Spencer Elden, the man who appeared naked on the iconic cover of Nirvana‘s 1991 album Nevermind as a baby, is now suing the band over “child sexual exploitation.” Elden, now 30, alleges that one of the most enduring images in rock history is child pornography.
In a complaint filed on Tuesday in a federal court in California and obtained by CNN, Elden and his attorneys allege the image of him floating in a pool, naked, reaching for a dollar bill is pornography and that he has suffered “lifelong damages” as a result. The suit names surviving Nirvana members Dave Grohl and Krist Novoselic, the executors of Kurt Cobain‘s estate including his widow Courtney Love, Warner Records, Universal Music, and photographer Kirk Weddle as defendants.
Elden is seeking $150,000 in damages from each of the defendants, plus legal costs, and alleges that they “knowingly produced, possessed, and advertised commercial child pornography.” According to the suit, Elden feels he was sexualized as he was depicted naked and reaching for money on the album cover, depicting him as a “sex worker.”
Over the years, Elden has recreated the iconic album cover multiple times and even has Nevermind tattooed across his chest. Nevertheless, he has also expressed mixed feelings over the years about being made the subject of such an enduring piece of art at a time when he couldn’t make his own decisions. 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.”
In a 2013 interview with TIME, Spencer said he had considered pursuing legal action against Geffen Records to obtain what he feels like is his share of the smash hit that Nevermind became. When his parents took the months-old baby Spencer to the photoshoot, they were allegedly paid $200 for the 15-second shoot. Nevermind has gone on to sell over 10 million copies in the United States alone and was certified Diamond, with over 30 million sales worldwide.
The lawsuit alleges Elden “has been and will continue to suffer personal injury by the distribution and possession of child pornography,” including emotional distress and loss of earnings.
“Nirvana exploited me when I was a baby to sell their music, but there is a person behind every image,” Spencer told TMZ. “I’m just asking the band to do what they should have done 30 years ago and redact my genitals from the image out of respect for my privacy.”