Friday, March 21, 2014
I saw this Simpsons tribute to Nirvana's 1991 smash hit album Nevermind, and still laugh at it.
Which got me to thinking: What about that cover???
The Nevermind cover was conceived by Kurt Cobain after watching a television documentary on water births. Cobain told Geffen Records art director Robert Fisher what he had in mind. Fisher wanted to use cheap stock footage, but all the photos of underwater births were far too graphic (blood, vagina, umbilical cords, bits and pieces of flesh in the water...). A photo was finally found that the band liked and was acceptable to the record company, but the stock footage firm wanted a whopping $7,500 a year for its use on the record cover. Geffen Records hired independent photographer Kirk Weddle to create the image instead. (Weddle, a long-time diver and photographer, had been fired from a photo shoot. An off-hand comment about "don't let this guy shoot anything unless it's underwater" inspired him to specialize in underwater photography.)
The image was taken at the Rose Bowl swimming pool in Pasadena, California. Weddle asked his friends, Rick and Renta Elden, to bring their baby to the shoot. Little Spencer Eldon was just four months old. The camera was set up on a tripod underwater, and Weddle did some practice shots with a doll. To ensure Spencer's safety, a lifeguard stood in the water a few feet away. Spencer's dad blew a puff of air into the baby's face to make him smile and hold his breath, and then dunked him in the water. Rick Elden gave his son a little push, and he drifted toward his mother. Two or three photos were taken. They repeated the process, Spencer started to cry, and that was that. Fifteen minutes. A half roll of film.
Weddle was worried about the dick-shot, and he was concerned that he didn't have enough variety for the record label to choose from. So he went to a pool where babies were taught to swim. One baby girl couldn't walk or talk, but she paddled like a fish underwater. Again, the procedure was the same: A dunk, a few photos, repeat once. Weddle paid the mom $50, with the promise of $200 more if her kid was chosen for the cover. The child wasn't chosen, and Weddle has no idea who the little girl is.
The Geffen Records art department added the fish hook and dollar bill. Weddle received $1,000.
The Eldens received $200. On his first birthday, Spencer got a teddy bear and a platinum copy of Nevermind to hang on the wall.
The company expressed concern because Elden's penis was visible. The label's art department then prepared a version with the penis Photoshopped out. But Kurt Cobain said he would not release the album in that condition unless a sticker was added which said, "If you're offended by this, you must be a closet pedophile." The penis remained in the picture.
Weddle later shot additional footage of the band in June 1991. The weather was overcast, it was cold, and the swimming pool chosen was dirty and had cloudy water. The band had been playing very late into the night, and Kurt Cobain didn't show up for almost two hours. When he finally did, he crashed asleep on the pavement and slept for a couple more hours. The band covered him with a bathrobe, and let him sleep. None of the band members were happy to be cold, wet, sleepy, and covered in filthy water.
* * * * * * *
As for Spencer Elden.... He went through junior high and high school with everyone telling him that they'd seen him buck-naked on the cover of one of the finest rock albums of all time. Life was difficult for him in that way, but at the same time there was a sort of coolness attached to being "the Nevermind baby".
For the album's tenth anniversary, at the behest of Rolling Stone, Weddle shot Spencer Elden again in a swimming pool. Same pose and all, just in turnks. (No money or fish hook, though.)
Two years later, Spencer Elden appeared on the cover of yet another rock album. The album was The Dragon Experience, the third solo album by cEvin Key, formerly of Skinny Puppy. Key's girlfriend was once Elden's baby-sitter, and she contacted him to be the cover model. The image of a boy in a field of flowers touching lightning was inspired by a long-ago dream Key once had.
Spencer became rather rebellious in his teens. When he was 17, his parents sent him to a military boarding school for six months to straighten him up. It worked: He not only figured out how to be a responsible adult, but he actually ended up graduating from high school a year early!
After high school, a friend of his mother's saw a sketchbook Elden had worked on while in military school. She showed it to Shepard Fairy, the legendary artist behind the "Obama Hope" poster. Elden began interning at Fairey's studio, and then enrolled at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California (Weddle's alma mater).
Spencer Elden says his hobbies are "smoking weed, hanging out, skateboarding in my backyard, hanging out with my friends, going to the beach, just relaxing, and really being busy doing nothing." As for his dick size today? Only his girlfriend knows. (No boyfriend? BOO!)