Julien's Auctions is proud to present Kurt Cobain’s 1959 Martin D-18E used in Nirvana’s "MTV Unplugged" performance in New York, a highlight in our "Music Icons" auction taking place in Beverly Hills and live online at Julien's Live on Friday, June 19th and Saturday, June 20th.
With the passage of time and the growth of their legacy, it is easy to forget just how fast and brightly Nirvana’s flame burned. Leading up to their 1993 MTV Unplugged in New York performance, Nirvana was the most popular band in the world, but only two years had passed between the time Nirvana hit the mainstream in 1991 and their iconic MTV Unplugged appearance.
In what would become Nirvana’s most legendary performance, Kurt Cobain played his 1959 Martin D-18E in a live taping for the popular MTV Unplugged series on November 18, 1993. Approximately five months before his death, Cobain chose this guitar to paint what Rolling Stone called “his last self-portrait.”
Nirvana’s acoustic performance that night produced one of the greatest live albums of all time, MTV Unplugged in New York. Cuts from the album would go on to become the most celebrated and defining versions of Nirvana’s songs. MTV Unplugged in New York debuted at No. 1 on the U.S. Billboard charts and is consistently ranked among the top ten live albums of all time.
Cobain’s mastery of this guitar along with Nirvana’s flawless acoustic and vocal performance propelled the MTV Unplugged in New York album to multi-platinum certification and it won the Grammy Award for Best Alternative Music Album in 1996.
No one can know what was going through Cobain's mind at the time he planned and meticulously crafted all of the elements that made his MTV Unplugged performance, but Rolling Stone's reflection seems on point: “Surrounded by lilies, the flowers of death, Kurt Cobain sat on a soundstage almost five months before his suicide and made his last self-portrait.” Brush stroke after brushstroke, Cobain masterfully put his soul to canvass with this Martin D-18E guitar.
Perhaps the most important decision Cobain made for his MTV Unplugged performance was the "brush" he chose to paint the self-portrait that would ultimately be recognized as his greatest work. This 1959 Martin D-18E guitar was the only guitar he used throughout the entire MTV Unplugged performance. Cobain purchased this guitar and its vintage hard-shell case at Voltage Guitars in Los Angeles. Both the guitar and its case were personally customized, by Cobain, prior to his MTV appearance. The set is being offered together in this auction, along with three Dunlop guitarpicks, a partial set of Martin & Co. guitar strings, and other accessories further outlined in the full catalogue supporting this offering.
Twenty-six years later, Cobain’s MTV Unplugged performance remains the definitive self-portrait of a generation’s most transformative artist. Cobain’s Martin D-18E guitar survives as the most recognizable and important artifact, not only of Cobain’s MTV Unplugged performance, but of Cobain as an artist.
Cobain was known for smashing guitars on stage and wreaking havoc with instruments used by the band in their live performances. In contrast, after driving the last song of their MTV Unplugged performance with a primal howling, Cobain held his Martin D-18E guitar with reverence. Ultimately, he placed the guitar carefully back on its stand - almost as a stand-in for himself - and left it center stage as he walked away.
Preview the full auction, special edition catalogue dedicated to this important pop culture artifact by clicking the cover image below:
Preview the entire Music Icons auction catalogue in digital flip book format online by clicking the cover image below:
If you can't make it out to Beverly Hills to bid in person, you can still watch all the action as well as bid online at julienslive.com!
This special limited catalogue also provides an opportunity for a special keepsake for your collection.
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