I finally have a running LJ installation (w00t!!) but I had one comment about the required MySQL server version:
I was initially running MySQL 4.0.something, and 4.0 doesn't seem to support the CHARACTER SET clause in the CREATE DATABASE statement.
Installation initially went ok (Apache-perl 1.3 on Debian Sarge, etc) except that posting to a newly created journal threw an error message (I didn't think to write it down- it was something to the effect of 'bad metadata: unknown 8bitsomething.or.another')
I finally tried uninstalling MySQL 4.0 and going again with 4.1
Works like a dream.
I dunno if I'm just missing something (I'm not much of a MySQL guru) but that seemed to be the only solution. My MySQL pocket ref (O'Reilly of course) doesn't mention the CHARACTER SET declaration for CREATE or ALTER.