Entertainment Music Nirvana baby now says he was exploited
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Nirvana baby now says he was exploited

Spencer Elden, now aged 30, says he now considers his appearance on the Nirvana cover was exploitation. Photo: Nirvana
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The baby who featured on the famed cover of Nirvana’s 1991 Nevermind album – who is now 30 – has sued the band for alleged child sexual exploitation.

Spencer Elden was four months old when he was pictured in a pool at a swimming centre in Pasadena, California.

Mr Elden’s father was a friend of the photographer, Kirk Weddle, who took pictures of several swimming babies in several scenarios at the Rose Bowl Aquatic Centre in Pasadena, California.

“Cobain chose the image depicting Spencer – like a sex worker – grabbing for a dollar bill that is positioned dangling from a fishhook in front of his nude body with his penis explicitly displayed,” Mr Elden’s lawsuit says.

Nevermind, powered by singles including Smells Like Teen Spirit, Come As You Are and Lithium, was a massive critical and commercial success, propelling grunge band Nirvana to global stardom.

Mr Elden has now sued Mr Weddle, Nirvana’s record label and the individual band members – including the estate of late frontman Kurt Cobain – alleging the picture constitutes child pornography as it shows his genitalia.

The lawsuit, filed in federal court in California on Wednesday (local time), claims the defendants “failed to take reasonable steps to protect Spencer and prevent his widespread sexual exploitation and image trafficking”.

As a result, it is alleged, Mr Elden “has suffered and will continue to suffer lifelong damages”.

The lawsuit says Cobain, who took his own life in 1994 aged 27, was “instrumental” in choosing the album cover.

After meeting resistance over the picture, it is claimed, Cobain agreed to strategically place a sticker over the baby’s private parts with the text: “If you’re offended by this, you must be a closet paedophile.”

However, the cover was released without the redaction and depicts “commercial child pornography”, it is alleged.

Mr Elden has a conflicted relationship with the image. He has recreated it numerous times, including as recently as 2016, and reportedly has the album name tattooed on his chest.

But he has expressed mixed feelings about it in interviews that have grown increasingly negative through the years.

In 2007, he told the Sunday Times he found it “kind of creepy that many people have seen me naked … I feel like the world’s biggest porn star”.

By 2015, he was telling the New York post that “it would be nice to have a quarter for every person that has seen my baby penis”.

And the next year, he was even firmer, telling GQ Australia: “I’m pissed off about it, to be honest.”

Mr Elden’s lawyers are seeking $US150,000 ($A206,879) in damages from each of the defendants, plus legal fees.

Singer Courtney Love was married to Cobain at the time of his death and is named as a defendant in the lawsuit as executor of her late husband’s estate.

She appeared to acknowledge the legal action, writing on Instagram: “I’ve got nothing much on my mind. Except weird lawsuits.”

Nirvana formed in Aberdeen, Washington, in 1987, emerging from the Seattle grunge scene to become one of the biggest bands in the world.

They have sold more than 75 million records around the world but stopped performing together following Cobain’s death.

Dave Grohl, Nirvana’s drummer who was named in Elden’s lawsuit, later founded the Foo Fighters, another hugely successful group.

-with AAP