Well, after elfs turned me to T.A.T.U (what can I say, I'm a sucker for bubblegum), I've decided to bite the bullet and get the sound working on my laptop (an IBM ThinkPad 600 2645-85U running Linux (RedHat 8.0)). That burned much of the weekend. Many kernel compiles, Googling, research into OSS and ALSA, and so forth, and no joy. Not a beep.
So last night I took it to his house to see if he could make it go. He observed that I didn't even get a bootbeep, and no volume control beeps when taping the volume up/down buttons, and got no hum on the headphone jack. Looks like a physical hardware problem. So it looks like a trip to Seattle Laptop is in order, to see if it's fixable or not.