Biography of a famous person: Tim McIlrath
Timothy “Tim” James McIlrath might be someone you’ve never heard of before. He’s not a model, an actor or a famous director: he’s the lead singer and rhythm guitarist of the American punk rock band Rise Against. If you’ve never heard of that band either, let me tell you a little about them first.
Rise Against is, as I already said, a punk rock band from Chicago, Illinois. It currently consists of Tim McIlrath (lead vocals, rhythm guitar), Zach Blair (lead guitar, backing vocals), Joe Principe (bass guitar, backing vocals) and Brandon Barnes (drums, percussion). The band was formed in December 1999 and their album Siren Song of the Counter Culture officially put them on the map. From then on, they’ve released 3 more albums, Endgame (2011) being their latest one.
The thing that makes Rise Against so special in my opinion, is their political and ethical idealism. All of the band members are vegetarian, support PETA – an animal rights organization – and 3 of them are also straight edge, which I’ll explain later. They’ve also released a song for Amnesty International, and during the 2004 US presidential elections, they were part of the political activist group Punkvoter and appeared on the Rock Against Bush, Vol 1. album. This project raised over $1 million for presidential candidate John Kerry. The video clip of the song Audience of One is said to show a kid playing the role of George W. Bush and clearly shows the bands criticism towards him. Later on, they supported Barack Obama.
Other video clips also show the bands look on certain ‘flaws’ of the current society. Ready to Fall clearly tries to make people aware of things like factory farming and deforestation. And their video Make it Stop (September’s Children) was their shout-out to all children that are bullied, especially if it happens because of their sexual orientation.
Then about Tim himself. Tim was born on the 3rd of November, 1978 in Indianapolis, Indiana as Timothy James McIlrath. As a child, he was bullied because he suffers from heterochromia, which causes him to have one blue and one brown eye. As a teenager, he attended Rolling Meadows High School, where the music video of Make It Stop (September’s Children) was also set. His friends were interested in snowboarding, so he was saving up to buy a snowboard as well. However, as his interest in music grew, so he decided to buy a Gibson SG guitar instead.
After high school, he went to the Northeastern Illinois University, where he majored in English and Sociology. It was during that period of his life that he met Joe Principe at a concert of the band Sick of It All. Tim was asked to sing the lyrics of a few tracks Principe and Mr. Precision had recorded, and like that Rise Against was formed, under the name ‘Transistor Revolt’. In 2001, they officially named it Rise Against. Before that, he had already played in two bands: Baxter and Arma Angelus. He has also been part of a metalcore side project ‘The Killing Tree’, but they haven’t been really active since 2004.
He’s married to Erin McIlrath and has 2 daughters. He’s only 1.75 meters tall and can be recognized by his short brown hair and sideburns and of course by his heterochromia. On a record, he can be recognized by his characteristic voice.
When talking about Tim, a few things should be mentioned though. As I said earlier, Tim and 2 other band members are ‘straight edge’. This is a subculture of hardcore punk and is about a lifestyle that eliminates drugs, alcohol and tobacco, but also other things that can be seen as potentially addictive. This is something that I admire. The whole rock- and punkscene is often associated with drugs and alcohol, which this culture strongly rejects.
On top of being straight edge, Tim is also a vegetarian – and close to veganism – and he does a lot of things involving the animal rights group PETA – People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. He often takes part in PETA protests and he has apperaead in many videos made by PETA explaining their beliefs on veganism and the meat and fast food industry.
However, it isn’t because I have the same ideas as him, that I admire him. I’m not a vegetarian – in fact, I do not care that much about factory farming – nor part of the straight edge culture, although I do agree that drugs, alcohol – when excessively used – and smoking are things that shouldn’t be done. I wouldn’t go as far as saying that it’s unacceptable, because it’s something that everyone should decide for themselves. But personally, I do reject the idea of a life consisting mainly of drugs, alcohol and cigarettes. And with reason; just look at all the reports of people who died due to a lifestyle like that.
But, to go back on-topic, that won’t happen to Tim McIlrath, because of his ideas and his beliefs. That is what I admire about him. He is not afraid to state what he thinks and uses his music to tell this to others, without forcing it upon them. Because, even without listening to the lyrics, Rise Against’s music can be very enjoyable – if it suits your taste of music, of course. As one of their listeners, I’m proud of how Tim’s lyrics have the power to make me think about it, to make me consider whether I think he’s right or not, and to make me realise that I agree with what he’s saying. I think that if, as an artist, you can achieve something like that, that it is that quality that makes you truly admirable. I don’t admire artists who create catchy songs, but who don’t manage to get across what they’re singing. Because they do not believe in it themselves. But when I’m listening to Rise Against, listening to Tim, I do believe what they’re singing. And that is wonderful.
"Just because I can't change everything, doesn't mean I shouldn't try to change anything at all." - Tim McIlrath