Weddle, Geffen Records, Warner Records, Universal Music Group and designer of the Nevermind cover, Robert Fisher, broke federal laws against child pornography with the album image.
The court documents see Elden’s lawyers claim that “Spencer has suffered and will continue to suffer lifelong damages” resulting from the use of the image as the Nevermind sleeve.
"This suit arises from injuries Spencer Elden (“Spencer”) sustained as a result of Kirk Weddle’s, Kurt Cobain’s, Krist Novoselic’s, Chad Channing’s, David Grohl’s, Robert Fisher’s, and Nirvana, L.L.C.’s commercial child sexual exploitation of him from while he was a minor to the present day,” the suit for damages reads.
“Defendants knowingly produced, possessed, and advertised commercial child pornography depicting Spencer, and they knowingly received value in exchange for doing so.”
Elden’s lawsuit comes almost a year after graphic designer Robert Fisher filed a lawsuit against the band, its former members and Kurt Cobain’s estate claiming that he was the person who created the iconic yellow smiley face Nirvana logo, rather than Cobain.