To the bird watchers of San Francisco, Jennifer Liano is that rara avis: a native. Born to royalty (her grandfather was an Italian count), she regards her fiefdom of cable cars and Victorian houses with affection. “San Francisco is the most beautiful city in the United States, and if you’re young, it can be the most free and exciting.” She’s proud of her city and her Italian background, as well as of the things she makes from the knickknacks of yesterday found while prowling the “junktique” shops just across the bay. But the city is only a base of operations for the free-spirited Jennifer.
Partly at the insistence of her father, who wanted her to go to art school in Florence and marry a prince, she decided last summer to make the European scene. Along with a friend from San Jose State College, she bought a secondhand camper and toured the Continent for three months, visiting relatives in Rome and Naples, finally abandoning the camper when it broke down to hitchhike to Spain. European manners and morals left an indelible impression on Jennifer, as did the people she met. “Most of southern Europe is terribly poor,” she says, “but the people are great, especially the kids. The next time I do Europe, though, I’m going to go to the Scandinavian countries. I met some Swedish students in Spain and they’re impressive - beautiful, independent, into politics and social action.” Back at home base, Jennifer is very much into the art scene; she’s developed a bent for making rings and for painting. Her interest in the arts also carries over to the world of rock. “I once wrote a song for friends in a group called Cold Blood and stood in the wings at the Fillmore when they played it. It never went anyplace, but writing it was good practice. I find myself picking up on the lyrics a lot now, not just digging the sound. Music means a great deal to me and I wouldn’t mind playing in a group. If I did, I think I’d try the harmonica. It’s a private instrument, not like an electric guitar or drums. It’s strictly for loners, people like the character Peter Fonda plays in Easy Rider.” The memory of that movie makes her smile suddenly. “I think Peter would be a lot of fun to date. He’s easy for me to identify with; he’s easygoing and not hung up and, most of all, he’s free.” Student protesters and others actively interested in freedom usually have a basic political philosophy, as well as a shared concept of the realities of life, and Jennifer is no exception. “I went to San Francisco State for a quarter and I was there when Hayakawa jumped onto the sound truck; I thought he was insane. I was with the strike all the way, but I think it shook up the school too much. I dropped out and so did a lot of others, because we didn’t know if there was still going to be a school. It made me think about the future and where I fit into it. I’m not a deep thinker about life, but I do know it’s pretty much what you want it to be. You can’t afford to be afraid; you have to be completely out front and you have to really dig yourself.” Although she likes the city, Jennifer is also at home in the country and is fond of everything from the rocks and waves of Big Sur to the rolling hills of a ranch owned by family friends at Santa Rosa, where she enjoys riding horses among the redwoods. Perhaps most of all, she prefers the seclusion of her brother’s A-frame high in the mountains near San Bernardino, where she sometimes hides out with her dog, “dirty, smelly, funky Charley.” Despite her outlook on life and love of personal freedom, Jennifer doesn’t consider herself a hippie. “Too many kids are hippies because that’s the thing to be - this year; a lot of them are just costume freaks.” But she doesn’t deny that life styles are changing, hers among them. “I can’t do the nine-to-five bit; I’ve tried it. I don’t want to feel tied down; I want to feel free. That’s why I’m interested in art, in making things - expressing yourself is a form of freedom. I like to stay home and paint and make rings and think about what’s ahead. When I was in high school, I really didn’t have to think. After all, I had my parents, I had my school, I was accepted by my family and my friends. I was even a pompon girl - I did the whole thing, honest - and I was so ashamed of being skinny I used to pad my hips. But the summer I got out, I really had life laid on me. Good friends of mine at school were busted for drugs, and I started meeting far-out people at the Be-ins and the Monterey Pop Festival. Really far-out. Maybe the most important thing I learned is that being free is being yourself.” By that definition, Jennifer Liano is one of the freest souls we know.