Brush My Teeth With Coca-Cola


Brush My Teeth With Coca-Cola @2014 Tim O’Brien / No Bad Ham Music / ASCAP

Chorus: I brush my teeth with Coca-Cola, wash my face with mountain dew We live down in chemical valley, licorice water runnin’ through, Licorice water runnin’ through

I know politicians care about me, lobbyists love me the same Jesus lord is watchin’ over but I don’t trust that EPA I don’t trust that EPA Chorus

MCHM stands for methylcyclohexane methanol Now the catfish in Elk River drink the stuff that cleans our coal They drink the stuff that cleans our coal Chorus

All is money, all is power, one man’s loss is another’s gain I just do the best I can, put out my bucket, pray for rain Put out the bucket and pray for rain Chorus

I know king coal will keep my lights on, Union Carbide pays my bills Still it’s better regulate than never, meet with Manchin on the hill Senator Manchin on the hill Chorus

Once we were Almost Heaven, now we’re open for business That’s the place that I call home, West Virginia


Recorded May 13th, 2014 at the Butcher Shoppe, Nashville Engineer David Ferguson Tim O’Brien – vocal, acoustic and electric guitar Kathy Mattea – harmony vocal Mike Bub – bass Kenny Malone – drums Chris Scruggs – steel guitar Colin O’Brien – banjo Chemical Choir: Jan Fabricius, David Ferguson, Mike Bub, Kenny Malone, Todd Burge– background vocals

Song notes:

On January 9th 2014, some ten thousand gallons of MCHM (4-methylcyclohexane methanol, a chemical bath for coal) spilled into the Elk River upstream from Charleston WV’s water treatment plant, resulting in contamination of the water supply for over 300K people. The governor warned folks not to drink, cook, wash, or bath with their licorice smelling tap water. Meanwhile the tainted water had flowed downstream into the Ohio, causing the Cincinnati water treatment plant to close its intakes and shift to emergency reserves. Upstream in WV, hospital emergency rooms dealt with increasing cases of skin rashes, eye irritation, nausea, anxiety and migraines. It took six weeks before residents were given the all clear to drink and bath with the water from their faucets, but problems persisted. Meanwhile, between underground mines, mountaintop removal, and fracking, well water has also become more and more suspect.

I read the story with interest, and soon friends in my home state of West Virginia were talking once again about the chronic problem of slack enforcement of environmental safety regulations in the state. At the end of April, a woman approached me at the Merlefest merch table and gave me a copy of the New Yorker magazine containing an article on the spill. She said, “Someone needs to write a song about this. Please do it.” I read and studied and scratched my head for a few weeks. Then I remembered Eddie Stubbs, back in the ‘80s, telling me about traveling with the Johnson Mountain Boys in Africa. He said, “Tim, the water was so bad there, we had to brush our teeth with Coca-Cola.” Linking Eddie’s description of bad water to the recent spill in Charleston was all I needed to jump-start this song.

Read the New Yorker article “Chemical Valley” here:

All proceeds from this inaugural Short Order Sessions track will benefit AWARE, Artists Working in Alliance to Restore the Environment. AWARE’s statement of purpose is: to raise awareness of environmental issues and raise money to distribute to existing environmental organizations in West Virginia.,

I had already been approached by friends in WV about the need for songs to sing, and so I was glad to come up with this ditty and the motto:

Better regulate than never!

About Sam's Branch

I joined the Peace Corps in 1961 as West Virginia’s first volunteer. Go to to order my book Imagonna: Peace Corps Memories. I am the eighth generation of my family born in the Big Coal River Valley of West Virginia. My father and grandfather were underground coal miners. I have a chemical engineering degree from West Virginia University (WVU). After training to make sidewinder missiles, I joined the Peace Corps and taught chemistry and coached the track team at a secondary school in Nigeria. Since that time, I was WVU’s first full time foreign student advisor and worked in urban outreach, organic farming, construction labor, and high school teaching. I recently retired from the board of directors of the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy (, and recently retired from the board of directors of the West Virginia Kanawha State Forest Foundation ( I am still on the board of the Labor History Association and the West Virginia Environmental Education Association and recently joined the board of the West Virginia Civil Liberties Union. I am active in the campaign to stop the destructive practice of mountain top removal strip mining in the Appalachian Mountains. You may contact me at or my blog samsbranch.wordpress.
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