Imagine if millions of people had seen you naked before you were old enough to say “embarrassing.” That’s the story of Spencer Elden, whom you may know as the little baby floating towards a dollar bill on the cover of Nirvana’s 1991 album, Nevermind. Nearly 17 years later, amid hating school and playing water polo, Elden is still struggling to make sense of his (very) public image.
“Quite a few people in the world have seen my penis,” he says from his home in Los Angeles. “So that’s kinda cool. I’m just a normal kid living it up and doing the best I can while I’m here.” Nevermind is often credited with changing the face of rock. Elden’s naked participation in this important moment in music history was rather accidental; Kirk Weddle, the photographer working on the cover, was simply a friend of Spencer’s dad, Rick. “[He] calls us up and was like, ‘Hey Rick, wanna make 200 bucks and throw your kid in the drink?,'” Rick recounts. “I was like, ‘What’s up?’ And he’s like, ‘Well, I’m shooting kids all this week, why don’t you meet me at the Rose Bowl, throw your kid in the drink?’ And we just had a big party at the pool, and no one had any idea what was going on!”
Three months later, while driving down Sunset Blvd., the Elden family spotted a 9-foot-by-9-foot Spencer floating across Tower Records’ wall. Two months later, Geffen Records sent 1-year-old Spencer Elden a platinum album and a teddy bear. Over the coming years, 26 million albums were sold. As Elden learned to walk, talk and sing — his pale baby arms stretched across millions of grungy fans’ walls; his private parts stood magnified across billboards and floors. In some places, his image stuck. The other day, his friends spotted a giant Nevermind photo on the floor of a record store in Hollywood.
“My friend is all like, ‘Hey I saw you today.’ And I’m like, ‘Dude, I was working all day.’ And he’s like, ‘No, I went to Geffen Records, and you’re on the floor and you’re floating and I stepped on your face. ‘Cause I guess they have like a floating thing where people can like walk on me and stuff … so it’s kinda cool,” he says. Life in general isn’t quite as “cool” as it was when he jumped naked in the pool in the early ’90s, though, he says. These days, his peers are too stuck on the Internet and video games. Ironically, he yearns for the era that gave Kurt Cobain, the lead singer for Nirvana, so much angst. MORE
Economist Douglas Holtz-Eakin is the senior economic adviser for John McCain. Prior to working with the presidential candidate, Holtz-Eakin served as director of the Congressional Budget Office. He held positions on the President’s Council of Economic Advisers during the administrations of George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush. At present, Holtz-Eakin is a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics.
Jason Furman is the newly appointed senior economic adviser to presidential candidate Barack Obama. He is a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, where he is now on leave, and a visiting scholar at New York University’s Wagner Graduate School of Public Service. Furman previously served as special assistant to the president for economic policy in the Clinton Administration. He also served on the President’s Council of Economic Advisers.