Before Spencer Elden could walk or talk, he was already famously known as the “Nirvana Baby” around the world. Nirvana’s Nevermind boasts one of the most iconic album covers of all time and is in good company with others such as The Beatles “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” and Bruce Springsteen’s “Born In The USA.”
Both the album and baby are turning 20 this year and what better way to celebrate than to see what Elden has been up to in the past 20 years, including his upcoming art show which opens on May 19th in Los Angeles.
How did you get on the cover of Nirvana’s Nevermind?
Well, I was about 6-months-old, and I was hanging out with Kurt Cobain. He threw a dollar in the pool, and I just went in after it. No, I’m just kidding, that’s not how it happened. My dad was going to art school with a good buddy who was a photographer. His friend’s name was Kirk Weddle, and Weddle was going through a hard time and was thinking of going into the Navy Seals again to go shoot people and kill people underwater.
My dad said, “well you’re already in art school, why don’t you start taking photos underwater,” because he was a big scuba diver and ex-Navy Seal. So he thought that was probably a better idea than going off and killing people, so he started taking pictures underwater.
Then one of his first professional underwater photo shoots, that ended up becoming kind of a big thing, was the Nirvana photo shoot. No one really knew who Nirvana was back then. So Kirk Weddle called up my dad Rick Elden and was like “I need a baby for this photo shoot I’m doing, can you help me out?” I was just born, and they went down to the local pool.
They blew on my face, so I would gag, and then they just threw me in the water. That was it. They took one shot. It was on a film drive, so they shot the whole roll in a sixteenth of a second. Then they picked the best photo and that’s how it worked out. That’s how I became the Nirvana baby.
Was the money on the fishhook Photoshopped into the picture later?
Do you still like swimming? How long can you tread water?
I think a really long time. I used to play water polo in high school, and I was on the swim team. So I’d say for at least 2-3 minutes because I am a little out of shape.
When was the first time that you realized you were the “Nirvana Baby” and what was your reaction to being on the cover of an iconic album like Nevermind?
I really don’t remember. I feel like I’ve been around this whole Nirvana thing growing up for a while. So it was kind of like I grew up knowing all about the band, and never really got the chance to discover Nirvana as a teenager or a younger adult.
It was a weird thing that I grew up with, because I would end up doing random interviews talking about something I don’t really remember that much. It was always a thing that I grew up with, and was never a big thing for me I’d say. It’s interesting because it’s definitely got my foot in the door for a couple of situations, which is always handy.
What is the best and worst part of your claim to fame of being “The Nirvana Baby”?
Oh, well a lot of people always say things like “small penis” or whatever, but it’s always a funny pickup line. You always just agree with it, that’s the worst part. It’s not all that bad because I don’t really care. My girlfriend knows the truth about that one (laughs).
The best part is that being the Nirvana baby helps me connect with a lot of people. I make friends pretty easily.
Here are some of the most chauvinistic and ridiculous vintage sexist ads ever made by the Mad Men of Madison Avenue.
What is the question you hate being asked most?
How did you get to be the Nirvana baby? That is a frequent question, that is asked by many people.
[Note From Interviewer: Yes, I asked that question too in this interview, but I had to, didn’t I?]
What do your friends and family think about you being the Nirvana Baby? Does everyone already know who you are?
Not all the time. Sometimes people won’t know I was the Nirvana baby for a long time. After I make a new friend, and we’ve been hanging out, then they’ll figure it out later on, and it’s kind of funny to see their reaction. Most of the time, people know, or I get introduced that way to people.
What do you think of Nirvana’s music, and what kind of music do you listen to?
Nirvana is really good, but I feel that they are overplayed on the radio, so it’s a little repetitive. Just like the Red Hot Chili Peppers, or any other band on the radio that gets played a lot and is pretty good. They’re still really good.
I listen to a lot of Sirius XM Radio, so I listen to First Wave, a lot of alternative classic, and then a lot of new alternative music. I also like all the classic genres. Some of my favorite bands right now are The Dead Weather, The Fold, and The Kills. I’m listening to the Talking Heads, Crystal Castles, Lykke Li, that’s just some stuff I’ve been listening to lately. I like a lot of music. I just listen to music all day long while I do art work.
Can we have the abridged highlights of what you’ve been up to between the album cover photoshoot and now?
Sure, I’d love to. Well, since the album cover came out, I went through elementary school. I went to high school, left high school in the 11th grade, and went to military school. Got out of high school a year early, and got a job working for Shepard Fairey. He is the famous street artist that made the Obama “Hope” poster.
He also created the infamous “OBEY Giant” image of Andre the Giant.
I somehow lucked out because I had a sketchbook I was working on while I was in military school, and when I got out a year early, I got a chance to give my mom’s friend my sketchbook. She showed it to her sister’s husband, who’s an art director for Shepard, and he told me to start interning. So I started interning at the Shepard Fairey art studio, and I kind of picked up a lot of different skills for visual art.
My dad runs his own prop studio, as well, so I had a lot of history just working in the studio, and hanging out around. You know that “studio rat” lifestyle. So it sits really well with me, and I just kind of found a little niche and stuck with it. I’ve just been working on making visual, pretty pictures of paintings, and stuff that makes your eyes happy.
That’s really all I’ve been working on, just making some artwork, hanging out with friends, listening to music, and working on different ways of making money through artwork, rather than making t-shirts, doing tattoos, making stickers, posters, just the usual artsy fartsy stuff.
Besides art, what are some of your other hobbies?
I’d say 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.
Do you Tweet or Blog? How can people follow what you are up to?
I need to start tweeting more from @SPENCERELDEN1. I have a blog it’s called “Project Skre,” it’s all of my artwork and screen prints, and stuff that I’ve been doing recently. I am getting ready for an art show. I have one coming up on May 19th in LA, in Echo Park. So I’ve been getting ready for that. I just got accepted to art school, so I have been really busy lately running around trying to get ready for school and the show, and with work, because I work full time. Yeah, my hobbies are just making artwork, hanging out with friends, and going swimming. You know, stuff like that. Oh, I’m also on Facebook as /spencer.elden.1.
new to this hole thing
— SPENCER ELDEN (@SPENCERELDEN1) November 18, 2012
What inspires you?
Some of my big inspirations are music and the thoughts or dreams in my head. Whenever you sleep and wake-up, and it’s kind of fun to record stuff, and then try to translate that into some kind of a picture so that people can somehow get an idea of what’s going on in my brain. I feel like that’s a big inspiration.
Tell us something that your friends reading this won’t already know?
I’m probably supposed to come up with something clever and funny, but I can’t really think of anything. I don’t know. I try to be an open book, but you can’t always be an open book. “You can’t judge a book by its pages,” as Gary Dell’Abate from The Howard Stern Show would say.
MethodShop is celebrating its 15th anniversary this year. Do you have any special words or a shout-out for us as we embark on our 16th year?
Well, 15 years is a long time, so keep on going, and congratulations. For my birthday, it’s always fun to just take it easy, and do whatever you want to do. So I hope everyone at MethodShop does that too!
Almost 30 million copies of “Nevermind,” have been sold since the album was first released in 1991. It’s very likely that you have the “most seen male genitalia” in history; more than porn legend Ron Jeremy. Have you ever thought about how many people have seen you naked?
Yeah, I have thought about that. It’s kind of like being a secret porn star, but not really. But it’s not even porn! It’s more like a Farrah Fawcett poster. I kind of got thrown into that category, of being a sex icon, but more of like an alternative rock icon. So, I feel like I try to hold down that image pretty well, and I’ll just keep on holding it down; being that alternative rock porn star rock icon.
Do you have anything else to add?
Probably just, Babba Booey, Howard Stern‘s penis, Babba Booey.