NEVERMIND: 25 YEARS ON
AS NIRVANA’S SEMINAL ALBUM MARKS ITS QUARTER CENTURY, WE TALK TO COVER STAR, SPENCER ELDEN.
In 1991, Spencer Elden’s parents tossed their fourmonth-old into a pool, had a photo taken of the result and walked away with $200. Not bad for a few minutes’ work. But that image ended up on the cover of Nevermind, the sophomore album of Seattle grunge band Nirvana that would go on to sell millions of copies and change the face of music. These days, La-based Elden is an accomplished artist. He also holds the rare feat of being seen naked by pretty much every person on the planet. Still, appearing on the cover of one of the greatest albums of all time must be pretty awesome, right? “It’s fucked up,” says Elden of the fact that people are still talking about it, 25 years later. “I’m pissed off about it, to be honest.” Oops.
GQ: When did you realise being the Nirvana baby was such a big deal?
Spencer Elden: I’ve been going through it my whole life. But recently I’ve been thinking, ‘What if I wasn’t OK with my freaking penis being shown to everybody?’ I didn’t really have a choice.
GQ: In the past you’ve said it was cool. When did that change?
SE: Just a few months ago, when I was reaching out to Nirvana to see if they wanted to be part of my art show. I was getting referred to their managers and their lawyers. Why am I still on their cover if I’m not that big of a deal?
GQ: Why’d you reach out to them?
SE: I was trying to do an art show with the photographer who took the picture. I was asking if they wanted to put a piece of art in the fucking thing.
GQ: At least it was a Nirvana album and not, say, Nickelback?
SE: Yeah but the guy’s dead and they’re still selling his music. It’s like some giant corporation now. But yeah, it’s awesome not to be part of something like the Backstreet Boys.
GQ: Being the Nevermind kid must be a good conversation starter.
SE: I don’t even bring it up. Friends used to bring it up more than I did because it’s not like you want to brag about your embarrassing naked photo. It’s never really been a huge bragging right because I don’t have much to show for it.
GQ: So it’s not like you’re getting royalties or anything?
SE: No way. Not at all.
GQ: Has it affected your relationships at all?
SE: Totally. Everyone thinks you’re making money from it. You’ll hook up with a hot chick, and then they figure out you’re not making any money from it and they’ll dump you. You have these people who think you’re cool because you’re the Nirvana baby. But it’s fucking weird, man. It’s like that dream where you go to school without your clothes on.
GQ: OK, enough about Nirvana. What else are you up to these days?
SE: I’ve been doing a few art shows and paintings. I don’t know if I’m ever going to be able to do a piece of work better than that in my entire life. But I’m just trying to get it out of my head – this image of a baby chasing a dollar – and not worry about making millions of dollars. It’s a complicated thing.