Php and mysql

I am a visual designer teaching myself php and mysql with the goal to set up a database page for my site

I am having difficulty trying to connect to mysql via a simple php page. I’m modifying the code from SAMS "teach yourself php in 24 hrs to try and open a connection to mysql database. I encounter: "parse error, expecting T_VARIABLE' or‘$’’. I could be mashing the code here but as I try to figure out where I’m going wrong I come up with a bigger question.

My question: Can I use the baseline php that dreamhost has set up or do I need to install php somewhere in my site directory in order to get the full functionality and capabilities of php, such as dynamic pages, db updates from user input, transactions, and such?

Appreciate the feed back.

I can’t help with your programming question, but I’m pretty darned sure that DreamHost’s PHP installation will enable you do to anything you want to. Otherwise all the pre-packaged scripts (like this forum software, for exampe) wouldn’t work.