Brush My Teeth With Coca-Cola

Brush My Teeth With Coca-Cola


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

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

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

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

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

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!



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