Seth Swirsky is a man who defines the terms 'restless' and 'creative'. At the age of 20 he had sold his first song to another artist and went on to write hits for such talents as Smokey Robinson, Taylor Dayne, Celine Dion and Air Supply. He then went solo and also began a side-project called The Red Button. An avid baseball fan and collector, he has written books on the subject. In 2007 he directed a short film called THE LAST GIANT, about major league baseball player Harry 'The Horse' Danning. Seth's biggest passion is for The Beatles, the band he fell in love with at an early age and who inspired him to become a songwriter and a musician. I talked to him about his eight-year odyssey to make the hugely enjoyable, fascinating documentary BEATLES STORIES - A FAB FOUR FAN'S ULTIMATE ROAD TRIP (2011).      

How did the idea for 'Beatles Stories' come about?
I was in Liverpool in 2004 because I had released my first album 'Instant Pleasure' and been invited to play at The Cavern Club. I was thrilled! One day I took the Magical Mystery Tour bus ride, and we stopped at each Beatles location for 10 or 12 minutes and just hung out. The guide for the day was a man named Eddie Porter, and I would always go straight to him and ask him to tell me side-stories he hadn't told everybody as part of the tour. He let me film him with my hand-held camera and he told me some great stories. One of them was about Yoko and Sean Lennon (who was eight at the time) visiting the Strawberry Fields Children's Home and Sean touching John's face on a 'Double Fantasy' poster on the wall. Eddie had been so touched at the time that he started to cry his eyes out. He got emotional telling me the story too, and it's actually in the film.

Afterwards, I started to wonder how many more amazing stories like this were out there. When I got back to L.A. I looked up May Pang (John Lennon's girlfriend during 1973-75) and started to correspond with her. She came to L.A. one weekend and let me film her as she showed me some of the John-related locations. It was quite amazing. I now had two interviews on film.

Later when I was going to Nashville I decided to try and get in touch with Felix Cavaliere (The Young Rascals). He agreed to an interview, and now I had three people! These got me Peter Noone (Herman's Hermits), which then got me Justin Hayward (The Moody Blues) and Brian Wilson (The Beach Boys).

At what point did you realise you might have a movie?
When I shot Peter Noone I realised how unique an interview this was. I had never made a movie before, but then at a certain point I hadn't written a song or written a book either!

Was it your intention to make this a movie accessible to everybody?
When I was making the movie I was thinking of two people. The first was my son, who was 13 or 14 when I started the film, and was into the likes of Justin Bieber and Eminem. The second was Chris Carter, my DJ friend who knows everything about The Beatles, down to their shoe sizes. I wanted to make something both of them would enjoy, in the same way The Beatles wanted everybody to enjoy their music. Some of my die-hard Beatle fan friends found something new in the film, which made me happy.

How did you choose your interview subjects?
To me it wasn't just about getting stars in the movie. Some of the people in the movie are people you will never have heard of. It was always about the stories they had to tell. Some of the people were people recommended to me by people I know. Some were people I looked up on the Internet. Some of the experiences were amazing, like Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay letting me play George Harrison's guitar, which he owns.

Why do you think so many people were eager to tell their 'Beatles Stories'?
I think they responded to my passion for The Beatles, which reminded them of their own passion. I mean, the likes of Jon Voight, Art Garfunkel and Sir Ben Kingsley don't usually do films like this. They said yes because they loved The Beatles.

Did you get starstruck meeting any of your interviewees?
I don't really get starstruck because from my twenties I was writing songs for people like Smokey Robinson, Celine Dion, Air Supply, Taylor Dayne and Al Green. I know they are just people. But it was fun meeting these people. It was like going in a time machine back to my youth. Sitting there with Smokey Robinson and remembering 'Tears of a Clown' coming out in 1967 when I was only 7.

I can remember seeing MIDNIGHT COWBOY (1969), DELIVERANCE (1972) and COMING HOME (1978) when they came out, so meeting Jon Voight was amazing. I wasn't trying to write songs for anybody or become best buddies with anybody. I was just going to accept this gift they were offering -sharing their stories - in the time allotted. But sometimes things would just happen. I had a beer with Art Garfunkel in his office and chatted about what Simon and Garfunkel meant to the '60s. It was like surfing. I was only going to meet these people once and until the wave ran out, I was going to surf it all the way!

Were there any people you wanted to interview but you couldn't get?
I pretty much got everyone I wanted. The likes of Eric Clapton would have been great, but the situation never presented itelf.

Did you find you learned from any mistakes quickly as you went along?
One of the best decisions I made was to have a second camera hidden in a different part of the room. When it came to editing and I had to cut scenes because people went off tangent, I had another camera angle I could use. Another good idea was to try and mic everybody twice. I would have a lateral ear mic hooked up to them just in case the cordless mic ran out of battery.

Sometimes the filming might be too light or too dark. I had to think on the fly. When I interviewed Justin Hayward I had to put a lamp next to him just to get more light. I always tried to film where beads of light were.

It was hit and miss sometimes. I had a sheet of questions for each person with questions they had not been asked before. Sometimes it was difficult to get the answers I wanted, and I would come up with a new question on the spot. Quite a few times this would be the question that got them enthused and talking. An example would be Jack Oliver, the Head of Apple Records. I came up with a question about a typical day at Apple Records and then came up with a question about what kind of day it was at Apple the day the 'Paul is Dead' rumour started. He told me the hilarious story of phoning Paul and waking him up in bed. Paul said 'I'm not dead' and told gim to 'Fuck off!' Sometimes repeating questions to get additional information or a better take for the editing got real results. This movie is all about the details, the tiny little things.

Did you finance the film yourself?
Yes, I did. I did everything by myself. All the music is my solo work or The Red Button recordings. The money didn't matter to me, although I don't have money to burn! The most important thing to me was sharing these wonderful stories with people and saying a thank you to the Beatles for giving me such a great life.

Did you put your career on hold for the eight years you were making the film?
No. The film was a high priority but I went about my life and career as usual.

How much did The Beatles influence your own songwriting?
I try to bring a sense of melody and optimism to my songwriting, which I got directly from The Beatles. This is especially true of my solo work, and my side project The Red Button with Mike Ruekberg. Listen to the song 'Cruel Girl' by The Red Button and you will hear the effect of The Beatles' huge influence on my songwriting.

Do you attribute The Beatles' influence to your success?
Very much so, and not just their music but also their outlook on life, particularly Paul's. Like him, I love finsishing a project as much as I love starting. I never start a project unless I can finish it. That's why BEATLES STORIES took eight years to film and edit. It took time to get it exactly right. So many people told so many great stories that it was difficult to decide what to leave out. There are outtakes and additional interviews on the DVD. The film also had to flow.

I was also inspired by the human quality of their music. They didn't mind if there was a mistake in a song or someone coughing or if a song like 'Her Majesty' suddenly cuts off. The Beatles also found a way to get things done, and didn't make music simply to make money. Those things also inspired me.

Can you remember the first Beatles song that you heard?
It was 'Please Please Me', and although it's one of my favourites, it's flipside 'Ask Me Why', is one of all my all-time favourites. I was about five years old at the time. My parents were really young when they had me. They were eighteen. They were buying all the '60s records as they came out. My three year old brother and I were in our own little world, playing 'Please Please Me' over and over again, jumping up and down on our bed.

Did you become a huge Beatles fan from that point?
Yes, I think so. Before 'Please Please Me' I was listening to artists like Ray Charles, but once I heard The Beatles, it was like "Forget about it!" There was nothing else in the world for me. By the time I was seven I was begging my parents for a guitar. They didn't have much money, so I scraped together 23 dollars to get my first guitar, which was a Giannini. When I had reached nine years old, I had learned how to play every Beatles song on my guitar.

Did you manage to see them in concert?
No, I was too young. They played in 1966. I almost saw George Harrison at The Concert for Bangladesh in 1971. I did manage to see the Wings Over America tour in 1975. After that, every time Paul McCartney played live in the US, I went to see him. I never got to see John in concert. I don't think he played many shows. I've also never seen Ringo.

Has your enthusiasm for The Beatles ever waned?
No, in fact I listen to them as much today as I did back then. The incredible thing about their music is that it's so rich in melody and ideas and so accessible that you want to listen to them over and over again. I listen to their music every day, and not as a fanatic. I have a huge record collection and love many different kinds of music. It's just that their music somehow finds its way into my world every day.

What's your favourite Beatles song?
Can I choose two? My favourites are 'Strawberry Fields Forever' and 'Penny Lane', which of course were released as a double-A side single. I was seven when the single came out, and they hit me at the right time. Even then I was sophisticated in terms of my knowledge and love of their music, but once I heard these two songs, they just took me to another level. 'Strawberry Fields Forever' just beats 'Penny Lane' by a hair because it's so deep. But listen to 'Penny Lane' when you're straight and tell me if it doesn't take you as high as any drug. If I am feeling good, I'll play the song and it will take me even higher.

How about your favourite Beatles album?
Boy, that's tough. Again I have two favourites, and they're both unique because they were both America-only releases. 'Magical Mystery Tour' (1967) was an EP, but it was expanded to an album in the US to include 'Hello, Goodbye', 'Baby, You're a Rich Man', 'All You Need is Love', 'Strawberry Fields Forever' and "Penny Lane'. I like the album better than 'Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band' (1967), and it's the one Beatles album that gives me the greatest pleasure from beginning to end. My other choice is ''Yesterday''... and Today' (1966), which was an American-only compilation of tracks that had not featured on the American versions of the 'Help' (1965), 'Rubber Soul' (1965) and 'Revolver' (1966) albums, plus the 'Day Tripper'/ 'We Can Work It Out' double-A side. When you look at the tracks on this album - 'Drive My Car', 'And Your Bird Can Sing', 'Yesterday' and 'Dr. Robert' - it's a better album than those three albums.

Why do you think the '60s was such a fantastic era?
It was a time of discovery. It was like a six-year old child playing with different paints and mixing up all the colours. Music was changing, the songwriting, the recording techniques.

For me the '60s was an amazing time because I was so young. It wasn't easy to be 17 in 1967. I was lucky to be 7. I didn't have to worry about being drafted to Vietnam or being pressured to take drugs by my peers. I just got all the colours and the light of the music and posters of the time. Aside from The Beatles, I was listening to bands like The Doors and Herman's Hermits and having a joyous time. Had I been 21 or something, the music would have meant something deeper and more personal to me. I was lucky to in that I grew up as the Beatles music matured and changed too.

Have you met all The Beatles?
I've met Paul and Ringo. I met George twice. I was too young to meet John.

Have you had any feedback on the movie from the surviving members and George and John's families?
I just heard back from Paul's camp that he watched the film and called it 'truly enjoyable'. It doesn't get much better than that! No-one will ever replace my Dad, but in terms of inspiration for the kind of art I make and my outlook on life, Paul will always be my greatest influence. That said, all The Beatles are fantastic artists and I love them.

For you, what was the philosophy of The Beatles?
I think the word 'Yeah!' (from 'She Loves You') sums up the first half of their career. 'Get up off the couch! Life is great! Say yes to life!' The word 'Love' sums up the second half of their career. Overall, love your life and try to bring love into your and other people's lives. I also love 'And in the end the love you take/ Is equal to the love you make' (from 'The End' on 'Abbey Road').

BEATLES STORIES can be ordered on DVD from Amazon or on DVD and Blu-ray from the film's site (signed copies are available).

The video to 'Cruel Girl' by The Red Button.

For more information on Seth's work.

I spoke to Seth by telephone on 4th September 2012 and would like to thank him for his time.   

Thanks to Richard S. Barnett.

Paul Rowlands is a Japan-based writer. After completing a BA Humanities course (majoring in English and Science) at the University of Chester, he moved to Japan in 1999. He writes for the James Bond magazine, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, has had articles published on Press Play and other sites, has written unpublished novels and unfilmed screenplays, and has had an almost lifelong obsession with cinema, something the advent of DVD only increased.  

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