In 1991, as the cover art for Nirvana’s second studio album — a now iconic photograph of a naked baby in a pool swimming after a dollar on a fishing hook — was being prepared, there was some discussion about censoring the image by airbrushing out the nudity. Late front man Kurt Cobain reportedly replied by saying that they could censor it by placing a sticker over the baby’s genitals along with the statement: “If you’re offended by this you must be a closet pedophile.”
This quote resurfaced in August 2021 when the model who portrayed the baby, Spencer Elden, filed a lawsuit against the band claiming that he was exploited and that the artwork bordered on child pornography.
This is a genuine quote from Cobain.
Art Director Robert Fisher was one of the first to suggest that the baby’s genitalia could be censored if anyone thought that it would be problematic. A photograph showing early concept art for the album’s cover includes two written comments by Fisher.
Fisher wrote: “If anyone has a problem with his dick we can remove it.”
Cobain responded to Fisher’s comments by saying that they could censor the nudity with a sticker, reading “If you’re offended by this, you must be a closet pedophile.” This incident is recalled in a passage from Michael Azerrad’s book “Come As You Are: The Story of Nirvana.”
The only thing was, the baby’s penis was quit visible. “If there’s a problem with his dick,” Fisher said, “we can cut it off.” Some people in the Geffen/DGC sales department did worry that the traditionally conservative chain stores might object to the penis and Fisher even went so far as to begin preparing cover with the penis airbushed out. Kurt had anticipated some outcry as well, and has already composed some copy to put on a sticker over the problematic member. It read, “If you’re offended by this, you must be a closet pedophile.”
Cobain recounted his version of these events during an interview for “Hot Metal” with journalist Robyn Doreian in 1991. In Cobain’s version, he doesn’t quite take credit for the idea, instead saying that “we prepared” to deal with censorship issues with a sticker.
As with most artists signed to the Geffen label, Nirvana have complete artistic control over everyting they do.
“I designed out T-shirts, and we have had control over things like how long we tour and who we tour with, and we had control over what songs we recorded.”
Whilst on the subject of the aesthetically pleasing cover of Nevermind, I enquire as to whether the boy is actually a photo of Kurt as a little tacker.
“No, it’s not,” he remarks drly.
Has there been any trouble from censorship groups such as the PMRC for blatantly displaying a willy on the cover?
“No, surprisingly not. We prepared to alleviate that problem if anyone were to freak out about it by putting a sticker on it saying, “if you are offended by this, you must be a closet pedophile.'”
The sticker wasn’t needed in the end as the album was released without any alterations to the baby’s body. But now, just over 30 years after the album’s release, the band is being sued, as Elden alleges that the picture violates child pornography laws.