An amendment to the sexual exploitation lawsuit brought against Nirvana over the ‘Nevermind’ album cover alleges that the baby was styled and photographed as Playboy founder Hugh Hefner.
Spencer Elden was four months old when he was shot in a swimming pool reaching out for a dollar bill on a fishing line for the classic 1990 rock record’s artwork.
Now aged 30, Elden has claimed his parents didn’t sign a release authorising the the use of his image on the cover, and he has also alleged that the nude image is child pornography.
Lawyer Robert Lewis, representing Elden, filed an amended on Monday (22.11.21), which maintains the original claims, filed in August, that the defendants “failed to take reasonable steps to protect Spencer and prevent his widespread sexual exploitation and image trafficking”.
The defendants are listed as Nirvana, the late Kurt Cobain, Dave Grohl, Krist Novoselic, photographer Kirk Weddle, designer Robert Fisher, the labels responsible for the release of ‘Nevermind’ (Universal Music, MCA Records and Geffen Records) and Kurt’s widow Courtney Love, executor of Cobain’s estate.
The amended lawsuit reiterates the original suit’s claim that Nirvana intended to “trigger a visceral sexual response from the viewer” by triggering “Spencer’s ‘gag reflex’ before throwing him underwater and took photos that highlighted and emphasized Spencer’s exposed genitals”.
The amended suit though also now alleges, with no additional context, that “Weddle soon after produced photographs of Spencer dressed up and depicted as Hugh Hefner”.
The updated suit also references journal entries – cited as being from ‘Journals’, published 2002 by Riverhead Books – allegedly made by Cobain which contain a “sketch [of] the album cover in a sexual manner, with semen all over it”.
The suit reads: “In several instances the journals describe Cobain’s twisted vision for the Nevermind album cover, along with his emotional struggles, ‘I like to make incisions into the belly of infants then f*** the incision until the child dies.'”
Elden has claimed he has “suffered and will continue to suffer lifelong damages” because of the artwork.
As well as “extreme and permanent emotional distress”, he also claims to have faced “interference with his normal development and educational progress” and received “medical and psychological treatment”.
He is seeking actual damages, or liquidated damages amounting to $150,000 from each of the defendants named in the lawsuit, attorney’s fees and a trial by jury.
‘Nevermind’ is Nirvana’s most critically revered and successful album, containing the hit singles ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ and ‘Come As You Are’.
In the past, Elden has recreated the cover both as a teenager and an album – while wearing swimming trunks – for the album’s 10th, 20th and 25th anniversaries, and at different times he has described the photo as both “a positive” or something that felt like his “human rights” were revoked.
Nirvana drummer Grohl – now the frontman of Foo Fighters – has suggested the cover could be “altered” for future reissues, after Spencer requested his genitals be censored in any subsequent releases.
He told The Sunday Times magazine: “I have many ideas of how we should alter that cover but we’ll see what happens. We’ll let you know. I’m sure we’ll come up with something good.”