Most of us buy records for the music, but an album’s cover imagery can also play a role that can’t be overlooked. Think back to some of your favorite records: Don’t the covers of those discs immediately jump to mind? A cover image can help a band’s earnings: From posters and T-shirts to key chains and lunchboxes, that single image is an important promotional tool used to market an LP.
Some of the most vivid album covers in history featured young kids — where are they now? MTV News tracked down some of our favorites to see what they’ve been up to since finding their ways into our CD collections — and to find out how being on some of rock’s most iconic album covers has affected their lives.
Famous For: His appearance on the cover of Nirvana’s breakthrough 1991 LP, Nevermind
When Spencer Elden’s parents agreed to let their friend, photographer Kirk Weddle, snap a whole roll of film of their infant son swimming underwater in a crystal-clear swimming pool, they couldn’t have known that, eventually, more than 9 million people would own a picture of their naked son.
“Yeah, it’s kind of creepy that that many people have seen me naked,” Elden said. “I feel like I’m the world’s biggest porn star.”
While that might be a stretch, Elden has become something of a celebrity because of his appearance on Nevermind, and often sits for radio and camera interviews (he gets a fee for the latter) to discuss his life as the Nirvana baby. But otherwise, now-17-year-old Spencer is like most teens. He’s about to enter his junior year at Eagle Rock High School in Eagle Rock, California, and works a typical high-school job at a local juice shop. He has aspirations of one day becoming an airline pilot; he surfs, snowboards and loves playing water polo.
“It’s kind of cool, knowing that I’ve been on an album cover, but I feel pretty normal about it because growing up, I’ve always known I was the Nirvana baby,” he said. “It never really struck me as like, ’Oh, sh– — that’s me on the cover.’ It’s always just been whatever for me. At the time, my parents didn’t know who Nirvana was. No one really knew who they were. And then all of a sudden, it took off, and I just happened to be on the album cover.”
Elden said he is a true Nirvana fan but has never met any of the bandmembers. He’s had a platinum record for Nevermind hanging in his bedroom since his first birthday. But Spencer hasn’t seen any royalties from the record’s sales; his parents were paid just $200 for allowing him to be photographed.
“My dad went to art school over here in Pasadena, and while he was going there, he had a good friend named Kirk, who was, at one time, a Navy Seal and an underwater-demolition expert,” Elden, who is often asked to sign copies of the album, explained. “And so, to go to art school, he gave up diving. One day, he and my mom were sitting at the dinner table during a party, and my mom actually came up with the idea. He was saying how he missed scuba diving, and she said, ’Why don’t you just do underwater photography?’ When he graduated, the first gig he got was the Nirvana album, and he needed a baby. So they just threw me in the pool, snapped a whole roll of film in like a second, and that’s how it happened.”
Of course, being the Nirvana baby has helped him with the ladies: “I have to use stupid pickup lines like, ’You want to see my p—s … again.’ ” But being on the album’s cover has led to some strange encounters as well. He was once invited to swim in a rather wealthy woman’s pool for the mere fact that he was the Nirvana baby. Another time, he even met “Weird Al” Yankovic, who famously lampooned the cover on his 1992 disc, Off the Deep End.
“I ran into him when I was going to do a TV interview,” Elden said. “He was in the hallway, and he actually signed the back of my platinum record.”
Billie Jo Campbell
Famous For: Gracing the cover of the Violent Femmes’ self-titled 1982 debut
Believe it or not, that little girl on the cover of the first Femmes record wasn’t posing. In fact, she wasn’t even aware that she was being photographed. Really, that 3-year-old girl, named Billie Jo Campbell, was perturbed at the moment that picture was snapped.
“I remember looking into that building, and they kept telling me there were animals in there, and I was pissed off,” explained Campbell, who’s now 27. “I didn’t know why they were making me look in this building. I had no idea there were photographers there. I was … pissed off that I couldn’t see the animals and I was all cranky by the end of it.”
Like Elden, Campbell, who is engaged and plans to wed next spring, was paid a paltry fee for being part of rock and roll history — $100. She was chosen for the album cover after being discovered by a photographer outside her mother’s work.
“My mom is a designer, and I went with her to work one day,” she said. “We were walking down the streets of L.A., and this guy came up and said, ’Your daughter is adorable,’ and that he wanted me for the album cover. My mom is a free spirit, and thought it was great, and they set it up — I guess that house is somewhere in Laurel Canyon. It wasn’t this crazy photo shoot, because the band was unknown at the time.”
These days, the graduate of the University of Colorado at Boulder lives in Los Angeles and works with her mother running Hangover Designs, their women’s-casual-wear company. A framed copy of the vinyl album’s cover in her apartment often strikes up conversation during dinner parties.
“People are always like, ’Wow, you’re like a Violent Femmes junkie,’ and I tell them the truth,” said Campbell, who notes that she is a Femmes fan. “You always have people who go, ’Oh you’re lying.’ It’s something I am very proud of. It’s a neat thing. It’s not like being on the cover of a Britney Spears album. I do get some respect from people when they find out. Sometimes people are totally shocked and they can’t even believe it. You will find people my age who [say] that’s their favorite album of all time. It’s just a cool aspect of who I am, and I think it makes me more dynamic.”
The album didn’t really resonate with her until her teens, when she’d hear “Add It Up” and “Blister in the Sun” at high-school dances and bat mitzvahs. And when she was in school, and even in college, Campbell said she used to get a great deal of attention because of the picture.
“If it came on at a party, people would point out that I am on it, but it never dawned on me what a huge deal it was until I got to college,” she said. “This was my bragging point. I’d be at parties, and if the girls in the dorm knew you were trying to meet cute boys, they’d tell them I am on the cover.”
Campbell said whenever she’s in a record store, she checks to make sure the album is in stock, and yes, she has been asked to sign several autographs. There was one time when she was actually recognized.
“When I was in junior high, a bunch of us went to a record store, and our whole day was shaped around going to see how many stores we could find my picture in,” she recalled. “So we were looking at the CD, and some guy was just like walking by, and was like, ’Oh my God.’ He actually recognized me, and was like, ’That pointy nose — I’d recognize it anywhere.’ It gave me quite a complex, especially for a girl at that age: ’Oh my God — is my nose that pointy?’ ”
Famous For: Being the little girl on the cover of Korn’s 1994 self-titled debut
All Justine Ferrara can remember from the shoot that eventually led to her being on the cover of Korn’s inaugural studio outing was how nice the man standing in front of her was. He stood there, innocently casting a long shadow across the sand beneath her swing — but later on, the image was digitally manipulated so that it appeared he was carrying some lethal tools.
“It confused me,” she said, recalling the first time she held the record in her hands. “He was a super-nice guy; he was doing me a favor, by blocking my eyes from the sunlight.”
Ferrara, who was 6 at the time of the shoot, is now a 20-year-old communications major at New York University. She was approached for the album cover by her uncle, Paul Pontius, who had signed the band to Immortal/Epic Records. “They were pretty insignificant at the time, and no one knew who they were, and they needed a little girl for the cover,” she said. “My uncle was like, ’I know one.’ ”
Ferrara, who was paid $400 to be a part of nü-metal lore, never thought being on the album’s cover was a big deal; she was in second grade at the time, and it took a while before the record became popular. Her parents, though, were somewhat miffed by the imagery inside the album sleeve, and feared their daughter might get in trouble for wearing her actual private-school jumper in the picture. Oh, and the idea that Korn fans would always recognize her wasn’t something her folks were too kosher with.
“I think my parents were a little shocked,” she said. “They didn’t want a lot of our acquaintances to see it because they thought it might have made them look a little crazy. I never was really one to let people know. My close friends knew, and [a platinum Korn record] is in my room at home. It’s weird that millions of people have my picture in their house. It’s weird even seeing the CD in the store; it’s something I’ll never get used to.”
But a Korn fan, she is not — she prefers bands like Bright Eyes, she said. She does, however, have aspirations of working in the music industry; she has interned for Island Records, and hopes to one day work as a publicist. “But I appreciate Korn and what they did for their genre,” she said. “It’s just never been my taste in music.”
Famous For: Being the boy on the cover of the Goo Goo Dolls’ 1995 LP, A Boy Named Goo
The picture of a 2-year-old Carl Gellert — with dirt smeared across the lower half of his face — that serves as the cover imagery for the Goo Goo Dolls’ breakthrough release wasn’t actually commissioned by the band’s label, Warner Bros., for the disc. It was a photo his father, Vance, a professional photographer, had taken of him for a book he later published called “Carlvision.”
“At the time the album came out, I was just going into seventh grade, so I was 12 or something like that,” Gellert remembered. “I don’t really know how it happened. I think somehow my dad knew the band’s publicist, and the Goo Goo Dolls discovered the book, and they really liked the one picture so they went with it.”
Carl’s dad was paid $6,000 for use of the image that helped earn Gellert, now 24, the nickname “Goo” — one that’s stuck with him throughout his entire adult life.
“I was actually going into a new school that year, and pretty much instantly earned the name ’Goo’ before I even started school,” he said. “At first, it was kind of lame, and I didn’t like people calling me Goo. But by the end of that year, I had pretty much embraced it, and my friends still call me Goo.”
Like Ferrara, Gellert’s not what you could call a Goo Goo Dolls fan (“I didn’t dislike the album, I just wasn’t a fan at all”). But his residence hall director in college was maybe a little obsessed.
“He had the poster up in his room, and had me autograph things,” Gellert said. “He’d pester me almost every day about it. When he found out they were coming to town to play, he’d ask if I could get him free tickets, or get him backstage and meet the band. But in my apartment, there’s no Goo Goo Dolls paraphernalia. The album is hanging up in my parents’ houses, and I had it hanging up for a while. But I can’t stand having it up any more. I have seen that picture way too much.”
Like Elden, Gellert — who lives in Minneapolis and will be entering grad school soon to work on his doctorate in art history with a focus on archeological research — was initially, well, “mortified” when he learned his naughty bits (which are barely visible in the picture) were plastered across posters, T-shirts and billboards. “I thought it was cool after I got over my initial embarrassment,” he said.
He also looks for the record when he goes into music stores, and has been asked more than a handful of times to sign copies of the disc. And he’s often introduced to people by his friends as the kid who was on the Goo Goo Dolls’ album cover, which sometimes leads to confusion.
“Most people, when they see me again, mistake me for the Nirvana kid,” he said. “I’m always like, ’Nope, that was someone else.’ Other people think I’m in the band — I’m just the baby on the CD. I’m not even the same guy anymore. It does make me feel like I have some small niche of fame. But at the same time, it wasn’t anything I did for myself, so I’m not terribly proud of it. It is pretty cool, and I like that people think it’s so cool and want my autograph.”
Famous For: Appearing on the cover of the Lemonheads’ 1987 debut, Hate Your Friends, with her brother David Peretz
Lisa Farnsworth wasn’t photographed chomping down on a slice of pizza and holding a semi-automatic explicitly for the cover of Hate Your Friends, but rather, was related to one of the band’s founders, bassist Jesse Peretz. (He now directs music videos and was awarded a Grammy for helming the Foo Fighters’ “Learning to Fly.”)
The photo of Farnsworth — who is 45 and lives in Chevy Chase, Maryland, with her husband and two children — with David, who is a teacher in Boston, was snapped by their mother in Vermont. Brother Jesse liked it so much that he later asked his mother if he could use it for the cover of his band’s first record.
“It was taken 40 years ago, when I was 5 or 6,” Farnsworth, a former therapist, said. “I think I was 26 when the album came out, and back then, they weren’t really that well-known, so nobody really thought anything of it. I don’t have a copy of the album hanging up in my house; I own the album on vinyl, but it’s stuffed in a box in the basement.”
And no, her kids don’t think it’s even remotely cool that their mom’s on an iconic album cover. “They’re so jaded,” Farnsworth said. “My friends think it’s funny, but most people who look at it think it’s two boys, so they don’t really believe it’s me anyway. Really, I don’t think it’s even such a big deal. My brother and I think it’s funny, because my mother would always say, ’No guns.’ We never even had water pistols when we were young, and there’s this picture of us walking up a road with semi-automatics. They must have belonged to the neighbors.”
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