A: I never think about themes. I let the music create itself. I like it to be a potpourri of all kinds of sounds, all kinds of colors, something for everybody, from the farmer in Ireland to the lady who scrubs toilets in Harlem.
Q: Has it become easier to write songs over time?
A: It's the most effortless thing in the world because you don't do anything. I hate to say it like that, but it's the truth. The heavens drop it right into your lap, in its totality. The real gems come that way. You can sit at the piano and say, "OK, I'm going to write the greatest song ever written," and nothing. But you can be walking down the street or showering or playing and, boom, it hits you in the head. I've written so many like that. I'm playing a pinball machine, and I have to run upstairs and get my little tape recorder and start dictating. I hear everything in its totality, what the strings are going to do, what the bass is going to do, the harpsichord, everything.
Q: Is it difficult translating that sound to tape?
A: That's what's frustrating. In my head, it's completed, but I have to transplant that to tape. It's like (Alfred) Hitchcock said, "The movie's finished." But he still has to start directing it. The song is the same. You see it in its entirety and then you execute it.
Q: After such a long absence, did you have doubts about your current relevance?
A: Never. I have confidence in my abilities. I have real perseverance. Nothing can stop me when I put my mind to it.
Q: After Sept. 11, you wrote a benefit song, What More Can I Give? What's the status?
A: It's not finished. We're adding artists, and I'm getting myself satisfied with the instrumentation.
Q: Is it your belief that music is a tool for healing?
A: It's a mantra that soothes the soul. It's therapeutic. It's something our body has to have, like food. It's very important to understand the power of music. Whether you're in an elevator or a department store, music affects the way you shop, the way you treat your neighbor.
(Prince hands Jackson a drawing. "I appreciate it," Jackson says. "Do you have to go to the bathroom?" Prince: "No.")
Q: Invincible hasn't enjoyed record-breaking sales. Does Thriller cast too big a shadow?
A: Absolutely. It is tough because you're competing against yourself. Invincible is just as good or better than Thriller, in my true, humble opinion. It has more to offer. Music is what lives and lasts. Invincible has been a great success. When The Nutcracker Suite was first introduced to the world, it totally bombed. What's important is how the story ends.
(Prince surfaces again with another picture. "What did you promise me?" Jackson asks. "To be quiet?" Prince responds, then retreats.)
Q: How has fatherhood changed you?
A: In a huge way. You have to value your time differently, no doubt about it. It's your responsibility to make sure they're taken care of and raised properly with good manners. But I refuse to let any of it get in the way of the music or the dance or the performing. I have to play two different roles. I always wanted to have a big family, ever since I was in school. I was always telling my father I would outdo him. He had 10 children. I would love to have like 11 or 12 myself.
Q: What have you taught your children?
A: I try to make sure they're respectful and honorable and kind to everybody. I tell them, no matter what they do, work hard at it. What you want to do for a lifetime, be the best at it.