The naked baby swimming toward a dollar bill on the cover of Nirvana’s Nevermind album is now, 30 years later, trying to score a couple of million dollars by suing everyone involved with distributing that image.
Somewhere the late Kurt Cobain, lead singer of Nirvana, is unable to suppress a smile.
Spencer Eiden was four months old in 1991 when a photographer paid his parents $200 for a shot of an unclothed Spencer floating in a pool.
Noting that Nevermind went on to sell something like 30 million copies, Eiden now says he was exploited and he wants to be paid for his subsequent pain. Specifically, he wants $150,000 from each of 15 defendants, including the photographer, Nirvana members Dave Grohl and Krist Novoselic and Cobain’s widow Courtney Love.
If nothing else, this illustrates that there are at least two ways to deal with having your naked childhood image intertwined with an iconic rock ’n’ roll album cover.
Spencer’s is one. Then there is Mariora Goschen, who at the age of 11 in 1969 was photographed topless for the cover of the self-titled debut album of Blind Faith.
For the record’s 25th anniversary in 1994, Goschen basically said that looking back, it was no big deal and kind of cool.
Eiden seemed to feel the same way for a long time, regularly helping to promote Nevermind anniversaries and several times re-creating the pool image, albeit in swim trunks.
Now, however, his lawsuit says the album cover caused him “permanent harm,” including “a lifelong loss of income-earning capacity.”
“He hasn’t met anyone who hasn’t seen his genitalia,” said Maggie Mabie, one of his lawyers, in an interview with the New York Times. “His privacy is worthless to the world.”
This claim is statistically impressive. What are the odds Spencer Eiden has never met a single person who didn’t know the Nevermind album and recognize that he was the baby on its cover?
Comedian Bill Maher added that if random people can recognize Mr. Eiden at 30 from a picture taken at four months, he’s got more serious problems than Nevermind.
The earning capacity part also begs for details.
Did a potential boss lean over the table and say, “Mr. Eiden, you’re perfect for the job, but we’ve seen the Nevermind cover, so we can’t hire you”? Is infant nudity one of the few areas unaddressed by employment discrimination statutes?
Now of course Eiden has the right to make his case. The guy who told Page Six in 2016 that he wanted to re-create the cover shot naked can now try to convince a jury that private parts should remain private.
It also must be stressed that in the wider picture, displaying pictures of naked children for prurient or lascivious purposes is among the most loathsome of crimes. It’s sick stuff that needs to be stamped out.
It’s just that it’s hard to imagine anyone buying Nevermind as pornography. The cover caught your eye, which was the whole purpose of album covers, but the message to your brain was innocence born into a cold material world.
Eiden’s lawsuit notes that he “never gave consent” for the image to be used as an album cover, which seems indisputable given his age. The suit also claims his parents never gave consent, though they did take the $200.
Mariora Goschen did about as well. The story is that she asked to be paid with a horse, then settled for 40 pounds.
The late Bob Seidemann, who took the picture, wrote years later that he first approached Goschen’s 14-year-old sister (some say 13) on the London tube. He met with the girl’s parents at their home and decided she was too old. Meanwhile, he said, Mariora kept saying, “Mommy, I want to do it.”
The deal was cut and the cover spawned the predictable shock. The record company wanted to kill it altogether, but Blind Faith co-founder Eric Clapton, according to Seidemann, said no Mariora, no record.
Goschen, who grew up to become a Shiatsu practitioner and massage therapist, told an interviewer in 1994, “The nudity didn’t bother me. Life was far too hectic. I was mad about animals and much taken up with family and friends.
“But now, when people tell me they can remember what they were doing when they first saw the cover, and the effect it had on them, I’m thrilled to bits.
“By the way, I’m still waiting for Eric Clapton to ring me about the horse.”
A few years later Goschen was quoted as saying her older sister coaxed her into doing the shoot. So maybe she, like Eiden, has become less “cool, whatever” over the years. But she has also seemed less interested in Blind Faith than in her own recent work in London, notably developing breath and holistic healing techniques.
In any case, two conclusions here are probably safe.
One, no major record company today would greenlight the Blind Faith cover, no matter what Eric Clapton demanded.
Two, once upon a time an album cover could become part of the mainstream cultural conversation. That part we miss.