After tinkering with this machine for a few days, and seeing how miserable it was laboring under X but how perky it was without it, I began to wonder how much can be accomplished without a graphical system.

As far as I can see, so long as you're not into photo editing or digital rendering, there are quite a few things that you can still get done without X and a GUI. mpd and/or mpc and/or ncmpc come to mind, for purposes of audio playback. There are links and w3m and the like for Web access -- sans images, of course. But that should be enough to check your email or read the news.

So anyway ... the queestion is more or less distro-independent. If you have ideas for a text-based system and what you'd use on it, I would like to hear them.