2. Slate: Swimming Through Time
The album cover for Nirvana’s Nevermind is one of the most iconic album covers of all time. Spencer Elden, now 30, is the baby on the cover, and is suing for damages. The cover, which features a naked Elden in a pool reaching for a dollar bill, “when it was new, looked like the perfect image of idealism in jeopardy,” writes Anne Higonnet. “In 1991, idealism still seemed like maybe—just maybe—it could be saved. The dollar bill on the hook rippled, right up close to us, pulled on a line held by an invisible force outside the image. The baby’s arms stretched from one side of the image to the other—yes, like a crucifixion—swimming so close to that dollar bill . . . We were thinking: Baby, don’t do it—don’t sell your soul.”
While Elder is upset and feels exploited, “the genius of the image was in its core concept and in its formal execution, not in the documentary fact of a penis photographed.” Today, “the cover of Nevermind looks genuinely different, and it’s not just Elden’s mind that has changed on the topic. We see the impact of childhood experiences differently than we did . . . we care at least as much about content as about form, as much about the backstory as the creative outcome. Our tolerance for the personal vagaries of artists has dwindled.”
Some doubt the earnestness of Elder’s claims, as he has “re-created the Nirvana album cover (clothed) a few times over the years,” but I don’t think that’s for me to decide. As I said above, I think we are going to see a lot more cases like this in the coming years as influencers and children in the spotlight get older.