Why the Baby on Nirvana’s ‘Nevermind’ Album Is Suing Now

New York Times

Spencer Elden was 4 months old when he was photographed by a family friend in 1991 drifting naked in a pool.

The picture, taken at the Rose Bowl Aquatics Center in Pasadena, Calif., would be used that year for the cover of “Nevermind,” Nirvana’s seminal second album that helped define Generation X and rocketed the Seattle band to international fame.

“Defendants knowingly produced, possessed, and advertised commercial child pornography depicting Spencer, and they knowingly received value in exchange for doing so,” according to the lawsuit, which was filed on Tuesday in federal court in California.

Mr. Elden suffered “permanent harm” because of his association with the album, including emotional distress and a “lifelong loss of income-earning capacity.” The lawsuit did not provide details about the losses and said they would be disclosed at trial.

Mr. Elden, an artist living in Los Angeles County, has gone to therapy for years to work through how the album cover affected him, said Maggie Mabie, one of his lawyers.

“He hasn’t met anyone who hasn’t seen his genitalia,” she said. “It's a constant reminder that he has no privacy. His privacy is worthless to the world.”

“They were trying to create controversy because controversy sells,” Ms. Mabie said. “The point was not just to create a menacing image but to cross the line and they did so in a way that exposed Spencer so that they could profit off of it.”

She said her client sometimes agreed when the band, media outlets and fans asked him to recreate the photo as an adult, but he eventually realized that this only resulted in the “image of him as a baby being further exploited.”

Ms. Mabie said that Mr. Elden has long felt discomfort over the images and had expressed it in even earlier interviews when he was teenager.

“Mr. Elden never consented to the use of this image or the display of these images,” she said. “Even though he recreated the images later on in life, he was clothed and he was an adult and these were very different circumstances.”

Ms. Mabie said his parents never authorized consent for how the images would be used.

She noted that Mr. Cobain once suggested putting a sticker over the baby’s genitals after there was pushback to the idea for the cover.

The performer, who died in 1994, said the sticker should read: “If you’re offended by this, you must be a closet pedophile.”

Mr. Elden is “asking for Nirvana to do what Nirvana should have done 30 years ago and redact the images of his genitalia from the album cover,” Ms. Mabie said.

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