The ‘Nevermind’ Baby Received ‘a Platinum Album and a Teddy Bear’ From Nirvana’s Label

In 1991, the band Nirvana released a song that would make them a household name. “Smells Like Teen Spirit” rocketed to the top of the charts. It made the band famous and propelling the sales of their second album, Nevermind. One of the things that caught people’s attention about the album was the cover. It showed an extraordinary photo of a baby underwater.

Thirty years later, the Nevermind baby has some complaints about it. And he’s going to court to settle them. 

How ‘Nevermind’ got its cover

'In Bloom: The Nirvana Exhibition', marking the 20th Anniversary of the release of Nirvana's 'Nevermind' album on September 13, 2011, in London, England.
‘In Bloom: The Nirvana Exhibition’, marking the 20th Anniversary of the release of Nirvana’s ‘Nevermind’ album on September 13, 2011, in London, England. | Samir Hussein/Getty Images

Nirvana was founded in 1987. But the band didn’t achieve mainstream success until four years later. Nevermind sold over 30 million albums and became an iconic part of music history. 

According to Milanote, the late Kurt Cobain originally wanted a picture of a baby being born underwater on the cover of the album. But art designer Robert Fisher didn’t think that would work. 

“But it was just like … there’s no way we can make an album cover out of this,” Fisher explained. “I couldn’t find any really good pictures and they were all way too graphic to use.”

Instead, they decided to use a picture of a baby swimming, so they contacted photographer Kirk Weddle, who advertised that he specialized in pictures of “submerged humans.” Next, Weddle had to find the right baby for the job. 

The ‘Nevermind’ baby

Weddle didn’t have to look far for his model. He called up a friend, Rick Elden, who had a 4-month-old son. According to Variety, Elden remembers Weddle saying, “Hey Rick, wanna make 200 bucks and throw your kid in the drink?”

The father took his son, Spencer Elden, to a local pool, where they spent a few hours taking pictures of him underwater. When they got the perfect shot, Weddle added the image of a dollar bill, impaled on a fishhook, dangling in front of baby Elden. It looked like the naked baby was reaching for the money, an image that was meant to refer to capitalism.

Three months later, the family happened to see a huge copy of the core on the wall of Tower Records on Sunset Blvd. A few months after that, Nirvana sent Elden a platinum album and a teddy bear. He was only about a year old at the time, so he didn’t have much of an opinion about what was going on with the picture. 

But recently that changed. 

Spencer Elden is suing Nirvana

Like the album, Elden is now 30 years old. And he’s suing Nirvana over their use of his image. NPR reports that he’s seeking $150,000 from each of the defendants, including Weddle, Cobain’s estate, Courtney Love, Universal Music, and many more. The lawsuit claims that the image amounts to child exploitation and child pornography. 

Elden’s lawyer says that the dollar bill in the image implies that the baby is “like a sex worker.” Elden also claims that his parents never authorized the use of his image and that he was never paid for it. He says that the original plan was to cover his genitals with a sticker, but that idea was discarded.

“Spencer’s true identity and legal name are forever tied to the commercial sexual exploitation he experienced as a minor,” the lawsuit states. 

Whether Elden will win his case remains to be seen. But either way, the Nevermind baby image isn’t going away. 

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