1980s: Sonic Youth

Jeff Benjamin and Gregor Torrence
Jeff Benjamin and Gregor Torrence are pictured in Winter 2018 during their annual reunion of college friends.

Alumni annually rewind with friends from the post-punk era

The haircuts inspired by Siouxsie and the Banshees have receded, the Doc Martens are somewhere in the back of the closet, and the clove cigarettes were stubbed out years ago.

But two alumni who met in Newsom Hall in 1984 then banded with fellow fans of post-punk and new wave music reunite with friends every December in Fort Collins shortly before finals week.

Well, it was shortly before finals week when Gregor Torrence and Jeff Benjamin hosted their first holiday dance party at an apartment on Howes Street in 1985. At the time, they were sophomores majoring in computer science. Skip ahead: Spike and Mad John personas the roommates assumed when spinning dance tunes recently held their 34th soiree.

Now, they’re planning Spike ‘n’ Mad John’s XXXVmas.

Even Benjamin is awestruck by the annual reunion’s longevity. “I’ve never talked to anyone who has anything similar,” he said, prepping for the party at his home in Fort Collins on the first Saturday in December 2018.

Not only do their pals return to Fort Collins annually, they return by the dozens: A gang of 40 friends, partners, and spouses typically join the fun, sometimes trailed by teenage children.

“The music was the start. It drew us together. Then it turned out this was a group of smart, creative, talented, and interesting people, so we made long-lasting connections,” said Benjamin, a teacher and club soccer coach in Fort Collins. “The party itself still feels the same as it did 30 years ago. When everyone is around, it almost feels like time never passed.”

In the mid-’80s, the group had an alternative ethos and included CSU students who wore studded leather jackets, worked as student deejays at campus radio station KCSU, played in local bands, and frequented weekend parties with soundtracks featuring Bauhaus, New Order, and the Smiths, with side trips into 2 Tone ska and synth-pop. (Yes, the music issued from vinyl.) A few in the group helped bring the Red Hot Chili Peppers to campus for a raucous show in Spring 1987.

These days, members of the Spike ‘n’ Mad John society are successful middle-aged lawyers, videographers, designers, researchers, and restaurateurs. Many live in Colorado; others travel to the yearly party from the East and West coasts for a long weekend of “laughing, eating good food, and punishing our livers,” said Torrence, a software engineer in Portland, Ore.

“We have a tighter, longer-lasting group of friends than many people do. This is really an extended family,” he said. The group’s counterculture identity during college “We weren’t into Top 40 and football” provided glue that has strengthened through the years, even as the friends have matured to represent the establishment, Torrence mused.

“It’s a wonderful group of folks. We met and realized we share a similar worldview, and that’s what keeps us together,” said David Theis, who graduated in 1989 with a bachelor’s degree in English, and now works as press secretary and spokesperson for the World Bank Group in Washington, D.C.

“As a group of friends, we love each other and still enjoy each other’s company after all these years.”