The underwater baby on the cover of Nirvana’s “Nevermind” album is now asking how low the grunge band may have stooped to produce the album art and is suing the artists for damages.

No longer an infant, 30-year-old Spencer Elden alleges in a lawsuit that Nirvana — and others associated with the band — “knowingly produced, possessed, and advertised commercial child pornography,” failed to protect him from “sexual exploitation,” the artists have benefited from that exploitation and that he has suffered “lifelong damages,” Rolling Stone reported.

  • The cover of the band’s 1991 “Nevermind” album shows a fully naked 4-month-old Elden swimming underwater towards a $1 bill that’s been baited to a fish hook. The album — which includes iconic grunge hits like “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and “Lithium” — has had huge commercial success and was sold more than 10 million times before Y2K.
Krist Novoselic and Dave Grohl in Los Angeles.
Former Nirvana band members Krist Novoselic and Dave Grohl in Los Angeles. | John Shearer, Invision via Associated Press

Nirvana band members drummer David Grohl (now Foo Fighters frontman), bassist Krist Novoselic and the estate of lead singer and guitarists Kurt Cobain are named as defendants in lawsuit, according to Rolling Stone. Kirk Weddle, who photographed Elden, and art director Robert Fisher are also named, as are “various record companies and distributors,” reported Rolling Stone.

“Defendants intentionally commercially marketed Spencer’s child pornography and leveraged the shocking nature of his image to promote themselves and their music at his expense,” the lawsuit alleges, Variety reported.

  • For damages, Elden wants $150,000 from every defendant.
  • He is also requesting a jury trial, compensation of attorney fees and “an injunction to prohibit all parties ‘from continuing to engage in the unlawful acts and practices described herein,’” reported Pitchfork.

According to Variety, “non-sexualized nude photos of infants are generally not considered child pornography under law.”

  • The “Nevermind” album — with a naked, swimming baby clearly on its cover — has been sold openly in music stores for decades and is still the art used by streaming services in the digital age.

Famous for what?

In the past, Elden has appeared to have embraced the album cover, but now isn’t so pleased with the photo. Pitchfork reported that Elden’s father had been friends with photographer Weddle.

For the 15th and 25th anniversaries of the album, Elden recreated the cover with underwater photoshoots, the New York Post reported.

  • “I said to the photographer, ‘Let’s do it naked.’ But he thought that would be weird, so I wore my swim shorts,” Elden told the Post in 2016.
  • In the 25th anniversary photo, the word “Nevermind” can be seen tattooed on Elden’s chest.

Elden has said consistently over the years that he was never compensated for being the subject of the now famous photo, other than his parents receiving $200 at the time, according to Variety. He also alleges that his parents never signed a legal agreement about the photo.

  • “I just woke up already being a part of this huge project. It’s pretty difficult — you feel like you’re famous for nothing, but you didn’t really do anything but their album,” Elden said in 2016 interview with Time Magazine, Variety reported