“Poppular” Poppers: A Brief History and Photo Essay

“Poppular” Poppers: A Brief History and Photo Essay

 

Early ads for poppers in the late 1960s called them "aromas." At that time, aromatherapy was little known outside of France.

 

In 1969, outfits like JacMasters began to sell vials or "inhalers" containing isobutyl nitrite, and the first brand name was trademarked: Locker Room. Isobutyl nitrate, or amyl, is the original popper formula.

 

During the 1970s, poppers or "aromas" were marketed like a sexual incense to gay men. Rather than inhale the newly popular “aromas” of patchouli or sandalwood, gay men could inhale locker room or armpit scent, the smell of hot, rough, uninhibited sex. b2ap3_thumbnail_blacjackpoppersad.jpg

 

b2ap3_thumbnail_playgirlaugust1979.jpgPoppers had become so popular that, by 1977, The Wall Street Journal and Time Magazine claimed that the use of isobutyl nitrite as a recreational drug had become a substantial $50 million a year business.

 

And even more brands such Bolt, Hardware, Thrust, Quicksilver (not thunderbolt) were first introduced around 1977-78.

 

The Bijou started selling them around that time because the company (Great Lakes Products) that was making these poppers was renting space from us to manufacture their poppers These name brands were owned by Rush (someone named Joe Miller).

 

By the late 70s, the popularity of the drug even extended to straight men and women.

 

In the August 1979 issue of Playgirl, a "cautious" user's guide to drugs and sex reports that amyl nitrate intensifies orgasms but also smells like glue. The article reports that amyl was banned by the FDA and replaced by butyl, "which smells like old tennis shoes and is sold as a 'room deodorizer.'"

 

Old tennis shoes? Could be quite stimulating in certain situations, depending on your fetish.  And that smell certainly does evoke the locker room, literally!

 

Some of the ads appealed to icons of masculinity: the traditional statue of David, harking back to pre-Stonewall gay bars, and the then-popular gay macho images of leathermen and cowboy.

  

The ubiquitous popper Rush was able to advertise in a plethora of gay publications; one famous add shows a giant bottle of “Rush” hovering over the “rush hour” of a city, which, in those days, didn't take place at the dusk of 5 p.m., but rather, in the late night and early morning hours (as implied in the image of the city) when the bathhouses and gay porn theaters were hopping.

 

b2ap3_thumbnail_rushpoppersad.jpgThe popper bottle and the potent aroma one inhaled from it essentially powerfully rules from above but also, because it it releases an enveloping aroma, binds together the collective gay sexual culture represented by the titles of  gay magazines (as well as straight, looking at some of the magazine titles in the ad) of that time together. It was more than a powerful tool or symbol of sexual liberation; it became sexual liberation itself.

 

As the seventies progressed, the popper ads in gay magazines became more creative and catered to a variety of sexual tastes in this era of sexual liberation. For example, the ad for JacMasters in a 1976 Drummer Magazine shown below seems both campy and erotic.

 

b2ap3_thumbnail_poppersad1.jpg

 

The bulging jockstrap on one of the action figures harks back to the physique magazines like Physique Pictorial. Yet the hand holding what vaguely looks like a bottle by the logo probably represents a handjob. Big bottle equals big cock. Inhaling the aroma will make your cock big and hard. Or even like a giant cock to the little men holding the big bottle of aroma!

 

And the imagery of fighting and bullets (in the ad above, the guys look like little G.I. Joes) often found in the ads featuring poppers was most telling; at one level, it fed into the archetypal sex-death trope, but it also could be read in hindsight as a frightening prefiguration of AIDS, when sex literally caused death. And now the gigantic brown bottle over the city in the Rush ad now becomes something a bomb or a missile.

 

b2ap3_thumbnail_milwaukeecalendarpopperads.jpgb2ap3_thumbnail_cowboypoppersad.jpg In the 80s, the AIDS epidemic swept away the sexually-charged gay culture of the 70s that created and responded to the popper ads, but poppers themselves went underground (unfortunately, in many cases, in fake, or non-amyl, formats). The mainstream gay press, because of the possible connection between HIV and the use of nitrate, eventually stopped running ads for poppers, but not after a struggle.

 

According to one source, “before the first official reports of AIDS in 1981, relatively few voices in the gay community had been raised to question what health problems poppers users might be causing themselves. A few attempts were made to curb sales, but the manufacturers always got around it by changing either the chemical formula or the product name. And the gay press, dependent on revenue from ads, did not care to blow the whistle on its own advertiser.”

 

Frighteningly, information linking popper use to karposi's sarcoma was apparently suppressed by both the gay media (because of the power of the advertisers) and by the right wing press, which of course saw AIDS as a deserved punishment for promiscuity.

b2ap3_thumbnail_statueofdavidpopperad.jpgThe FDA at first stood aside; as long as poppers were marketed as “room perfume for fags,” they would do nothing.

 

And one popper manufacturer even sent a letter to all the gay papers, reminding them just who was "the largest advertiser in the Gay press."

 

Then, upon the instigation of some activists and researchers in the mid-eighties, Congress passed a law outlawing the original amyl nitrate formulas; now the major ingredient is butyl.

 

There are numerous poppers being distributed under different names, and most people have their favorites: for example, Rush and Brown Bottle are old standbys for most people who first buy poppers (not taking away from long-time users that only like these brands); as time went on, people graduated to other brands.

 

Regarding false types of poppers,  for example, Can Opener, Private Stock, Platinum, and others, are truth are the same formula as Brown Bottle, but in different packaging, done to deceive people. Other current brands such D&E, Nitro, Zap, Man Scent, and Mr. Wonderful, will give people headaches; their manufacturers produce them to make money, not caring about quality and the intended purpose of the product.

 

About three years ago, the outfit that made the popper brand Rush was raised by the police. Supposedly, Joe Miller, the long-time manufacturer, committed suicide (this cause of death cannot be verified).

 

Six months ago, the story was circulating that someone had bought out the company. The outfit was back again selling its authentic product.

 

Will poppers ever become as “poppular” as they were in the 70s and 80s? As activities that were once part of the sexual underground become more mainstream in the 21st century, perhaps poppers in their true form will become once again become an exciting but now safe part of our diverse sexual culture.

 

b2ap3_thumbnail_popperman.jpg


 

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What Do Mormons Really Believe About Gays?

 

 

Mitt Romney

 

Flahback to election 2012: the Republican presidential candidate, Mitt Romney, is a Mormon. 

 

In fact, he is some type of elder in the church. Those facts had proved to be controversial, but the Mormon Church had previously created controversy by supporting Proposition 8 in California.

 

Now the church has supposedly lessened (slightly) its anti-gay stance by supporting a Salt Lake City ordinance barring housing and workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation. 

Why is this? What do the Mormons believe about homosexuality? Perhaps a magazine published by gay Mormons (yes, they exist!) can give us some insight. 

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Help! I'm Addicted to Pinterest

Help! I'm Addicted to Pinterest

 

I've set up some “kick ass” Pinterest boards for Bijouworld in order to increase our social media outreach. 

Last weekend, I was particularly bored, so I decided to use my expertise to set up my own personal Pinterest boards. I spent two days creating pins and repinning and liking pins. Yes, I fear I have become addicted. I've even started doing it from my phone. Yikes! 

So - what is Pinterest and how does it work? According to this article, Pinterest is a social network that allows users to visually share, and discover new interests by posting (known as 'pinning' on Pinterest) images or videos to their own or others' boards (i.e. a collection of “pins,” usually with a common theme) and browsing what other users have pinned. 

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Runaway Trains in Chicago and Sex in Vehicles: Woof!

 

A few months ago, an unmanned Chicago Transit Authority Train somehow broke free from its moorings in the yard, passed through two braking systems that should have stopped it, and slammed into a train going in the opposite direction. Thirty-three people were injured, none seriously.

 

I heard that at one point the train was actually going uphill by itself?! 

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It's Art and It's Porn: The Legacy of Arch Brown

It's Art and It's Porn: The Legacy of Arch Brown
By Madam Bubby

 

“Zee art film … “ I remember that campy scene in Valley of the Dolls where the beautiful Jennifer North played by the beautiful Sharon Tate has to get a job making soft porn films for a sleazy French movie director. Jennifer complains that a beautiful scenery and a bare bottom doesn't make art. 


That may have been the case with those many of those XXX movies about "boobies, boobies, boobies, boobies" that Neely O'Hara laments she didn't have, but the gay filmmakers that emerged from the gay liberation movement of the 1970s radically changed in many ways, at least for many communities in major urban areas, the perception that gay films were either pornographic peep shows, exercises in camp, or mainstream films where a gay character commits suicide after being outed. 

 

One of these filmmakers was Arch Brown, who made a number of gay porn classics, including the particularly notable The Night Before, which was created with and produced by Jack Deveau, Bob Alvarez, and co. of the legendary Hand in Hand Films (read more on them in our blog on Hand in Hand/Deveau, our interview with Alvarez, the Hand in Hand Films wikipedia article, or in the book Good Hot Stuff: The Life & Times of Gay Film Pioneer Jack Deveau).

 

The Night Before poster image


Arch Brown

Arch did not even set out to make gay films, much less films that - because of explicit sex - were deemed pornographic. 

He was born in Chicago as Arnold Kreuger in 1936. After attending Northwestern University, he came to New York City, the destination of so many artistically-inclined and LGBTQ people during the 1960s (and before!). His parents thought it would be respectable for him to go into television (perhaps because less overtly gay-oriented than the actual theater), but he switched majors and decided he wanted to write and direct plays. (Many in the 1970s NYC gay porn world had direct ties to theater, including Alvarez, Wakefield Poole, and Casey Donovan.)

He first worked at Circle Square in the Village, but then he switched careers and got a job in advertising. After contracting hepatitis, he had to quit that job, and ended up, after picking up a guy in Central Park who liked him and his camera expertise, began making “home movies.” But apparently his home movies weren't at the level of crude amateur ones of the peep show variety, and they ended up showing in the private gay movie club, Cinema 7. 

According to an interview in the 1970s gay magazine Michael's Thing, “Andy Warhol's Interview got to him, and Variety sent one of their guys downtown to take a look at these new-fangled movies.”

I wonder if Warhol saw something of his own transformation of new realist techniques such as collage used in his own pop art in Arch Brown's concretely realistic, but also surrealism-infused, films of gay men's sexual relationships. 

These films were realistic because the sex was actually occurring on the screen, themes and characters (and their emotions) came out of real gay life of the time and place, and they also creatively used materials from everyday life at that time, ranging from pop music to advertising. 

Arch Brown perfected the above approaches when he collaborated with Hand in Hand on The Night Before (available from Bijou on DVD and Streaming; images featured below). 

 

This surreal porn classic offers a funny, touching, and realistic look at lovers and their emotional responses to both jealousy and carnal lust. Casting a group of nine men of varied types and cock sizes, the film begins with two average guys, Hank (Coke Hennessy) and Paul (Michael Cade - aka omni-present man of many hats in the NYC gay porn world Frank Ross), who meet and fall in love in New York City when Hank helps photographer Paul with a shoot in the park. 

 

Cast of The Night Before

At Paul's place, they check out photos that he's taken, including one of Paul with another man, both naked. Hank and Paul's ensuing relationship and lust develops through dinners, visiting an art gallery, picking out a kitten, and making out in the dark room. 

They have their first touching and intimate sexual encounter after this (with no live sound, but a great orchestral score by frequent Hand in Hand composer and Arch Brown collaborator David Earnest): Paul passionately eats out Hank's asshole and rolls around the bed with him to fall into a 69 session. Paul later stands and humps Hank's throat before filling his butt with cock; they go to bed after sex. 

Sounds simple enough, but at this point Brown takes us into the surreal world of Hank's dreams (or paranoid fantasies). In his dreams, Hank watches Paul hungrily sucking one man's thick prick after seducing him and fucking another man's tight asshole, while Hank himself sucks, then fucks, a delivery man in the basement of a building. 

Also occurring in this dream sexual montage are: Paul fucking the hairy ass of the kitten seller on a roof, Paul and Hank painting each other's naked bodies and kissing in a shower, cocks appearing through curtains to be sucked, two professional dancers in a vintage Advocate cover photo coming to life and dancing naked to an operetic score, and Hank participating in an orgy where a cock emerges from a fruit bowl and a massive double-headed dildo seems to fantastically penetrate entire bodies. 

Dancers in The Night Before
Orgy scene from The Night Before


The dream depicts what Brown terms "lover's paranoia," the kind of insecurity one feels when one falls too hard for someone too fast. 

What's interesting here is how some elements of the film were influenced by Brown's own life (a camera shoot in the park), and how artistic mediums (in this case, painting and photography, which themselves have always undergone a rather fraught relationship!) can both concretely and symbolically convey various dynamics of sexual attraction. 

In 1974, according to Variety, this classic gay porn film was one of the 50 top-grossing movies at the 55th Street Playhouse in New York City, and The Advocate said of this Arch Brown masterpiece, "proves that a little Cocteau, a dash of Fellini, and sex do mix well." 

 

For a deeper dive behind the scenes of The Night Before, check out this podcast episode from Ask Any Buddy.

 

Vintage 55th Street Playhouse movie ads


Starting in 1976, Brown made a series of films for P.M. Productions, including the gay porn spoof of Charlie's AngelsHarley's Angels, and also classics like All Tied UpFive Hard PiecesHot FlashesMuscle BoundPier Groups (which we now carry on DVD & VOD), and Dynamite, which often included popular stars like Jack Wrangler, Jayson MacBride, Keith Anthoni, and Eric Ryan among their cast members. His other work outside of P.M. and Hand in Hand includes such titles as (Bijou releases) Trips and So Many Men So Little Time.

Vintage posters for Dynamite and Harley's Angels


Brown said in his interview in Michael's Thing, that he didn't want to be political; he basically wanted to make a good fuck film, but his films aren't just two guys fucking, nor are they apolitical. They come out of a sociopolitical movement that wanted to carve out a visible niche in New York's arts community, and they also, without hitting the viewer over the head with slogans, realistically show the challenges of gay sexual relationships in a world just starting to break down closets of fear and hiding. (Just observe the interesting commentary on the NYC piers' significance to LGBTQ culture and their looming demolition in Pier Groups and the psychological dimensions of out-ness and gay romance and sexuality in The Night Before.)

Brown himself took advantage of a new climate of tolerance.  According to his obituary (he died in 2012), in the late 1970s, Brown began writing plays, which he continued to do into the 2000s. His first play, News Boy, was his most successful, receiving an Off Broadway production in 1979; it focused on the coming out of the gay son of a conservative politician. 

A 1998 comedy by Brown, FREEZE!, received the Eric Bentley Playwriting Prize that year and has been produced several times. 

During the last decade of his life, Brown founded and ran the Thorny Theater in Palm Springs, which mounted several gay-themed plays each season; the theater closed in 2010. 

After his partner, Bruce Brown, died in 1993 (Arch used his lover's last name professionally), Brown established the Arch and Bruce Brown Foundation, which ran until several years ago, giving grants to queer playwrights and to theater groups mounting LGBTQ-themed plays, as well as sponsoring periodic literary competitions that awarded prizes to playwrights and fiction writers whose works are “based on, or inspired by, a historic person, culture, event, or work of art.” 

 

And, fascinatingly, an unpublished manuscript was discovered shortly after Arch Brown's death and published in 2017 as his memoir, A Pornographer.

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