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Brooke Sample

The Nirvana Baby’s Lawsuit Asks Us a Tough Question

With 30 years of hindsight, was the “Nevermind” album cover art or kiddie porn?

Art that’s edgy and sinister.

Art that’s edgy and sinister.

Photographer: Bertrand Guay/AFP via Getty Images

“Lascivious” or “edgy”? That’s the question raised by the lawsuit filed by Spencer Elden, now 30 years old, who as a baby was featured on the cover of Nirvana’s “Nevermind” album, swimming naked after a dollar bill that dangles before him on a fishhook. Elden argues that the image is pornographic and that, as an infant, he was forced to engage in commercial sex.

I admit to knowing little about popular music, even popular music from three decades ago, and until the lawsuit was filed, I’m not sure I’d ever so much as glanced at the iconic “Nevermind” cover. On the merits, I tend to side with the many lawyers who are skeptical that the album cover is pornographic. But I could be wrong, not least because over the past 30 years, the balance between edgy and pornographic has swung quite radically.